In a way, "Metallica Through The Never" has been in the work since the mid-nineties. That was when a plucky little film company named IMAX first approached the metal icons about producing some sort of concert film in their high tech and immersive motion picture format. The band were a bit surprised by the idea.
"That was when IMAX did movies about frogs and butterflies and mountain climbers, and all that stuff. Before the Hollywood films," drummer Lars Ulrich points out.
Still, they were intrigued by the idea. The only thing that stopped them from allowing IMAX to film them in their natural habitat just like any other wild creature or thrill seeker at the time was that they didn't feel like the proper technology was in place just yet.
They never gave up on the idea, though. Even the tumultuous experiences that went into the making of 2004's "Some Kind Of Monster" documentary didn't dissuade them. It actually had the opposite effect.
"That idea kind of hovered, and we knew at some point we would probably want to do another film endeavor. The 'Some Kind Of Monster' experience, although it was a difficult, peculiar time in our career, was ultimately a pretty satisfying undertaking, and the way that the film ending up resonating, especially in the film word, was pretty cool and surprised us," says Ulrich.
Metallica had little to no interest in making a traditional concert film, though.
"Management did," admits bassist Robert Trujillo. "Their vision was a straight concert celebrating the wonderful moments on past tours visually and bringing that to life on the biggest indoor stage on the planet. Which we love but, at the other end of that, we were like 'We need to have a narrative, we need to attach to something.'"
"We really didn't know what the storyline was going to be so, in our search for directors, we put it out there that we were looking for some kind of concept," adds guitarist Kirk Hammett. "Of the four that we received, three of them were sci-fi concepts that did not match at all what we were about as artists and musicians, and we collectively thought 'Sci-fi is not the way to go.'"
The fourth treatment was by Nimrod Antal, the Hungarian/American horror filmmaker behind "Predators," "Vacancy" and the arthouse cult classic "Kontrol." His vision of a roadie navigating a series of post apocalyptic horrors while the band plays a potentially doomed concert immediately spoke to the band.
"It was so Metallica from the onset. And it was open enough that we could put our ideas into it and kind of shape it with Nimrod into what it is today," says Hammett, adding with a laugh. "I think we made a good decision not making a sci-fi heavy metal movie."
Interview continues after slideshow
With the concept solidified and any unfortunate aliens and "Heavy Metal"-esque flourishes nixed, Metallica and Antal set about making the 3D element of their concert film as natural and gimmick-free as possible.
"What we were after was sort of more like Pixar-style immersion techniques, rather than flying drumsticks in your face, or guitar picks and all of that nonsense coming at you," Ulrich explains. "What I told Nimrod was that I always felt that most concert films were kind of shot from the audience's POV and it was just like, "Get the film audience up on stage with us. Be in there!'"
To help Antan get a feel for being in the center of the action while they were in the development phase, Metallica invited him backstage to watch a concert of theirs in Paris. And then they handed him a camera and invited him to film on stage with other members of their crew.
"I was pushed out, to be more specific," Antan clarifies with a smile.
The surprise shooting may have mildly traumatized the director, but it did the trick. After a night of being sweat and spit on and watching Trujillo's unique bass playing squats up close, Antan knew exactly what the band wanted their film audiences to see, hear and feel.
To augment this experience, Metallica and crew decided to build a state-of-the-art stage specifically for the concerts that would make up the backbone of "Through The Never." It turned out to be the movie's greatest challenge... and, perhaps, its most metal moment.
"The stage was crafted specifically for the film," says Ulrich. "When we decided, in April of 2010, to move forward with this, the first thing was the stage. It took a year-and-a-half, and then we had it in a sea plane hanger in the middle of San Francisco Bay at Treasure Island for two weeks. And, of course, none of it worked, in "Spinal Tap" fashion. So I think there was another nine months of reconstruction after that. It was just... every cliché that you can imagine is true, unfortunately.”
Once everything was working, Metallica's film and musical crews took the stage to Edmonton and Vancouver to shoot a pair of rabidly received concerts packed with classic hits like "Master of Puppets," and "Enter Sandman." Antan seamlessly wove that impressive live footage together with his nightmarish narrative elements and "Through The Never" was born.
The result is bold and brash, a longform music video that takes the knack for haunting storytelling that Metallica so aptly displayed with videos like "One" and smashes it all over a big, three-dimensional canvas. It's both an intriguing experiment and a refreshing alternative to the NSFW boob-soaked blurred lines that have dominated the medium on YouTube.
Ulrich is uncharacteristicly humble when asked if something like "Through The Never" could be the future of music videos – he really doesn't think it's for him to say. But he does believe that it’s the next step in Metallica's continuing quest to push their own boundaries and try new things.
"With us, it comes mostly out of this obsessive journey of always wanting to do things differently. I've got no disrespect against any of those other fine films, but let's face it: They're more commercials for the band. They're infomercials. I don't think anybody needs to see another Metallica member get in and out of a limo, or see another Metallica member trying to fold lunchmeat on a piece of bread, or any of that nonsense. It's been there done it. Leave it to the youngsters, as they say.
We just wanted something different and I think Metallica just has this kind of thing where we always want to challenge ourselves and, in the wake of challenging ourselves, hopefully we can continue to deliver to our audience and to our faithfuls different experiences. The kind of album-tour-album- tour cycle, I don't think we’re interested in that so much