Metallica Blends Concert With Story in IMAX Film

Just a week before their IMAX 3-D concert film, "Metallica: Through the Never," was set to get its star-studded premiere at San Francisco's Metreon Theater, the members of Metallica -- drummer Lars Ulrich, singer James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo -- convened at their headquarters in an unmarked industrial building in a part of San Rafael where it feels as if bad things happen after dark.

With the walls lined with various pieces of memorabilia from the heavy-metal titans' 30-plus-year run -- everything from a plaque from their MTV Icon tribute concert to fans' handmade banners from stadium shows all over the world -- they were hunkering down over last-minute details before the movie's official release.

Directed by NimrC3d Antal, "Through the Never" presents an innovative mix of live footage of Metallica performing with the fictitious story of a young roadie, played by star-of-the-moment Dane DeHaan ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "The Place Beyond the Pines,"), who is sent out on an unusually grim errand.

We sat down with Ulrich and Trujillo to talk about the film.

Q: It must be incredible to see yourself on a 100-foot Imax screen in 3-D. Have you ever had the chance to watch yourself perform like that?

Ulrich: Obviously, the whole idea with this film, at least the concert art of it, was to get the audience up onstage and get them to really be part of the action in the trenches. You know, with the band, being spit on and sweat on and gooed on and whatever else is going on up there. So you really feel you're part of it. Rather than feeling like you're looking at Metallica, you're actually with Metallica.

Trujillo: They experience it like we experience it. There's a lot of excitement in that but there's danger, too. That stage is pretty scary.

Q: Do you have to let go of your ego if you're going to expose yourself on that scale?

Ulrich: It's been 10 years since "Some Kind of Monster" came out, which is the ultimate, perverse form of accessibility with everything you probably shouldn't see and you don't want to see. You can't sit there and micromanage it on a daily basis. So you sort of get used to being filmed all the time, and you get used to the discomfort of seeing your receding hairline or triple chins or stupid looks or whatever. Ultimately, if nothing else, it brings the fans closer to what we're doing, and I guess that's a good thing.

Trujillo: It is a good thing.

Q: Why did you feel like a concert movie needed a side story with a detailed plot?

Ulrich: The idea was to put something else in there to balance the concert, to kind of weave it in and out. It just seemed exciting to try that. We had no idea how or with whom or why. We went searching through Hollywood and tried to explain this to a bunch of very well-known A-list directors -- all of whom you know -- and most of them just kind of looked at us like we came from Planet Zulu or something. NimrC3d was the first guy who just nodded along and joined in the madness and the unpredictability and craziness of it.

Trujillo: That's what I like about being in Metallica. We take chances. My first gig with them was at San Quentin State Penitentiary. It's like, "Welcome to Metallica!" We make an album with Lou Reed and everybody is scratching their heads. That's the beauty of it. Making this movie in 3-D. Things like that. That's what makes Metallica special for me.

Q: I walked out of the movie not sure about what I had just seen. Do you guys know what the plot is about?

Ulrich: I don't know. I stopped asking a long time ago. ... I think that ultimately what we've always tried, with James' lyrics and stuff like that, the thoughts that come from Metallica are pretty ambiguous. We don't sit there and carve out what it is we're doing or what we're trying to do. Half the time we don't know, either. I think this film is right in line with that. At the end of the day, it's sort of what you want it to be.

Q: Did you watch the Justin Bieber and Katy Perry Imax movies for reference?

Ulrich: I wouldn't say that I saw them for reference. I'm a big fan of film, so I see a lot of films. I saw both of those movies, and I enjoyed them. You know, I thought they fit their particular niches very well. But it's not something we were interested in copying.

Q: I don't know if you thought this through or not ...

Ulrich: Probably not.

Q: I know you didn't. But one of the benefits of putting this out now, after the Lou Reed record, is it's a great way to remind people of what you do best.

Ulrich: This idea actually goes back to '97 or '98. Before blockbusters and Hollywood films appeared in Imax, the theaters played butterfly movies and scuba diving movies and mountain climbing movies. We spoke to them around that time about doing some music movies. At the time, the cameras were the size of trucks and it was really complicated. So the idea got shelved.

Q: It's great that you can put an idea like that on hold and come back 15 years later and do it right. Some of these songs have never sounded better.

Ulrich: Thanks, man. I think I'm going to start crying.

Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle's pop music critic.

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