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Paramount Studios presents
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

"Where does a record start? Where does a record end?"
- Lars Ulrich

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 25, 2005

Stars: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hamett, Robert Trujillo
Other Stars: Bob Rock, Phil Towle, Robert Trujillo, Dave Mustaine, Jason Newstead, Cliff Burnstein, Twiggy Ramirez, Crazy Cabbie
Director: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 02h:20m:20s
Release Date: January 25, 2005
UPC: 097368863743
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B B

DVD Review

Let me come clean for a moment.

I'll say at the outset of this review that I am not one of the Metallica faithful. I am, however, a huge music fan, so maybe that counts for something in the scheme of things. But the metal genre, or whatever they're officially classified as, was always just on the outskirts of my musical radar, and though I was familiar with the basic tenets of what the long-lasting entity known as Metallica was all about, I was never what you would consider remotely a fan. I never disliked them, I just never gravitated towards them. Somehow a song like Enter Sandman was familiar to me, but I would have been hard pressed to come up one other song title of theirs.

Why the big disclaimer, you ask?

It's because Metallica: Some Kind of Monster does not require that one be in on what the band is all about, that it is not necessary to know the history or the songs to find this documentary completely fascinating. Being a music fan probably helps, but it's probably not a prerequisite. This wasn't made, or at least didn't end up as a fanboy homage—though I'm sure Metallica-heads will mine some nuggets that escaped me—but that's not really what filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost) had in mind.

What started as an inside look at the creative process of making what would eventually become the Grammy-winning release, St. Anger, became a fly-on-the-wall view of one of rock's biggest acts disintegrating as addictions, conflicts, hostilities, and vendettas threatened to tear them apart, with documentary cameras there to catch it all.

It looks behind the magical curtain of big time rock and roll, and it isn't always pretty.

Things start in early 2001, with the band in the beginning stages of putting together their first album in five years, still missing a bassist after the departure of Jason Newstead, who came into conflict with vocalist/guitarist and de facto bossman James Hetfield. The remaining three members (Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett) have enlisted the help of Phil Towle, a $40,000/month therapist hired to open the lines of communication, and the appropriately named album producer Bob Rock has been drafted to do double duty as bassist. As the days begin to tick by, with no real forward progress being made, Hetfield, who has been on the wrong end of substance abuse for years, ups and vanishes as he goes into an isolated period of rehab that stretches nearly a year, leaving the new project temporarily stagnant.

There is a veneer of strange but true weirdness in this rock and roll world, something that Berlinger and Sinofsky display with an unblinking eye. Hetfield's eventual clean-and-sober return, which sparked a whole new set of internal problems—primarily between him and Ulrich—falls in alongside such other obstacles as the backlash brought upon them by Ulrich's public crusade against Napster, or the increasing role of therapist Towle to build an "I'm feeling this when you say that" kind of dialogue between the bickering leads of the group, while gentle-voiced Hammett always lurks in the background, almost unwilling to rise up against Hetfield, drunk, sober or otherwise. Or witness the near parody levels reached as one-time member Dave Mustaine (who went on to form metal rival Megadeth) confronts Ulrich in one of the therapy sessions, citing his hurt feelings. I can't stress how odd it was to see members of two of the biggest metal acts getting in touch with their emotions, and while I don't knock them doing it, there is something almost Spinal Tap-ish about the whole thing.

All that reality TV strife and drama is only a small part of what makes this doc so immensely watchable, because along the way Berlinger and Sinofsky capture a seldom seen look at the songwriting process, as studio rehearsals turn into brainstorming sessions as snippets of lyrics are bandied about, or riffs are molded and tweaked to create songs.

Even one of Hetfield's throwaway barbs used during a conference call ends up becoming a key lyric to one of the new songs. One one hand it's a kick to see a band that has sold 90 million albums argue and complain amongst themselves, but seeing them create music reinforces the whole "they put their pants on one leg at a time" mentality. There is no magic pill to songwriting, and the Metallica members, high and mighty rock gods that they are, go through the same kind of back-and-forth struggle in the process of writing music. And if anything, it knocks them down a peg and immediately makes them seem like regular joes (admittedly wealthy joes), even as one of them (Ulrich) is shown making millions of dollars after auctioning off some of his prized artwork collection.

If you have a love of music—any type at all, it doesn't matter—then I know you will find the experience a real joyride. For a doc it may seem to run a little long, pushing the 140 minute mark, but I never found the pace to be lethargic or dull. The threat of disintegration and the loose degree of cohesion that keeps a band like Metallica together puts a face to the terms "creative differences".

Look at the underbelly of rock and roll. Look at it!

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Metallica: Some Kind of Monster has been issued by Paramount in its original 1:33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. Shot on what appears to have been digital video, the transfer has an even-keeled crispness and clarity, with a level of brightness that looks a whole lot better than similar documentaries shot on film, which generally are made on extremely modest budgets. Some of the material, such as some the early 1980s Metallica archival footage, looks a bit iffy in spots, but for the most part this is a very good looking transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio choices are either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or 2.0 stereo. Rear channels don't get used very often on the 5.1 mix, not completely uncommon in a doc, though in one featuring music I did expect a little more. It's not a problematic track by any means, dialogue and interviews are recorded cleanly, and the music is spread evenly across the front channels. By comparison, the stereo track lacks some of the more pronounced separation found on the 5.1, but is a perfectly serviceable mix in its own right.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
43 Deleted Scenes
6 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Plenty of extras on this two-disc set, with disc one featuring the film itself, a pair of theatrical trailers and two full-length commentary tracks, one from the directors and one from Metallica. The first commentary is from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and is the better of the two. As they did on Brother's Keeper, their track connects a lot of dots with regard to what was going on when the cameras were off, such as how they worked to quietly ingratiate themselves into the day-to-day of the band to prevent the project from being scrapped, which almost happened a number of times.

The second commentary comes from the band themselves (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo), and of all the individual parts of this release, this is the one that will probably appeal to Metallica fans the most. It's not the most compelling or open track I've ever listened to, made up mostly of self-mocking attempts at humor, but if you're a fan it's a chance to get a little more of the band talking about themselves.

Disc 2 features 28 deleted/additional scenes, some of which are available with optional commentary from Joe Berlinger or Bruce Sinofsky. None of the scenes are especially revealing, and the commentary indicates most were cut for pacing reasons in attempt to corral the runtime a bit. My personal favorite was the one where the Ulrich and Hammett were struggling to connect to the band's website for an online chat with fans, and none of their passwords seemed to work. This Monster Lives contains another 13 additional scenes, some available with filmmaker commentary, but really seems designed to promote Berlinger's companion book of the same name.

Next is a section entitled Festivals & Premieres, devoted to slightly repetitive short clips of the filmmakers and the band promoting the finished product and taking audience questions. The segments are Sundance Q&A (05m:33s), Sundance Press Conference (14m:49s), San Francisco International Film Festival (10m:47s), New York Premiere (06m:10s), and Metallica Club Screening (04m:13s).

The second disc ends with filmmaker bios and a Metallica music video (04m:36s), though I'm not sure what the title is because it isn't indicated anywhere, but it features scenes from the film intercut with footage of the band in concert.

The feature is cut into 37 chapters, and features optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Don't be put off expecting a typical "behind the music" bit of fluff, because Some Kind of Monster is a deep, insider's look showing a legendary rock band, once known as Alcoholica, literally imploding. As if the solid doc itself weren't enough, there's also a pair of commentaries, 40 deleted scenes, trailers and even a Metallica music video.

Rock on, indeed.

Highly recommended.

 


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