Noisy Debut for a Movie at Comic-Con

July 8th, 2013

LOS ANGELES — Picturehouse, a distributor of art films that helped corner an Oscar for Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose” before folding in 2008, will come screaming back to life at the Comic-Con International fantasy convention next week in San Diego.

And it will arrive with something to wake the undead: clips from its new 3-D Imax movie, “Metallica Through the Never,” plus a musical event — 500 free tickets to hear Metallica, live — that is promising to transform an annual fan gathering not known in recent years for its musical offerings.

Piaf, this is not.

The Metallica movie, Picturehouse’s inaugural project, is outsize and heavily amplified. “We see it as being very disruptive,” said Bob Berney, a film executive who is clearly out to create a more ferocious version of Picturehouse.

When he spoke of disruption, Mr. Berney referred partly to an unusual release plan: the film, “Metallica Through the Never,” will open only on large-format Imax screens when it begins its commercial run on Sept. 27, before moving to hundreds of additional theaters a week later.

Creatively, moreover, the film is an exercise in controlled chaos.

Directed by Nimród Antal, known for action thrillers like “Predators” and “Armored,” it is co-written by members of the band. The film combines footage of a Canadian concert, in which stage props and equipment collapsed around them, with a scripted fantasy about a young roadie, played by Dane DeHaan, who skitters through what might be the apocalypse.

Given that, the choice of Comic-Con seems appropriate. With its 125,000 or so often-costumed attendees, the gathering, which runs from a preview evening on July 17 through July 21 at the San Diego Convention Center, is always vaguely apocalyptic.

But a live concert by one of the world’s less-restrained metal bands — neither Mr. Berney nor Comic-Con’s sponsors have yet said how tickets will be doled out to the lucky few — should add fresh shock value to a convention where zombies routinely clog the restrooms.

The usual superheroes and film studio fantasies will be on display, of course. Movie promotions in the convention center’s cavernous Hall H are expected to include the cast and filmmakers of “The Wolverine,” from 20th Century Fox; “RoboCop” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” from Sony Pictures Entertainment; “Ender’s Game” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” from Lionsgate; and “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” from Disney’s prolific Marvel Entertainment unit, among others.

Along with all the comics and fan paraphernalia, there will also be a tidal wave of television presentations. The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim service will bring at least 14 shows, including “Robot Chicken” and “Mr. Pickles,” while Warner Brothers Television, home of “The Vampire Diaries” and “Almost Human,” will have 17.

Yet music has remained something of an oddity at a convention that specializes in the odd.

Asked last week to pinpoint some musical highlights in the convention’s 44-year history, David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s director of marketing and public relations, could immediately think of only one. That would be a 2005 performance by Jack Black and Kyle Gass as the rock duo Tenacious D. (It was called “the show that never happened,” because recording, in keeping with Comic-Con practice, was forbidden.)

In truth, music has occasionally popped up in and around Comic-Con. This year, for instance, it will be the subject of a Thursday morning discussion among some film composers, including Marco Beltrami (“The Wolverine”), and directors, including Shane Black (“Iron Man 3”) about the gentle art of scoring for superheroes.

But it has not been an integral part of the fun, as it has at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. And it has rarely been an aggressive attention-getter of the sort Mr. Berney is planning for a Metallica presentation that intends to reach beyond the usual patter about lifelong reverence for the art of the comic book and such.

“When we’ve been down there, it’s always been the same, they tend to be the same panels,” said Mr. Berney, echoing a complaint that has become common among many who frequent the convention. In the past, Mr. Berney stopped in while promoting films like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a sophisticated fantasy that Picturehouse, in its earlier incarnation, released in 2006. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film received six Oscar nominations.

The old Picturehouse, which was a joint venture between Time Warner’s HBO and New Line Cinema units, certainly had a reputation for avoiding dreary sameness. Still, its risks did not always pay. One of its more daring bets, “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” for instance, had well under $ 1 million in domestic ticket sales when it was released in 2006.

This time, however, Mr. Berney said he and his wife, Jeanne, who is a partner in the new Picturehouse, are rebuilding the company in stages, and are working on just a bit more than a shoestring, as film distributors go, while they look for backers.

The first step, he said, is to open “Metallica Through the Never” with little in the way of paid advertising, relying instead on the social media following that has built up around a band that was started in 1981 by its drummer, Lars Ulrich, and the guitarist-vocalist James Hetfield. The next steps, Mr. Berney said, will involve adding a home entertainment deal to complement an existing arrangement with Netflix, and raising investment funds to support new films, beginning with “The Great Gilly Hopkins,” to be directed by Stephen Herek, based on a novel by Katherine Paterson.

Along the way, added Mr. Berney, the plan is also to make some music that even the zombies can’t ignore.

“It should be part of Comic-Con,” he said.

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