Originally published on Forbes.com.
Metallica Through the Never is a narrative 3D movie in which a Metallica concert takes place. At the center of the story is Trip (Dane DeHaan), a fresh-faced roadie who gets sent out on a mission to retrieve something that the band needs from a stranded vehicle. Out in the dark city night he gets into a car accident, encounters rioters fighting with police, and walks through a forest of hanging bodies. And then his real troubles begin.
Meanwhile, Metallica perform a greatest hits show packed with special effects and an elaborate stage set that appears to fail as the show progresses. Though some of the destruction is clearly intentional, like the collapse of the Lady Justice statue, other failures – broken microphones, a roadie on fire, and a blackout – appear to sabotage the show. Technicians in hardhats try to fix the problems, but by the end of the show, Metallica plug into a few small amps and finish their set with minimal production, like in their old club-playing days.
The events in the movie trigger a sense of vu jàdé, that uncanny feeling of “I’ve never been here before” that is the opposite of déjà vu. Events become more and more incomprehensible. They violate our expectations. But Metallica keep on playing, the crowd keeps on cheering, and Trip rises from the ashes of his nightmare and gets back to where he started. The show must and did go on.
“Quite a few of us kind of became Trip trying to bring this to fruition,” saidThrough the Never’s director Nimród Antal (Predators), “Because there were so many challenges, there were so many obstacles that we had to overcome.”
Which is why the real subject of Metallica Through the Never is dedication, the ability to get the job done despite attempts by others to defeat and destroy you. The danger and risks involved in the film are not just spectacle; they are opportunities for the band, the crew, and the filmmakers to demonstrate the power of a creative entity such as Metallica to inspire us to persevere. MetallicaThrough the Never speaks to anybody who works in a dynamic volatile environment, where things can go wrong fast, plans fail and the very viability of an enterprise is under threat.
The challenges began with creating a stage set that withstood all of the technical requirements of the show. “The goal was to have a shocking moment, a moment where you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I think something is really wrong,’” said Adam Davis, a partner at TAIT, the company that built the stage set forThrough the Never. “If the audience isn’t calling 911, we haven’t done our job.” From a technical standpoint, the show tested the limits of what was possible. “The amount of technology packed into the area that it is in is unprecedented,” said Davis, “It really is a planned out battle zone.”
One of the most spectacular and challenging parts of the set is a gigantic electric chair that lowers from the ceiling along with Tesla coils that shoot 10,000-volt lightening bolts. “It’s basically a static generator,” said Tyler Kicera, Director of Design at TAIT. “An isolated ground, separate from the building ground, was linked to a common bus bar. The chair and coils were connected to this isolated system in order to control the arc. We were making real lighting happen in front of the audience, which, you can imagine, has its major safety concerns.” To mitigate these concerns, a chainmill curtain was hung to catch any stray lightening from striking the spot chair operators. Around the chair and lightening was a pre-identified dead zone where no one could enter at the risk of death. “I’ve never seen anything in an arena rock and roll show that has had that level of potential risk and unpredictability,” said Kicera, who was the lead designer on Roger Water’s revamped The Wall Live.
Filming the rock concert meant the addition of wired equipment (up to two-dozen cameras) and sky rigs on top of the fires, below crumbling statues, and around various moving elements on the stage. To get the sense of immediacy of being on stage with Metallica, the concert portion of the movie also used 3D steadicam rigs, which are heavier than normal rigs, and require a set of cables to be attached to the camera that had to be guided away from the fire and other elements of the show. “The Tesla coil was especially tricky,” said Carl Hempe, who was the production supervisor for the movie. “It sends a blast of electromagnetic energy that had a bad habit of shutting down some of our systems. It was also in danger of striking the technocranes [telescopic cranes] with lightening.”
From the band’s perspective, the movie, which was self-financed, entailed significant financial and creative risks. “We like to be adventurous creatively,” told me Kirk Hammett, Metallica’s lead guitarist. “It takes us out of what we know best. It takes us out of comfort zones and puts us in a place where we’re very challenged.” In practice, this translated into a long and expensive learning process with numerous twists, turns and dead ends that was at times overwhelming. “There were a lot of times in this movie where we were like, ‘No way, we can’t do this, let’s pull the plug, this is crazy,’” said Metallica singer James Hetfield in Hit the Lights: The Making of Metallica Through the Never.
The final outcome reflects Metallica’s own journey. “We’ve gone through so much as a band,” said Hammett. “Death of band members, band members having horrific accidents, staying put in situations where it feels like the rest of the world is against us but simultaneously being with us, too, which is always kind of weird. We’ve been put up against so many weird situations and have somehow survived them. You can definitely say that Trip’s journey is a metaphor for Metallica’s journey.”
What the rest of us should do when we’re taken aback by life’s vu jàdé moments is exactly whatThrough the Never teaches us about perseverance: appeal to a higher purpose. The higher purpose that guided Trip, Metallica, and the team who make the movie was sharing Metallica’s music with the world. Love for Metallica’s music is a guiding force in the movie’s plot as well as in the saga of its making.
“Whenever we get together something happens, there is this synergy that happens and it kind of takes over,” said Hammett. “We know it doesn’t really get better than this. I feel like I’m in the best band in the world playing with the best musicians in the world.”
“When you watch them, it’s truly a religious experience,” echoed Antal. “But there is also a whole big team that stands behind them that lays just as much down and puts out just as much energy and just as much love and effort.” He added, “That love and that loyalty was what created Trip.”
Metallica Through the Never comes out in IMAX 3D on September 27th and in regular theaters on October 4th.