|Metallica - Some Kind of Monster (2004)
Starring: James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Bob Rock
Director: Joe Berlinger
When Metallica emerged after a five-year hibernation in 2003 with a new album, St. Anger, both the band and their fans were hesitant. The fans didn’t know what to expect after such a lengthy hiatus, one that saw longtime bassist Jason Newsted depart from their ranks and frontman James Hetfield enter rehab. The band, meanwhile, didn’t know how their fans would respond to the new album, given the change in lineup, the change in musical climate, and let’s not forget that the intervening years had also seen a backlash from the group’s lawsuit against those file-sharing giants, Napster. “Some Kind of Monster” is a documentary, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (“Paradise Lost”), about the goings-on during the recording of St. Anger, and let’s put this very important fact on the table right away: you don’t have to be a fan of Metallica to get sucked into this film.
As filming begins, Metallica has decided to begin recording their first, post-Newsted album at a place called the Presidio...not actually a studio, but an army barracks in San Francisco, where the idea is to get back to the basics. Without all the luxuries of a traditional studio environment; the band brings all the recording equipment with them, producer Bob Rock – now doubling as the band’s bassist – in tow, with plans to simply sit down and, starting with a completely blank slate, write and record songs for their next record. This, of course, proves easier said than done.
Despite having their therapist Phil Towle along for the ride – a concept that, on its surface, seems like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch (“Heavy Metal Therapist,” possibly played by Darrell Hammond) – tempers begin to flare almost immediately. Hetfield gripes about drummer Lars Ulrich’s attempts to try something different with his beat, Ulrich snipes that Hetfield’s playing is “stock,” and guitarist Kirk Hammett plays the dual roles of Switzerland and Rodney King, avoiding taking sides even while quietly asking if they all can’t just get along. Hetfield eventually storms out, and when he finally does return, almost a year has passed.
Although the documentary might have skipped ahead to Hetfield’s return, Berlinger and Sinofsky continued to shoot, and the footage is revelatory. It was a tremendous risk for Metallica to allow this sort of access, unprecedented outside of a reality show. It shows them ill at ease, uncertain about their place in the world of music, even less positive about their own future as a band. After all, how comfortable can you be in believing that things are going to return to normal when your lead singer leaves for almost a year?
Call it an extended “Behind the Music” episode, as some skeptics did, but “Some Kind of Monster” is consistently enthralling. Indeed, it’s arguably the best behind-the-scenes look at a disintegrating band since the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” (The Beatles win, however, because...well, they actually broke up.) At 140 minutes, it might be a little long, but it remains entertaining throughout. Particular kudos go to Metallica for proving that they have more of a sense of humor than anyone would’ve expected, allowing the inclusion of the legendary “Napster Bad” animated short, which paints Ulrich as a weasel and Hetfield as a mindless hulk, within the film. It’s also rather surreal to hear Ulrich laughingly quote “This Is Spinal Tap” on at least two different occasions.
At the end of “Some Kind of Monster,” will people who hadn’t gone in as fans of the band run out and buy a Metallica CD? No, probably not. But, at the very least, they’ll likely never look at the group in the same way again, and that’s as much of an accomplishment as any documentary can hope for.
- 40 Additional Scenes
- Exclusive interviews with Metallica about the film
- Highlights from festivals and premieres
- Two audio commentaries by the band and the filmmakers
- Two trailers and a music video