The last thing a head-banging heavy metal band wants is to be considered routine. So after touring and releasing records for 32 years, Metallica decided to shift gears. “Just grinding out a record every three or four years for us is too limiting,” drummer Lars Ulrich said in a private interview. “There are so many other ways of sharing the Metallica experience.”
Its latest project, “Metallica Through the Never” is an arena-scaled 3-D Imax feature that combines a 14-song concert film with a side story about a roadie (“Chronicle” ’s Dane DeHaan) on a life-or-death journey through a riot-torn urban hellscape. It is, as Ulrich says, “a crazy adventure,” as was the “overwhelming, at times bewildering” shoot.
“What worked so well with film fans in ‘Some Kind of Monster,’ ” the candid and personal 2004 documentary that caught the band in bitter creative conflict and needing the guidance of an on-call psychotherapist, “was that it had a story arc. So we figured if we were going to do another film experience, we wanted to do something that had a story in it.”
They wanted a film that was immersively cinematic, using 3-D “to bring the audience up on stage” while offering a hybrid of genres unlike anything that has been seen before.
The project had special significance for Ulrich, who said he spends far more time in the film world than the music world, seeing movies daily. “Film is probably my greatest inspiration. I’m not inspired to make music by hearing other music. But seeing Derek Cianfrance’s ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ blows my mind so much I want to go and create myself.”
The new film’s concept was hammered out by the band and sci-fi/horror director Nimrod Antal (“Predators”), who came aboard after Ulrich spent six months searching for a director “daring enough to go with us on this. People were dubious. In Hollywood, unless you can say ‘It’s just like this movie,’ they look at you skeptically.”
Antal jumped in head first, Ulrich said. “The post-apocalyptic nightmare comes from the mind of Nimrod. What we did was help mold it into something that would work within the context of a film that also had music.”
The film features footage of five concerts in Vancouver and Edmonton where the stage itself tells stories. The in-the-round extravaganza was largely designed by Mark Fisher, who coordinated Pink Floyd’s fabled “The Wall” tour. It includes fire and laser effects, a 50-foot effigy of Lady Justice that is constructed and topples onstage, and a field of illuminated crucifixes that hydraulically rise from the stage.
With its legions of specialized crew members and intricate chains of command, making a film on this scale is more complex than running even a spectacle-heavy concert tour. “It was overwhelming for people who are used to running a tighter ship,” Ulrich said. “Who’s steering this ship? God help us all!”
That prayer has special relevance since the band self-financed the $18 million film project. “We have a lot riding on this, a lot of time and a lot of resources,” Ulrich said, adding, “if it goes well we may get our houses back.”