Metallica: S & M

Metallica: S & M (1999)
Extras: Documentary, Multi-angle Feature, Bonus Video, Isolated Music Tracks

"Don’t we already have that on laserdisc?" "Isn’t that on TBS every other day?" "But you hate that movie!" These responses may be familiar to those of you who are like me and insist on getting certain things on DVD. There are some titles that just won’t do on any other format, whether it be for the improved audio and video quality or because of special features. "Metallica: S & M" falls into both categories. While this concert, featuring Metallica performing live with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, is also available on VHS and also on audio CD, it must be seen on DVD. The DVD not only offers superior audio and video reproduction, but it has some special features that put it head-and-shoulders above any other medium. This DVD is the first that I’ve seen from Elektra Entertainment, but I must say that I’m impressed.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this project, I’ll give you some background information. In 1999, heavy metal icons Metallica teamed-up with composer Michael Kamen and decided to do a concert with a full orchestra. Kamen is a veteran film composer, having scored such hits as "Last Action Hero", the "Die Hard" films, the "Lethal Weapon" films, and most recently, "X-Men". Kamen had also done previous rock/orchestra combos with Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, and Queensrÿche. As Metallica are Bay Area natives, it was decided that the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra would be used for the project. Producer Bob Rock was brought in to assist in the mixing of thrash with classical. Kamen took the original Metallica songs and composed orchestral accompaniments to them. Kamen and Rock then assisted Metallica as they spent time rehearsing this new situation.

The concert itself, which was held in April of 1999, is a mixture of two different worlds. Metallica plays at the front of the stage and they are backed by the huge orchestra. The orchestra is dressed in their customary tuxedos and formal gowns, while Metallica wears a slightly altered version of their normal stage garb – they did bother to wear jackets! While the audience appears to be dominated by screaming Metallica fans, there is an occasional shot of someone who looks like a Symphony "Season Ticket" holder.

But, the important thing here is the music, right. While there is a meeting of the old and the new with the combination of an orchestra and Metallica, there is always a mixture of the old and new with the song selections. The songs presented here range from brand new material to songs that go back to 1985. Thus, we get a sampling of the bands’ older, heavier stuff and their newer, more mainstream songs. As a fan of the older material, the highlights for me were "Master of Puppets", "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "One". But the newer material, such as "Fuel" and the previously unreleased "No Leaf Clover" also work very well.

The bottom line is that the entire concert is a success. Michael Kamen and Metallica have done a wonderful job of combining two very different styles of music. While Metallica’s sound has always been loud enough to fill any hall, the orchestra gives the music a very rich and full-bodied feeling that brings the music to a higher level. Kamen has done a wonderful job of composing the orchestral parts so that they accompany Metallica and don’t overpower them. What at first seems like a crazy idea ends up sounding very natural and smooth.

As I mentioned above, the music on this DVD is the important thing and Elektra Entertainment has paid attention to detail with the audio on "Metallica: S & M." This DVD has four different audio choices. The first is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix> featuring both Metallica and the orchestra. This mix sounds very good and has great dynamic range. However, if you are like me and have your audio system set up for action movies, you may have to make some adjustments to get the sound of the music to your liking. The <$5.1,5.1 mix> gives the music a very bold sound and the surround sound, mixing the music and the crowd noise, makes you feel as if you were at the show. Then there is a Dolby 2-channel surround mix of Metallica and the orchestra. This audio mix doesn’t offer the dynamic range of the <$5.1,5.1 mix>, but I felt that the bass sounded tighter on the 2-channel mix. The 2-channel does offer a good bit of surround sound action.

The last two audio choices could actually be considered isolated music tracks that are very interesting for aficionados of the concert. Each track gives you access to the isolated parts played by either the orchestra or the band, presented also in Dolby 2-channel surround. This is a very nifty feature that allows you to really study the different parts that are the blended together seamless when you listen to the concert as a whole. I found this feature to be very unique and fun, as it gave me a chance to hear how Kamen had crafted the orchestral sound to match Metallica’s riffs, without having to try and hear it over the band’s playing.

The video on the DVD is presented full-frame. The image is very clear, with the picture being very crisp and showing no signs of grain. This is a 2-disc set and each disc is single-layer, so there are no problems with compression or artifacting. The concert was obviously shot with many cameras and the producers of the DVD have used this to their advantage to incorporate the "multi-angle" feature into this DVD. Four of the songs offer this feature. In addition, each disc contains one multi-angle song, which can be accessed through the "bonus" button on the main menu. This takes you to a second menu where you can pick which member of Metallica on which you want to focus. Then, the song will be played using only shots of that particular band member. There is a similar feature on Disc One, which shows "No Leaf Clover" using only shots of Micheal Kamen.

The "Metallica: S & M" DVD also features a 41-minute documentary on the concert. This documentary begins with Metallica, Michael Kamen, and Bob Rock meeting to discuss the project. It then follows the band through the rehearsal process, both alone and with the orchestra, on to the aftermath of the concert. The documentary is very detailed, so much so that it drags in places, but it does give you a first-hand look at all of the work that was involved in making this historic concert take place.

I used to love Metallica, but I’m not very fond of their recent work, so I approached "Metallica: S & M" with some hesitation. I must admit that I am very impressed with this concert. The musical selection should satisfy fans, both old and new. The DVD features superior sound and enough audio choices to please most anyone. While there are many different ways to capture and remember this concert, the DVD version is definitely the best.