Released: 2004, Paramount
Metallica has never been a focal point of this site. It’s just not really our style and in the bands 30+ year career we have only reviewed one Metallica album on the site. However, in the spirit of being comprehensive for the Library Of Loudness section I decided to review six books about Metallic books in July and I have one more to add to the pile, THIS MONSTER LIVES and after reading the book I decided to go back and watch the movie again and figured I might as well write a review to pair up with the book review.
Despite the massive success and popularity of the movie a quick synopsis is in order. Back in 2001 or so Metallica was stagnant, drifting, aimless and bickering. They hired a full-time performance coach/therapist (at $40,000 a month!) by the name of Phil and at roughly the same time a pair of documentary film-makers had approached the band to do a promo video for the band and the label (Elektra) for the making of the up-coming (as of then) un-named album. The camera dues got more than they bargained for and as time went on the promo video bloomed into a 'monster' documentary endorsed by the band, label and management. The film crew ended up working with the band for almost two years and caught some of their most intimate moments, highs and lows across the making of the controversial St. Anger album.
The movie is low key and the film-makers are relatively unobtrusive. It's slow to mid-paced, no special effects to speak of, just the cameras capturing the band, rehearsing, arguing, hanging out, recording, bickering and more. It certainly is a look behind the metallic(a) curtain and the band was very brave to do so. The film-makers protect the privacy of the members when it comes to family life, there are a couple brief shots of wives and kids, but for the most part the cameras were relegated to the recording studios. There is lots of emotional drama in the movie. Jason Newstead quits, James Hetfield storms out, Lars snaps, the original recording sessions tank...it ain't pretty. There are many light moments which show the human side of the band. James discusses his love of cars, Lars discuss his love of art, Kirk discusses his love of surfing and we see the members out and about in the San Francisco area living life and trying to work. It is not as easy to be creative and spontaneous when the rich rockstars, really just don't want to be there working when they could be out having fun. Some days one guy is on fire and someone else is not or vice-versa and poor Hammet always seems to be stuck in the middle! THe scenes were almost everyone realizes the tracks they have laid-down just generally suck, is painful to watch, especially when Ulrich's own father suggests they delete the tracks! On a side note: there is such a bizarre dichotomy. St. Anger debuted at #1 in 30 countries except I don't think I've EVER met one Metal fan who likes the album. Weird. When the album came out the band said, 'This is the album we had to make, to get back to our roots'. I called bullshit right away, BUT after having watched the movie I can understand why they said that. The song-writing process opened up, new members, new studio, the lyrics became a shared responsibility, it really was Metallica's (multi-million) garage album all over again.
A couple of highlights are the scenes when they audition bassists and settle on Trujillo. At one point they welcome him to the band at Metallica HQ by offering him one million dollar advance AND offer him equal voting percentages in the company. Then they cut to a shot of Trujillo jumping for joy in his spartan apartment! Another scene of note is the oft-publicized meeting between Ulrich and Mustaine where they try to reconcile. It's touching but I do sympathize with Lars in that Mustaine was wearing that chip on his shoulder for way to long.
Your enjoyment of SOME KIND OF MONSTER will depend on two things. Do you like documentaries and do you like Metallica. If you like one or the other you will find value in the movie. If you like both you are in for a treat. I like Metal-based documentaries, I have about two dozen in my personal library and this is one of the biggest and most commercially successful. The movie runs well over two hours, but never seems to drag. The bonus features on the DVD run over 6 hours with 40+ extra scenes, interviews, commentaries, trailers and a video. It is a lot a lot get through but it is rewarding.
I've seen the movie three times now. Once when it came out, once when I bought the DVD and again just recently after I read the book. It was certainly a worthwhile exercise as I saw many things I never noticed before. The bonus material is all worthwhile although over 10 hours of Metallica is a bit much to try to tackle in one sitting. The movie and the book work really well together to document a time of turmoil for one of the world's largest bands.