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METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Metallica, Bob Rock
Directors:  Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  140 Minutes
Release Date:  January 25, 2005

“Now the world is gone; I'm just one.”

Film ***

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a rather fascinating documentary that lays bare what many of us have always suspected:  even the biggest, most aggressive and most influential rock stars in the world are really nothing but little whiny bitches behind the scenes.

I'm an old school Metallica fan…that is to say, I love their work from their first album up through And Justice For All.  Starting with their so-called “black album”, the self-titled one, they seemed to be shifting gears from no-prisoners death metal toward a more MTV and VH1 friendly format.  Producer Bob Rock polished them up, smoothed out the edges, and slicked up their recordings so that they were more single-friendly.

Then there was that whole Napster fiasco, which caused me, like a lot of other former fans, to pledge never to spend another penny on Metallica product…a vow I've kept to this day.  In fact, had the studio not been kind enough to send me this DVD to review, I'd have never picked it up.

That being said, I'm glad I got a chance to see it.  Co-directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who made the must-see Paradise Lost documentaries, started out chronicling a new phase in the band's career.  Their long time bassist Jason Newstead had departed, citing the damage he had inflicted upon himself over the years playing Metallica's heavy music.  Now there were three, getting ready to forge ahead with what would ultimately become the St. Anger album.  But first, the band needed a little therapy to soften things back up between them.

At the heart of Metallica is a clash between two large egos.  Singer/guitarist James Hetfield fronts the band with a trademark snarl and pessimistic lyrics, but his longtime drinking problem started coming to a head.  Drummer Lars Ulrich seems to have gone from being in it for the music to being all about the money and the image.  Lead guitarist Kirk Hammett comes across as a gentle, thoughtful soul who often tries to calm the raging waters but ends up over his head quite a bit.

The therapist takes $40,000 a month from the band and leads them like children down so-called paths of healing.  James and Lars seem almost incapable of foraging ahead as music partners, much less friends.  The recording session starts and stalls after James decides to check himself into rehab.  The others have no clue how long he'll be gone.  One makeshift studio is torn down in favor of another.  The creative juices aren't flowing.

In the film's most interesting segment, to me at least, Lars is brought together with former lead guitarist Dave Mustaine (who later formed and fronted Megadeth) to come to terms over Dave's early and untimely dismissal.  He got fired, then the band broke big…not an easy thing to live with.  Whether or not this meeting brought about any healing is suspect, but for metal fans, it made for one helluva moment.

Eventually James returns, but tensions don't ease.  The guys, who once lived loud and partied hard, all had family lives pulling at them.  Seeing them with their kids is a nice touch; it lends a sense of normalcy to guys who are essentially hard rock legends.

But nothing lends as much normalcy as just seeing them in states of self-pity, frustration, and sullenness.  Every band has their share of problems (I know from a bit of personal experience myself), but when you're a band the size of Metallica, every problem seems larger than life and heavier than the music they play.

This could have been a Let it Be type documentary that unwittingly chronicled the end of a once great band, but fortunately for them and their fans, they pulled it together.  They started finding the love in making music once again, they added bass player phenom Robert Trujillo of Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves fame to the lineup, and in the end, produced their heaviest and most satisfying record in years.  At least, that's what I'm told, because as mentioned, I don't buy their stuff anymore.

If there's a lesson to be had, I suppose it's that a band can see its way through anything as long as the fire to make music still burns within them.  Metallica maybe another casualty of fame and infamy waiting to happen.  But it didn't happen today.

Video **

The movie was shot on video and is presented in standard screen format.  It looks fine for what it is, which certainly isn't an exercise in cinematographic stylings.  What you see is what you get, and it's perfectly serviceable.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack, however, is terrific…as you might have guessed, mostly owing to the music.  When the band plays, it's loud, heavy, and thunderous, thanks to the surrounds and the subwoofer.  The heavy tunes gives the track its dynamic range.  Quieter moments with focus on spoken words come through clearly and cleanly as well.

Features ***1/2

The disc has two commentary tracks, one by the co-directors and one by the members of the group.  Both are occasionally sparse and frequently superfluous, because in a documentary, all the information about what's going on is really on the screen in front of you.

There are also a total of 40 deleted or additional scenes, interviews with the band members about the making of the film, highlights from the film festivals and premieres, and a pair of trailers and a music video.

Summary:

Nothing is going to stop me from missing early pre-MTV Metallica, but that's my problem.  At any rate, Some Kind of Monster is an intriguing and entertaining peek behind the scenes of one of rock's biggest acts, and seeing them at a point when success was ready to bring about a full-on implosion.

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