On the cusp of the thirty-year anniversary of their debut album, Kill ‘Em All, Metallica was doing something they’d probably never even dreamed about, back when they were touring in a van. The foursome was promoting a 3-D motion picture event with jaw-dropping Hollywood effects, with the story centered around lyrics from their 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.
But 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 their upcoming feature film Metallica: Through The Never, but word was spreading fast that the foursome were 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 Osborne 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 the band during one of their performances. 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 story; 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, “Dahaan 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.
Talking about 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.”
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 a virus though the convention. They had clearly chosen their audience wisely.
Immediately following the interview, Lars was whisked away to join his band mates for a panel discussion in front of 6,000-person audience at Comic Con’s infamous Hall H.
All four members of Metallica, along with director Nimród Antal and star Dane DeHaan took questions from the audience and debuted the film’s trailer along with an exclusive four-minute, breathtaking 3-D clip.
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.
For their performance footage, the cameras shot more from the band’s perspective than the typical view from the audience. Metallica created a set list that would have new and old fans excited, while the enormous and “incredibly complex” stage was designed specifically with the 3-D film in mind.
The band’s managers set out to find a specialist in the 3-D field. They landed Charlotte Huggins, a long-time 3-D feature film expert, most widely known for her work on Journey to the Center of the Earth and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
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 finally time to reveal that concert tickets 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. After winning numbers were called, the anxious winners we sent running upstairs to collect the über-exclusive tickets.
Hours later, a line wrapped around the historic Spreckels Theater in downtown San Diego where comedian Patton Oswalt performed to an uproarious crowd just 24 hours earlier.
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 over-sized speaker cabinets hung from ceiling blasting more sound than the little theater built in 1912 had likely ever been subjected to. The audience’s bouncing and foot stomping bowed the balcony to the beat testing the very wood it was built with. Chandeliers shivered as the Bay-area foursome took the stage to deafening applause, launching with the crowd-pleaser, “Creeping Death.”
Camera cranes hovered overhead as every second of the 14-song set was documented (set list below).
(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Metallica Through The Never)
— Jay Tilles, Radio.com.