Metallica: Some Kind of Monster review by Mike Long

(Writer's Note: I will make every attempt to keep this review from becoming a diatribe on music or counseling...but I'm not making any promises.)

In the late 80s/early 90s, I was a huge Metallica fan, but I wasn't happy with their shift in musical direction and haven't listened to (their new stuff) in years. I am still a big fan of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, as I truly admire their two Paradise Lost documentaries. (Hell, I even like Berlinger's much maligned Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.) So, it was with mixed emotions that I approached the documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. I knew that Berlinger & Sinofsky could put together a watchable film, but would it be interesting? The truth is that the duo lucked into a real-life soap opera and the resulting film may not be pretty, but it's truly entertaining.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is ostensibly a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the band's "St. Anger" album. They had done something similar in the early 90s with "A Year and a half in the Life of Metallica" home video, which examined the making of their self-titled 1991 album. That piece certainly illustrated the struggles within the band when it came to recording an album. But, it's nothing compared to the drama which unfurls in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

The documentary begins in March, 2001. Having gotten together to write new material, the band, comprised of singer/guitarist James Hetfield, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and drummer Lars Ulrich, is immediately met with turmoil when it is announced that bass player Jason Newsted has left the group, mostly due to personality conflicts with Hetfield. With this news, the band, joined by long-time producer Bob Rock, decides to see the help of therapist Phil Towle, who has a reputation for aiding groups with cohesion issues. While doing this, the group enters the studio to begin work on a new album, with Rock sitting in on bass. In the past, Hetfield and Ulrich have handled all of the songwriting chores, but for this session, the band decides to have everyone involved, so there is a lot of improvisation and jamming in the studio. However, the band struggles to find a decent groove, and even with the therapy, there continues to be tension within the group. Things comes to a head when James leaves to enter rehab. At this point, with only two official band members remaining, the future of Metallica looks quite bleak. The remainder of the documentary follows the group as they try to rebuild themselves.

Berlinger and Sinofsky have stated that this project started out as a small endeavor to document the making of an album (rumor has it that the doc was to be for VH1) and they found themselves on a three year journey. And they've shot and edited the film in such a way that we are on that journey with them and Metallica. The filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to the band, their home lives, their studio sessions, and their therapy sessions. The result is a look deep inside the lives of Metallica, and at 2 hours and 20 minutes, the movie does seem long at times, but it is undeniably in-depth.

But, here's the big question that many of you may be asking: If I'm not a fan of Metallica or even familiar with the band, will I enjoy Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. The short answer is yes. Despite the fact that Metallica apparently had some hand in financing the documentary, the film is no glamour piece. This is a very raw and revealing movie where we get to see all of the faults and foibles of the band. We see their arguments; we see James' moodiness; we see their whining. The movie can be very frustrating at times and many viewers will find themselves hating James and Lars during the movie -- James for his seemingly pompous demeanor and Lars for his whining (where you can't help but think, "You're rich and in a band. Just play music and have fun!") We see that being in a long-running successful band doesn't mean that the people in that system are friends and get along. We also get a detailed look at how an album is made. One of the most honest aspects of the film comes when James returns from rehab and shows the hard work that one must do in order to remain sober. These aspects of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster make the movie very engrossing and the style used by Berlinger and Sinofsky give the feel a slight feeling of suspense, even though we know that the album is completed. Many have referred to 2004 as a great year for documentaries and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is yet another good example.

(Hey...I did it...I didn't go off on the music...But, I have to say that even though I enjoyed this movie, I still don't like Metallica's new music. Nothing will ever top "Master of Puppets". And as far as commenting on counseling, as a counselor, I can say that Phil Towle does very little to improve the public's opinion of psychotherapy. But, he always seems to be there when food is being served.)

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster comes to DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The documentary is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. (To be honest, I can't tell if it was shot on high-end video, film, or a mixture of both, as the video quality varies from scene to scene.) The image is clear and sharp, although there is some video noise on the image at times (which is why I lean to it being shot on video). There is no grain to the image and the colors are good. Any quick movements of the camera create artifacting issues and the fleshtones are a bit waxy at times. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is acceptable as it provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The only time that the surround sound speakers come to life is during the concert scenes or with musical cues.

The Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a two-disc set which contains a nice assortment of extras. Disc 1 contains an audio commentary by filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. This is a good commentary as this duo (who have been partners for years) talk about not only the film at hand, but their working process and how their experiences on other films effect their work today. A second commentary features Metallica themselves (with new member Robert Trujillo). This commentary is rather dull, as there are many long periods of silence and the comments are of the "I remember that" variety for the most part. Disc 1 also contains 2 trailers for the film, the "Theatrical Trailer" and the "Concert Trailer", both of which are full-frame. Disc Two opens with 28 "Additional Scenes", some of which contain optional audio commentary by Berlinger and Sinofsky. Unfortunately, there is no PLAY ALL feature here, so it takes some work to get through the 28 scenes, which offer some good footage. There is another section of "Additional Scenes", which is called "This Monster Lives: Additional Scenes II". This section contains 13 scenes and once again has optional commentary and no PLAY ALL feature. "Festivals & Premieres" contains around 41 minutes of footage as it looks at the film's showing at 5 different events. The extras are rounded out by a video for the song "Some Kind of Monster" and filmographies for Berlinger and Sinofsky.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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