The immersive, 360-degree, 3-D photography of Metallica in performance makes “Through the Never” a breakthrough for the concert film genre. An up-close intensity permeates the stage footage, the visceral impact coming from the sense of being shoulder to shoulder with singer/guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo for an evening.
It’s not so much a concert film as it is a chance to shadow members of heavy metal’s greatest practitioners. Metallica is filmed on a cross-shaped stage with each member at a point. The audience surrounds them, and the spacing gives the 24 cameras under Gyula Pados’ direction enough room to move around the subjects, presenting them as individuals unified through intent. Think of the experience as watching pistons firing in an engine rather than seeing a car squeal out.
Shot at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, and Rogers Arena in Vancouver, the set list smartly covers the San Francisco band’s 30-year history, from early-’80s songs “Creeping Death,” “Hit the Lights” and “Ride the Lightning” through 2008’s “Cyanide” with stops for the better-known “Master of Puppets,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman.” Weaving through the performances is an apocalyptic sci-fi story involving a roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) tasked with running to hell and back on a mission for the band. Car accidents, fires, explosions, warring factions and other elements of mayhem provide hurdles for Trip, who naturally completes his task. The violent content has earned the film an R rating.
A unique twist on the traditional concert film, “Through the Never” wisely avoids biographical information covered thoroughly enough in Metallica documentaries “Some Kind of Monster,” “When Metallica Ruled the World” and “A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica.” A visual metaphor closes “Through the Never”: Electronics fail, light towers collapse, and the band is left standing amid rubble. In a nutshell, the film says, Metallica will outlive the disasters.