Metallica: Through the Never

Living24fps is a blog devoted to my passion for film, but I am also passionate about music. My tastes are wide ranging, with favorites including mega stars U2, hardcore punk bands like the Cro-Mags and the Bad Brains, and thrash metal heroes gone huge- Metallica. So, this past weekend I drove out to the nearest Imax theater to catch Through The Never, Metallica’s new concert film/narrative film hybrid, in glorious large screen 3D. It was a blast.

From a technical standpoint Through the Never is a monumental achievement. The concert footage is captured magnificently in flawless 3D, with an up close and personal feel that leaves you feeling like you just spent the night working up there on stage with Metallica. The particular staging used for the filmed shows is massive, and the multi camera shoot is used very effectively to capture the show. The sound in the Imax theater was amazing. Loud yes, but also crystal clear with each instrument present in the mix (Something that fans of Metallica may know is not true on all of their releases). The set-list used is a meat and potatoes tour through Metallica’s hits, covering almost every album they have, and while there is not much in the way of deep cut surprises, this makes prefect sense for a wide release film that needs to engage more than just the diehard. The concert portion of the project is the real win here, and is the reason the film works.  

How you feel about the “narrative” part of the project will depend on how you take to the age-old film plot concept known as the “MacGuffin”. The MacGuffin is something a film uses as a character’s goal to move the plot forward, without necessary revealing the narrative importance of the item itself. Examples include the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, or the Maltese Falcon in the film of the same name. Through the Never begins with our protagonist Trip (Dane DeHaan) , arriving at the venue for the Metallica show. He is a low-level roadie, and huge fan of the band, as can be seen as he enters the arena and bumps into the band members in turn, each with a surreal result. Kirk Hammett’s guitar appears to bleed, While Rob Trujillo crab walks while blasting bass sounds that distort his surroundings… So at this point we already question whether Trip is experiencing something other than reality (Not to mention that his name is Trip). As the show begins, Trip is watching from the stands, only to be grabbed for an important mission. It seems that one of the crew’s vans is broken down out of gas, and it contains something the band needs. Trip is sent out to find the van and reclaim the band’s item. This is the film’s MacGuffin. As Trip heads out on his journey he pops some sort of pill, one I assume is a sort of hallucinogen, and then drives out to the city as the band begins playing Fuel. The engine imagery the band is using in the concert footage is mirrored on the sides of buildings as Trip heads out. From here out the film jumps back and forth between the concert and Trip’s adventure, with the occasional image linking the two.

The narrative structure is flimsy, and I really feel Through the Never is more like a long-form music video married to a concert film. Trip’s adventures, encountering a phantom figure on horse back, angry mobs and other post-apocalyptic horrors make little sense but look great, especially with Metallica’s music as their soundtrack. I was surprised that these scenes do not connect as directly to Metallica’s songs as one would expect. However, the imagery is thematically dead on for Metallica, and works in a less literal sense. As you may have guessed from my mentioning of the MacGuffin, in the end we never discover exactly what Trip was sent to retrieve. My personal interpretation is that it is related to material the band is working on for their next album, ( Metallica has said that  with the film done this is their next focus), and it makes some  sense symbolically…but this is all just my conjecture and there is nothing really in the film to back that up.

I would have liked to see a stronger connection between the film’s two halves, but as it stands Through the Never is a unique and fun cinematic experience. I applaud Metallica for trying to do something outside the standard concert film. The concert footage is top notch, and Trip’s quest adds some fun, gothic end of the world imagery that certainly resonates with Metallica’s music. See it in Imax if possible, as Through the Never is really a Visual and Audio experience.