Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)
(Release Date: July 30, 2004)
(Premiere Date: January 21, 2004 [Sundance Film Festival])


1/2

All Kinds of Frantic!

J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!




There are few bands in the world as storied as the great Metallica! Like them, or hate them, for almost a quarter of a century they've been telling a changing story in the book of Heavy Metal, and it's safe to say that they've influenced the future of the genre mostly for the better. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is by far not the first documentary on Metallica (though it is the first to see wide theatrical release) and it certainly won't be the last documentary on Metallica. However, the little film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky is by no means your typical "Rockumentary". In fact, this film bears a much closer resemblance to documentaries like Lost in La Mancha with its all-access voyeurism than some Behind the Music episode.

In most cases this is a good thing, however, the nearly unprecedented viewpoint the film makers got seems to have resulted in more than just a treasure trove of footage. In truth, the three years of filming seems to be pressed into the film's two-plus hours in an indulgent lack of editing. The overall outcome is a good film that over stays its welcome and repeats itself often like an uninvited relative that you love too much to ask to leave. If Some Kind of Monster was as slim and trim as the album it chronicles, it might have been great. As it stands it gets close... very close to Metallica. And it gets close to being good.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster covers quite a lot of the History of this long-lived Metal band, but is much less concerned with retrospective than it is telling the story of the album that would eventually grow into St. Anger. This span from 2001 to 2003 fueled a loud and furious record that gives an overall medicinal and psychiatric feel (see my review here), and this film delves deeply into the explanation of how this happened. In that Metallica's group therapist Phil Towle was not only a prominent force in their lives, but actually remained in the Studio with the boys explains a lot. But at a fee of Forty Thousand Dollars a month (!) if this didn't explain a lot Some Kind of Monster would have been some kind of travesty.

In the wake of the departure of bassist Jason Newstead, Metallica entered into the group therapy they had been discussing for quite some time. Remaining members Kirk Hammett (lead Guitar), James Hetfield (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Lars Ulrich (percussion) are joined in the group by producer (and St. Anger's fill-in bassist) Bob Rock. Also joining them are the Documentary cameras detailing every word. The overall feeling is one of guilty eavesdropping, and is every bit as uncomfortable as reading some of the Lyrics to St. Anger.


When Hetfield disappears for nearly a year to recover from his alcoholism, the future of the movie, and in fact, the future of Metallica is called into question. It's at this point that the album-to-be truly begins to take form and the dealings with the literal and extended families begin. Within the family of Metallica itself this is the catalyst for the mending of fences with former members both living and dead. To this end Newstead does indeed play a paramount role as himself with and without his side project(s). Most interestingly, Lars begins to heal with original Guitarist (and Megadeth frontman) Dave Mustaine. And of course, the movie never lets you forget the specter of deceased original Bassist Cliff Burton still hangs over the band.

It's easy to forget sometimes that very famous stars, like Metallica, are in fact human beings with all the mistakes and frailties that people have, and this movie shows a lot of mistakes and humanizes everyone, including the oft-reviled Mustaine. There is no perfection in this movie, and never is this better shown than in the bookended personalities of Lars and James.

But the imperfection spreads often into the film making itself. Aside from the questionable right we viewers have to see this deeply into the confidential parts of these lives, there is also an over-indulgent inclusion of everything making a touching and deep movie overlong and at times tedious. In a documentary like this one, it's not possible to critique performances because these people are being themselves, but the question of how much the camera changed the outward self is certainly raised. Here, however, the guys are a lot less concerned with how you like their music than they are with getting better as men. And if you had issues with the content of St. Anger you should hear some of the songs they left off.

The advertisers would have you believe that this movie will appeal even to viewers who are not fans of the music. It's not really possible for me to recuse myself from being a Metallica fan, but I find this claim dubious. The recap the film gives us of Metallica's history is good, but there seems to be a need for at least some knowledge of Metallica beyond what is included here. There is also a needed attachment to the music itself, and scene after scene is laced and enhanced by Metallica's own thundering Heavy Metal from 1981 to the present. It's a treat for Fans, but non-fans may be turned off by the raucous noise. On the other hand, Heavy Metal fans may or may not have the patience to sit through the Therapy scenes.

Either by intent or poor editing, there is also a repetitive and nonlinear aspect to the story telling. It's hard to feel any of the tension that Berlinger and Sinofsky try to build up as Metallica tries hard to select a bassist seeing as how they triumphantly announced his hiring a half hour before hand. Similarly the build up to the MTV Icons special feels well out of place and tacked on after Metallica's arrival at the show was given full observance earlier in the movie. Because of this, it's clear that Metallica: Some Kind of Monster could have benefited from some more editing, both in the realm of timing and in the concept of order.

Still, it's rare to get this much insight into any band, or any family of any kind, and as a making-of documentary it goes well, well beyond the call in showing the real thoughts, feelings and reasons behind the words and music contained on an album. The thinking music fan will find a lot to enjoy here. The movie isn't bad... but it isn't great!

That's why I'm giving Three and a Half Stars out of Five to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. Rarely do we see so deeply, and rarely do rock stars come off so full, real and human. Even Lars' infamous Napster escapades are delved into from both sides. Still one has to wonder why we're shown quite this much, and what exactly the film makers were hoping to accomplish with the overall order of things beyond the simple revitalization of a dying band. Like St. Anger itself, this documentary is a mixed bag and it ultimately comes across as being some kind of Frantic!


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Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is solely responsible for his views and for the firing of Phil Towle!
Sorry Phil!
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