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Lars Ulrich is keeping things in perspective when it comes to his band's new film, "Metallica: Through the Never.
"This is not 'Schindler's List Part II' or 'The Godfather Part IV' or whatever," the Metallica drummer says in a private interview during a recent press day for the film in San Francisco. "Let's not kid ourselves. It is what it is."
Yet "what it is" is kind of hard to explain. "Metallica: Through the Never," which opens Friday, is a mighty different beast from other music movies. It's a unique hybrid of concert film and adventure flick, which arguably has no real precedent. Viewers get to watch the Bay Area metal heroes onstage, roaring through such classics as "One," "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman," as well as enjoy a "Mad Max"-style fictional storyline.
"I would describe (the film) as an experience and sort of another step in the experiences that we offer not just to the fans but actually ourselves," says Ulrich, who co-founded Metallica in 1981 in Los Angeles. "That album-tour-album-tour grind that we were stuck in for many years can feel a little limiting. So it's really cool to be able to do all these different things."
The group has certainly worked hard to spice things up in its record-setting 30-year-plus career, during which Metallica has sold some 110 million albums around the globe. There was 1999's influential collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony (documented in the CD/DVD "S&M"), 2011's misguided "Lulu" (a joint effort with Lou Reed that many rank among the worst albums ever made) and 2004's insightful band documentary film "Some Kind of Monster."
Yet they've never attempted anything like "Through the Never" a film that will be shown in 3-D on Imax screens and that was certainly part of the project's appeal for the band.
"I think when we set out on this journey, it was just kind of like this incredibly cool challenge, not knowing exactly what the thread was going to be or where this was going to take us," says Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo. "Just really taking on the challenge and embracing it seems to keep things really fresh in our camp, especially after all these years. These amazing challenges that we've been taking on these last few years have really invigorated us and, in a way, created unity."
The origin of "Through the Never" dates back to 1997, Ulrich explains, when Imax producers approached the band about making a concert film.
"At that time, it was too complicated, too impractical the cameras were like the size of trucks," he says of the Imax filming process. "But we sort of stored the idea, and three or four years ago, we brought the idea back out."
And they added to it. Having mined real life in "Some Kind of Monster," Metallica went the other direction and sought something that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. The band decided to partner with horror/sci-fi director Nimród Antal ("Vacancy," "Predators") partly because, as Ulrich puts it, "we knew he was as crazy as we were."
The group, which also features vocalist-guitarist James Hetfield and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, co-wrote the screenplay with Antal. "Through the Never" which shares its title with a song from the band's 1991 self-titled effort, commonly referred to as "The Black Album" depicts one really wacky night at (and around) a Metallica concert. As the group pretty much goes about its business delivering a blistering concert a young roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is sent off to retrieve a missing van.
Unfortunately, Trip's errand happens to coincide with what might just be the End of the World. So as Metallica is blowing through its classic tunes onstage, viewers are continually updated on Trip's progress during breaks in the concert action.
Ironically, the concept of creating a concert/narrative-feature hybrid came out of the band's experience with the documentary "Some Kind of Monster."
"We had a positive experience with the way ('Some Kind of Monster') penetrated the movie world and the way that people embraced it," Ulrich says. "I think one of the big reasons that ('Monster') worked so well was that there was kind of a dramatic arch in it. So, we figured, seven or eight years later, if we were going to do a concert movie to maybe put a dramatic arch into (it) do a hybrid between concert and storytelling."
It turned out to be easier said than done.
"The stress level in movie production I think definitely exceeds making records," Trujillo says. "There are so many people on a movie set, and you don't even know what half of them are doing. You know they are doing something important."
Yet there's definitely an upside to putting in this kind of all-consuming effort.
"There's nothing quite as rewarding as seeing what you've collaborated with come to life on the screen," Trujillo says. "It's beautiful."