Metallica’s Lars Ulrich Talks “Through the Never”

The heavy metal heroes go big with an epic new 3D concert movie.

In their three-decade career, Metallica took thrash-metal mainstream, they’ve been elected into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and they’ve sold more than 100 million albums. They even bared their collective soul in the documentary, Some Kind of Monster. What they haven’t done is release a concert film. Until now, that is. Drummer Lars Ulrich opened up to Maxim about their newest project, Metallica:Through the Never, and why this isn’t your typical concert movie (we’re looking at you, Bieber). First off, it’s in 3D. And not just 3D, but IMAX 3D. It’s also part fiction, combining live concert footage with a dystopian narrative that evokes Occupy Wall Street and features a possibly drugged-out roadie, a mysterious bag, and lots of violence. Think of it as The Last Waltz-meets-Fight Club with a touch of Pulp Fiction and (fine) This is Spinal Tap.

This is obviously not your typical concert movie. What was the genesis of the idea?

It basically came down to IMAX. Way back in the mid-nineties, IMAX was mostly doing scuba diving or mountain climbing movies, but they wanted to start doing other stuff, like music, and contacted Metallica about doing a movie. But at the time, the cameras were the size of fucking cars, and just based on the logistics, making a Metallica IMAX movie wasn’t going to work, so we put the idea on the backburner. Fast-forward to a couple years ago, and we started talking about it again.

But even with IMAX you could’ve just made a straight concert movie, instead of this epic, career-spanning, semi-fictional hybrid.

Well, we’ve noticed that even though we’ve gotten older, a lot of our audience is still 12 or 14, and we realized that they weren’t there for a significant portion of our career. Metallica used to do these crazy, theatrical presentations back in the eighties and nineties, with statues and crosses and tombstones, and it was all pretty Spinal Tap-ish because of the technology. So we wanted to reinvent some that stuff for 2013, and film it. But we didn’t want to make just a concert movie. One thing we discovered in making Some Kind of Monster is that audiences responded to the organic, dramatic narrative that flowed through it. We wanted to do something like that with a concert movie, so that it’s really a dramatic film against the background of a concert, instead of a bunch of backstage footage of guys in a prayer circle, or fucking making lunch. It morphed from all those points into what it is now.

What were the logistics like? Because it’s a pretty massive production.

The main thing is that, whenever you see a concert movie, it’s usually an existing tour that’s being filmed, so the movie is really an afterthought. We wanted to turn that on its head and say, “We’re making a film here. This is not a concert, per se.” So we looked at the whole thing as a film shoot, from the stage, to the set list, to the audience, which we thought of as 18,000 extras. We played a bunch of really long shows in Vancouver and Edmonton, where we stopped and started to get everything right. And instead of it feeling like you’re in the audience, we wanted to put the viewer right on stage with the band.

It seems like the kind of movie, where, even if you’ve seen 1,000 Metallica concerts, you’ve never seen anything like this.

I’m not going to disagree with that. We just figured that if we did this right, we could make a movie unlike any that anybody’s ever seen before, and give Metallica fans an experience that was really different from all the other Metallica experiences they’ve had.

How did you come up with the narrative? With the apocalyptic qualities, and in the way you don’t really know what’s real or not, it reminded me of Fight Club.

That’s great! Let’s write that one down and put it on the movie posters! When we first met with the director, NimrodAntal, it wasn’t like the first thing we said to him was, “We’ve gotta come up with a movie that’s super vague.” But as we were going along it became more and more dystopian and vague. We tried to make it open to interpretation: what does it all mean? I mean, I don’t know what it fucking means! Where does it take place, is the roadie imagining this, what’s in that bag? We just felt it was to leave as many of those questions unanswered.

Going in, did you know it was going to be so big?

No. I’d say the thing that blindsided me the most was that with a band like Metallica, everything’s very insular and very controllable. But making movies? It’s fucking insane! It’s like running a small country. I can’t imagine what it’s like making a movie like The Avengers. There were points where I was like, “Who’s fucking in control of this ship?”

Given how unique the whole thing is, was the movie a tough sell for the studio?

Yeah, because in Hollywood, when you go into a meeting, it’s all about references: “It’s going to be like Saving Private Ryan, but in Vietnam, and it takes place at night, and has some elements of Transformers, and a bit of Avatar.” But since we wanted to do something that had never been done before, there weren’t any references. It got easier to say what the movie wasn’t. It’s not Song Remains the Same or Rattle and Hum, it’s not the Justin Bieber movie or the Katy Perry movie. I mean, I’ve seen Song Remains the Same at least 20 times, it was part of shaping my childhood, and I have nothing bad to say about it, but this is something different.

Metallica:Through the Never hits theaters today.

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