On the cusp of the 30-year anniversary of their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, Metallica were doing something they probably never imagined would (or really even could) happen three decades prior: The foursome was promoting a 3D motion picture event with jaw-dropping Hollywood effects, with the story centered around lyrics from Metallica’s greatest hits.
On the fourth floor of the Hilton Bayfront San Diego, at the end of a seemingly endless hallway straddling the back of the building, far away from peering eyes, stood a line of reporters waiting patiently for their chance to get two minutes with the biggest rock band in the world. Metallica was in town, and everyone knew it. In fact, they had taken over Comic-Con’s second day (Friday, July 19).
Looking for posters or signs indicating the legendary metal band’s presence would have been futile; Metallica was in stealth mode. Yes, the band was talking to the press about the upcoming feature film Metallica: Through The Never, but word was spreading fast that the metal powerhouse was also playing a secret concert at a small, local venue. Probing for details about the concert produced the same answer for every reporter; “Sorry, I don’t have any details.”
When it came time to dig into the story behind the movie, drummer Lars Ulrich told Radio.com, “You know what, I’ve spent three years working on this movie and I don’t have any idea what it means.” Ulrich laughed, understanding that the answer left to much to be desired so he launched into a description of the film saying that the storyline is largely “ambiguous,” much like singer James Hetfield’s lyrics.
The film’s main character, Trip, played by Dane DeHaan (who also landed the roll of Harry Osborn in next year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2), is a “runner” who is sent into the terrifying post-apocalyptic city on an errand to fetch a mystery package for Metallica during a performance held at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. While on the hunt for the band’s package, DeHaan runs into far more than he bargained for. What happens to him affects the arena show and in turn, the events that take place in the arena affect the city. As Ulrich tells it, the movie is “his [DeHaan’s character’s] story, and you’re following it through his escapades while cutting back to the Metallica show that unfolds in real time.”
“The story is about Trip and his tenacity, his wanting to fulfill this errand. There’s this bag, with something in it, that he holds onto for dear life.” When asked what’s in the bag, Ulrich joked, “DeHaan may be the only person on the planet that knows what’s in the bag, and he may take that to his grave.”
Ulrich explains that the film is a narrative, told in part by Metallica’s lyrics and in part by Trip’s actions.
Discussing the script, “[Director] Nimród [Antal] went away for three months and created the character of Trip and created this whole story,” recalled Ulrich. “We then sat and read the script, and it was beautiful and crazy and full of energy in an abstract kind of way.”
Ulrich seemed particularly proud of the film’s theatrical rollout, detailing that “it will do something no other movie has done.” Beginning September 27, the film will run exclusively on every IMAX screen in North America for one week before going wide to all theaters on October 4.
When asked why Comic-Con was chosen as the venue to launch the film’s promotion, Ulrich smiled and said, “In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s sort of the premiere place… This is kinda the cool place to do this in America. What I’ve taken away from this is that people here are real fans. It’s not like a bunch of 60-year-old music critics smoking cigarettes without filters; it’s people that actually care about what you’re doing.”
To the band and the movie studio’s (Picturehouse) credit, word of the band’s sheer presence spread like wildfire though the convention. They had clearly chosen their audience wisely.
Immediately following our interview, Lars was whisked away to join his bandmates for a panel discussion in front of 6,000-person audience at Comic-Con’s Hall H, a popular venue throughout the convention.
All four members of Metallica, along with Antal and DeHaan, took questions from the audience and debuted the film’s trailer along with an exclusive four-minute clip, shown in breathtaking 3D.
Laughing about pitching the concert film to Hollywood directors and having them reply with puzzled looks, Ulrich told the crowd, “Nimród had this crazy look in his eyes and he instantly got it.” Nimród connected with the band the way no other director had. Apparently Metallica has played a big role in Antal’s life growing up in Hungary.
The band was quick to point out that the concert footage was shot more from the band’s perspective than the typical view from the audience.
Metallica created a setlist that would have new and old fans excited, while the enormous and “incredibly complex” stage was designed specifically with the 3D film in mind.
The band’s managers set out to find a specialist in the 3D field. They landed Charlotte Huggins, a long-time 3D feature film expert, most widely known for her work on the fantastical film, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Although unsure of the project when first asked to join, Huggins quickly signed on when her family vowed for the band’s significance in pop culture.
For DeHaan, the starring roll was something of a novelty. As a boy, he wasn’t allowed to listen to to Metallica. “My parents did this really weird thing when I was younger,” he revealed to the crowd. “When I wanted to listen to something, they would buy it first and then listen to it. Then they would let me know if I was allowed to listen to it – and I was not allowed to listen to Metallica. If only she [my mother] would have known.”
At the end of the thirty-minute panel, it was revealed that concert tickets to that evening’s “secret show” would be distributed via raffle. The plan backfired when the moderator realized only a portion of the auditorium had received raffle tickets. As luck would have it, Metallica was the last panel of the night so extending the program and filling time with audience questions bought their team enough time to distribute the tickets and pull winning numbers.
Hours later, a line wrapped around the historic Spreckels Theatre in downtown San Diego. Ticket scalpers lining the sidewalk were far from shy, with one enthusiastically shouting, “I pay cash money for tickets. Where are you? I know you got ’em!” The in-demand tickets were far less plentiful than the street hustlers would have liked.
Once inside, 20 oversized speaker cabinets hung from ceiling, blasting more sound than a small theater built in 1912 had likely ever been subjected to. The audience’s foot stomping tested the balcony sturdiness, while chandeliers shivered as the Bay-area foursome took the stage to deafening applause, launching with crowd-pleaser “Creeping Death.”
Camera cranes hovered overhead as every second of the 14-song set was documented (setlist below). Unsurprisingly, it was a set full of their biggest hits — the songs that inspired Through The Never — but it was the proximity to metal’s most essential arena band that enthralled the tireless devotees the most.
Metallica’s Comic-Con setlist, San Diego’s Spreckels Theatre, July 19, 2013:
“For Whom The Bell Tolls”
“Ride The Lightning”
“Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
“Sad But True”
“Master Of Puppets”
“Nothing Else Matters”
“Last Caress/Green Hell”
“Seek And Destroy”
Metallica: Through The Never will be released by Picturehouse in North America on September 27, 2013, exclusively in 300+ IMAX 3D theaters before expanding to additional theaters on October 4, 2013. Advance tickets are already available on Fandango.