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Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Writing Credits:
Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky

The film that redefines group therapy.

Featuring the most successful heavy metal band of all time, Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster offers a revealing and exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the legendary band as they confront personal demons and their relationships with each other while recording their Grammy-winning album, "St. Anger".

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$46.359 thousand on 3 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.222 million.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 1/25/2005

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Metallica
• Audio Commentary with Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
• Trailers
Disc Two
• 41 Additional Scenes
• Sundance Q&A
• Sundance Press Conference
• San Francisco International Film Festival
• New York Premiere
• Metallica Club Screening
• Music Video
• Filmmaker Bios


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2005)

Love them or hate them, no one can deny that Metallica have proven to be one of the most successful and most enduring rock bands of the last 20 years. Through good times and bad, they’ve remained a major musical force. 2004’s Some Kind of Monster follows Metallica as they go where no metal band had gone before: into therapy.

The film’s start gives us a quick synopsis of the situation. Text tells us of Metallica’s success throughout the Eighties and Nineties but lets us know that before the early 2001 start of recording sessions for 2003’s St. Anger, “relations between the band members were at an all-time low”. It had been about three years since their last album, 1998’s covers collection Garage Inc. Metallica hadn’t made a new original record since 1996’s Load; apparently the material from 1997’s Reload consisted of material that didn’t make the earlier release. In addition, their battle against Napster backfired in terms of public relations, as fans viewed the band as spoiled rich crybabies.

After a quick glance at a 2003 album preview session, we jump back to the early 2001 departure of long-time bassist Jason Newsted. We meet therapist/performance enhancement coach Phil Towle and see the beginning of the band’s sessions with him in early 2001. These include the three remaining band members - drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist/lead vocalist James Hetfield, and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett - along with producer/fill-in bassist Bob Rock. To shake things up, they decide to record in an unused Army barracks in San Francisco.

For the most part, Monster cuts between recording and therapy sessions. In addition, we occasionally see archival materials, a few outside elements, and additional interviews with connected parties. We hear from studio manager Zach Harmon, former bassist Newsted, Lars’ father Torben, former guitarist Dave Mustaine, manager Cliff Burnstein, and Lars’ assistant Steven Wiig.

The film starts with the sessions to record St. Anger, but before long the band goes on hiatus when Hetfield enters rehab. This leaves the two remaining musicians and producer Rock with little to do, as Hetfield doesn’t return to the band for about a year. When he comes back, they relocate from the Presidio, and Hetfield also can only maintain a limited noon to four PM recording schedule; he needs to devote the rest of the time to his family. Unsurprisingly, this creates tensions in the band as it becomes tough to make a new album under such restrictions. The band also needs to find a new bassist eventually and deal with the various issues connected to promoting the album and touring.

How odd is it to see such a testosterone-fueled band like Metallica go the touchy-feely route? That element creates both strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, the band’s image definitely makes their therapy all the more intriguing. After all, it wouldn’t seem remarkable to watch a soft act like Chicago talk about their relationships and feelings. On the other hand, it creates something of a disconnect in the viewer; occasionally I wanted to slap them around and tell them to stop whining and just rock.

In any case, the film’s strengths definitely outweigh its weaknesses. We do get a good feel for the three main band members. Ulrich doesn’t receive a complimentary portrayal here. He comes across as bitter and negative much of the time, and the tension between Lars and Hetfield creates many of the movie’s most significant moments.

James seems quite self-involved and pours fuel on the fire some of the time. We can see how many of the band’s problems occur because he’s unwilling to compromise or look at other viewpoints. Sure, he needed to do what’s required to keep clean, and admire his personal growth, but he didn’t need to be so self-absorbed about it.

Hammett fares the best, as he takes the Derek Smalls role in the middle between Hetfield and Ulrich. Kirk seems like the nicest of the bunch as he tries to maintain the peace. Rock also looks good, partially because he’s the only one who appears to still enjoy making music. The others often act like it’s a chore, but whenever we watch Rock fill in on bass - especially during some live performances - he appears to have a blast.

While the intramural tensions among the three musicians fill much of the film, some of the most interesting moments relate to former members Newsted and Mustaine. Newsted becomes a periodic source of aggravation as he clearly holds a grudge against the others. Other than a few interviews with Jason, he remains a background figure who mostly annoys Metallica. One day he quits, then the next Newsted acts like he wants to return. The film probably doesn’t give Newsted’s perspective a full airing, but it definitely shows the band’s frustrations with him.

The parts with Mustaine are easily the film’s most poignant. An early member of Metallica, he got the boot long ago due to various problems. Mustaine achieved not insubstantial success with his next group, Megadeth, but he never lived up to the heights achieved by Metallica. This clearly haunts him and causes him much misery. He seems mired in “what could have been” and though he doesn’t appear to blame his former mates for their actions, Mustaine comes across as bitter they didn’t give him a second chance. I think an interesting documentary could come from Mustaine’s story on its own.

Possibly the biggest weakness in Monster stems from its erratic focus. It doesn’t follow the clearest through-line, as we jump from one topic to another. Yeah, that’s the way life works; our day-to-day existences don’t follow a three-act structure. Nonetheless, the movie flops around so much that it often doesn’t develop various themes terribly well. It could have used tighter editing and stronger delineation of various issues.

Despite that minor quibble, Some Kind of Monster remains a largely fascinating look at a major rock act. It watches Metallica as they go through the unusual step of band therapy and follows them through a mix of ups and (mostly) downs. It never becomes a totally satisfying documentary, but it musters a lot of insight and entertainment.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus A+

Some Kind of Monster appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite its origins as a videotaped program, Monster looked consistently fine within those parameters.

Sharpness seemed decent. As I expected from this sort of production, the image rarely looked extremely detailed, but it was more than acceptable for a videotaped piece. Very little softness interfered, as the movie remained accurate and concise the majority of the time. Though videotape often tends toward those problems, I detected only a few instances of jagged edges or moiré effects, and it showed only a little edge enhancement. Some video artifacting appeared occasionally, especially in low-light situations, but that was inevitable given the shooting conditions.

Colors appeared unexceptional but more than acceptable. The cameras captured the tones as they showed up in real life, and they came across as reasonably distinct and accurate. The hues never popped up strongly, but they were totally fine. Black levels also seemed tight and deep, while shadow detail was as clean as possible under the conditions. A few shots - such as those in dark nightclubs - were tough to discern, but I regarded that as virtually inevitable. I wouldn’t use Monster to demonstrate the visual capabilities of DVD, but the program looked positive for something with its origins.

While also typical for the genre, I must admit the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Some Kind of Monster was more of a disappointment. That’s because the movie spotlighted a musical act but didn’t do much with the songs. The soundfield demonstrated erratic stereo imaging for the songs. Sometimes they showed good delineation, while other instances presented mushier definition. Music and speech dominated the piece, as effects stayed in the domain of general atmosphere. Those added a little ambience and made some minor use of the surrounds, but they didn’t add much to the mix.

Audio was fine except for the music. The songs varied a fair amount. Sometimes they sounded pretty lively and vibrant, while other instances played them in a more lackluster way. Bass response was pretty flat most of the time, as the movie didn’t present a lot of low-end. Still, the songs were reasonably well-depicted much of the time, despite the lack of much dynamic range. Speech always sounded natural and crisp, though, and effects were acceptably clean and accurate. I did expect more from the audio of a music movie, but this track remained fine for the material.

A pretty extensive two-DVD set, Monster opens with a pair of audio commentaries on the first platter. One comes from Metallica members James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Lars Ulrich and Robert Trujillo. All four sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. This commentary sounds promising but ends up dull. The musicians mostly just toss out minor remarks about what they watch. Occasionally we get some insight into the experiences and find out a little about what happened off-screen. This means a few good notes like more about Ulrich and Dave Mustaine, and we also discover a bit more irritation aimed at Jason Newsted. Unfortunately, the useful statements pop up infrequently, as mostly they don’t tell us much. Dead air abounds and we simply don’t learn a whole lot from this slow track.

For the second commentary, we hear from directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific discussion. While the band track was very erratic, this one comes chock full of information. Berlinger and Sinofsky touch on pretty much everything we could want to know about their perspective. We find out how they got involved in the project, how it grew in scope, their few restrictions and many freedoms, working with Metallica and other attached parties, editing choices and paring down the 1600 hours of footage, financing, controversial concerns, and many other topics.

Almost no dead air appears, and the pair provide a frank and open look at their work. They let us know when they toyed with chronology to make the film flow better; for example, it looks like Napster was an issue during the filming, while it was really a dead issue by that point. They also discuss some mistakes they made and how their presence affected band interactions. The filmmakers tell us most of what we might want to know and make this a lively and extremely informative chat.

In addition to the two commentaries, DVD One includes a pair of trailers. We find both the “theatrical trailer” and the “concert trailer”.

Over on DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a collection of 41 Additional Scenes. The package amasses them in two areas. 28 appear in “Additional Scenes”, while the other 13 come in “Additional Scenes II: This Monster Lives”. It’s not totally clear why the package separates them, though I think the bits isolated in “Lives” all are also discussed in a separate book about the movie. I don’t like the absence of a “Play All” option in either domain.

Perhaps not coincidentally, taken together the 41 scenes last virtually the same amount of time as the feature film. The clips run a total of two hours, 22 minutes and 59 seconds, which means the deleted scenes actually run slightly longer than the final product. Of course, they’re not edited together to create an alternate version of Monster, but in length, they do add up essentially to a second film.

Given that the filmmakers had 1600 hours of footage from which to choose, it comes as no surprise that the deleted scenes are uniformly good. They expand on many of the issues discussed in the theatrical release and also delve into other topics. On serious notes, we learn a little of Hetfield’s family background, and the deleted scenes better explore tension between the band and Newsted. There’s more between Ulrich and Mustaine as well.

Lighter material comes from Hammett’s visit to traffic school - for which he wrote an Adam Sandler-style ditty - and Lars’ general whininess in a couple of clips. Musically, we see and hear a hip-hop mash-up with Metallica plus a live version of “Frantic” and the band’s performance at a Raiders game. This extra footage is always fun to watch and the clips help make this a terrific package.

10 of the scenes come with optional commentary from directors Berlinger and Sinofsky. They offer basic background for the segments and tell us why the clips were cut from the final film. Usually scenes are deleted for length, and that’s partially true here. However, most of them were lost for thematic reasons. For example, they didn’t want to show any live performances until the movie’s end so the band’s return to the stage would feel more climactic. The comments offer good perspective on the material.

In a domain called “Festivals and Premieres”, we find five components. Sundance Q&A lasts five and a half minutes and involves comments from Berlinger and Sinofsky. If you’ve listened to their commentary, you’ll find little in the way of new material here. We get a few comments from Dr. Phil Towle, who’s also in attendance, but otherwise the Q&A simply covers ground already addressed in the filmmaker commentary.

The Sundance Press Conference goes for 14 minutes, 45 seconds, and includes a panel with all four members of Metallica. This comes from the same screening as the prior Q&A, though the band members appear via satellite while on tour. They also touch on a few areas addressed in their commentary, but they open things up a bit as well. Of key interest are their remarks about the Napster fallout and whether they should “apologize” for what they did. There’s nothing revelatory, but the conference includes enough useful material to merit a look.

Next we get a 10-minute and 45-second piece from the San Francisco International Film Festival. It shows the band and the filmmakers at that screening of the flick. They take some simple questions but don’t get into much that we don’t already know. Probably the most interesting one asks if James finds it hard to stay sober on the road.

A similar clip comes from the New York Premiere. It lasts six minutes and 15 seconds as we watch the band and filmmakers arrive at the screening. They also provide some comments to welcome everyone. The material says fairly brief and superficial, so while it’s interesting to see for archival reasons, it doesn’t tell us much.

“Festivals and Premieres” ends with a snippet from the Metallica Club Screening. In this four-minute and 11-second segment, we watch as fans view a rough cut of the flick. They then offer their thoughts about it. The comments are uniformly positive but it’s good to hear an outside perspective.

After this we find a Music Video for “Some Kind of Monster”. It collects movie bits and performance segments in a montage. It’s not terribly interesting and largely acts as a long ad. Lastly, the package ends with Filmmaker Bios. Actually, these are just slightly annotated filmographies, with very little additional information about Berlinger and Sinofsky.

User-friendly footnote: as usual, Paramount present English subtitles for the extras.

Most rock documentaries are interesting solely to fans of the act in question. Not so for Some Kind of Monster, a mildly erratic but mostly compelling look at the ups and downs of Metallica. The movie benefits from total access to the band as well as some usual moments as they go through therapy.

The DVD presents adequate but unexceptional picture and audio. However, it boasts a killer array of extras. The band commentary disappoints, but an excellent directors’ track makes up for its flaws, and an extremely generous collection of deleted scenes and other footage puts this one over the top. I highly recommend this entertaining and insightful flick, especially since it offers the first great DVD of 2005.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3809 Stars Number of Votes: 21
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