Movies based on plays are usually “opened up” when they’re filmed, with locations and characters added to render them more naturalistic. “Metallica Through the Never” does much the same to the rock-concert flick, attaching a story that takes place outside the arena where the venerable metal band is playing. The result, however, is still pretty much a rock-concert flick.
Compiled from five shows in Vancouver and Edmonton, the performances are powerful and precise. They’re also cleverly staged, with ominous props, vast arrays of video screens, onstage sparks and flames and a cast of actors who play technicians and casualties. But the music is central, so viewers without a preexisting taste for thump and thrash will probably not be converted by the Imax 3-D spectacle.
The movie’s innovation is its story line, which sends a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan of “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Chronicle”) on an urgent mission. One of the band’s trucks is out of gas, and the musicians need the satchel the vehicle is carrying.
Upon leaving the arena, Trip finds the city deserted, and when he starts encountering people, they’re seriously hostile. The roadie negotiates his way through a clash between protesters and riot cops, and then into a part of town where bodies hang from every light post. He’s pursued by an apparently murderous gang and nearly killed by a gas-masked fiend on horseback.
The script is credited to Metallica’s four members and Nimrod Antal, the movie’s Hungarian American director. (He made the stylish “Kontroll” in Hungary and some less interesting horror fare in the United States). They’ve arranged for Trip’s perils to correspond loosely to the songs the band performs. Because the show’s horror-movie imagery is mirrored in Trip’s adventure, certain grisly events — such as a man on fire — appear in both.
But the episodes make more sense in the arena, where they’re tied to such songs as “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.” Devised by the late Mark Fisher, to whom the movie is dedicated, the stagecraft enlivens what is basically a greatest-hits set, with material that stretches all the way back to the group’s 1983 debut, “Kill ’Em All.”
Thanks to wireless instruments, guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo are highly mobile, and even drummer Lars Ulrich moves around a lot. They interact with other performers in scenarios that appeal to some metalheads’ taste for carnage and destruction. The last staged catastrophe seems rather tasteless, but it turns out to be a clever setup for the back-to-basics finale.
And what about the parallel story? What’s in that satchel Trip risks his life to retrieve for the band? Let’s just say that “never” rhymes with “whatever.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.
R. At area theaters. Contains violence, ghoulish imagery and profanity. Trujillo will appear at the 7:30 p.m. Friday screening at Regal Majestic.