After their 3D film Through the Never flops, is Metallica’s brief love affair with cinema coming to an end?
They say that once you’re comfortable, and happy to remain so, you’re finished as an artist. Picasso made many gambles in his career and each one was met with awe. But filmmakers tend to stick to certain identities; Lynch, Howard, Tarantino and James Cameron are just a few big-name directors who have very rarely strayed from an idiosyncratic style that we all recognise them for. One of the biggest gambles in cinema was when Roman Polanski made What? in 1973, a deranged, sexualised take on Alice in Wonderland, just a few years after breaking America. But that kind of gamble could also be called insanity. Now, ten years after releasing their first film, the acclaimed Some Kind of Monster, Metallica have gambled with their career once more, returning to the movie world this time with a film they have written all by themselves – and shot in 3D.
Metallica have, in the past, alienated their own fans owing to various errors of judgement
Metallica are one of the world’s biggest bands. They own the rights to all their studio albums and Forbes estimates that they rank 23rd among the world’s biggest celebrities. Yet they have, in the past, alienated their own fans on a number of occasions, losing many along their 30-year career whilst gaining others owing to various errors of judgement. Some observers have put this down to their huge egos, which has for a while allowed them to lose sense of reality. Some say they are astute businessmen who know how to make money. Nobody can accuse them of standing still. But how are they seen in the movie world?
In 2003, Metallica released Some Kind of Monster, their first film. Whilst a large amount of their fans accused them of releasing it to line their own pockets, critics and the more discerning movie and music fans took to it in their droves, seeing it as an honest portrayal of a band on the verge of a complete breakdown. It showed the humans behind the music and demonstrated the tolls and the strains that working in such a unique atmosphere can have on a person. It was praised as a one-of-a-kind documentary. It was lauded as inspiring filmmaking, with Metallica at the centre. It single-handedly saved their career.
Unlike Metallica’s first film Some Kind of Monster, Through the Never was made when the band were happy
On that basis, their second foray into cinema, with new movie Through the Never, should be whetting plenty of peoples’ appetites. Through the Never is vastly different to Some Kind of Monster. It isn’t a documentary. This time there are no tears on camera, no band members’ parents having heart-to-hearts with their sons; no trauma. This 3D film was instead made when Metallica were happy, and witnesses them doing what they do best – entertaining their fans in an electric series of concerts, in a film where money was no object. This is pure escapism. Unsettlingly, however, they have chosen to weave into these concerts a surreal fantasy story that runs parallel throughout the movie – a story they themselves conceived and wrote.
Metallica are not filmmakers, so let’s clear that up right away. They’re not screenwriters, either. They have teamed up with industry cinematographers and editors for this movie whilst retaining a certain degree of artistic control. But, unlike Some Kind of Monster, they have also fronted the money for this project – nearly $20 million of cash. That’s more than this year’s Evil Dead remake and a whopping $13 million more than Harmony Korine’s explosive and headline-grabbing Spring Breakers. For a film with a somewhat small target audience (‘heavy metal’ is still a dirty word for many), that is a hefty amount – but financial loss is only one of the traumas they may experience as a result of this project.
Lars Ulrich recently said that the band are “trapped in their own bubble.” It hints that Metallica are not quite on-par with reality
Through the Never is worlds apart from Some Kind of Monster. Some could argue that by cross-cutting concert footage with a fictional story, Metallica are treading new waters and being inventive. But the visually arresting fantasy story is naive at best and almost laughable at worst, and has already seen critics and fans compare the band to the ageing, fictional rockers Spinal Tap, who believed they transcended humanity. Lars Ulrich, the band’s drummer, recently said in an interview with Metro that the band are “trapped in their own bubble.” This comment can be taken a few ways but it certainly hints that Metallica are not quite on-par with reality.
Through the Never captivates on a purely technical level; the cinematography is dazzling and the editing is scintillating. But the fictional aspect dulls the movie and leads one to question why Metallica would open themselves up to what could be a barrage of criticism and financial loss on an unprecedented scale. Why? Because they aren’t prepared to stay comfortable. There are creative and artistic gambles in life that must be applauded.
Through the Never is an artistic gamble as well as a movie spurred on by Metallica’s own sense of worth
But there are also moments of madness, perhaps spurred on by a sense of one’s own worth – a sense of ego. Maybe this film is a bit of both from Metallica. Aside from the huge financial loss they now have to deal with, the band may have to fend off other criticism. They may be laughed at the way we laughed at Spinal Tap. They may lose the dignity and their respect in the film world that came so easily last time around. Their egos may be challenged again. Through the Never may polarise fans the way Yellow Submarine polarised Beatles fans. Whatever happens, Metallica will one day have to leave their bubble; and what will happen when they do? Will they feel something akin to the bends? It could be their biggest comedown yet.
All images: Picturehouse