on March 8, 2003
Fritz Lang's greatest silent film, "Metropolis," is a masterpiece of the sci-fi genre, with some thought provoking social commentary and an amazing, nightmarish vision of the future. In fact, it ranks among the best movies ever made.
But you wouldn't be able to tell it by this shoddy Madacy disc. A muddy, scratchy version is introduced by title cards that go off the screen and a pretty bad musical score. Things get so bad that first time viewers will have trouble even figuring out what's going on. There are also the usual not-very-good Madacy extras (Poster, Biography, Trivia Game, Credits). In fact, the only reason that I haven't given this disgraceful disc one star is because the movie is just so good.
A prestigious, fully restored and digitally remastered version with a full plate of extras has been released by Kino. Get it.
on June 1, 2004
It's tough to argue that Fritz Lang's 1926 classic "Metropolis" is anything but a cinematic masterpiece. Lang, a master of what critics have since labeled German Expressionism, had an illustrious career in the movie making business in Germany as well as the United States. He came over here to escape the rise of the National Socialists in 1933. Once in Hollywood, he continued to make memorable films such as "M," a movie about a killer based loosely on the monstrous German murderer Peter Kurten. Lang made films well into the 1960s, although none had quite the impact of this silent movie classic. For years, you couldn't see a decent version of "Metropolis." The film is so old that it has fallen into the realm of public domain property, which virtually assured that every fast buck artist on the fringes of the movie business would release a smudgy, hacked up version of the movie. Thanks to the Murnau Foundation, a film restoration project devoted to restoring early twentieth century films, we can now see "Metropolis" in a form closer to the original. It's not perfect, not by a long shot, since a significant portion of the movie has disappeared, but what we do get looks fantastic. I watched a restored version of "Nosferatu" recently and it couldn't compare to how "Metropolis" looked.
"Metropolis" takes place in a bleak futuristic city of rigidly defined social classes. The haves, presided over by powerful industrialist Freder Fredersen and his son Joh, live in the highest buildings from which they run the bustling city. Unfortunate souls, which include just about everyone else, live underground in huge apartment type dwellings. This keeps the workers close to the huge machinery that runs the city's various industries and buildings. It also keeps the proletariats confined in easily controlled and policed areas. Life basically stinks for the workers in Metropolis, where their existence consists of endless and dreary work shifts with little time left over for amusement. Moreover, the work is extremely dangerous and demanding. It isn't unusual at all to see the machines chewing up laborers whose attention strays from their tasks for a few seconds. If this description makes you think of Marx, communism, socialism, or class struggle, you're on the right track. The movie was made during a time when these issues dominated the thoughts of millions of people around the world. "Metropolis" is the sort of movie Upton Sinclair or Jack London might have made had they been filmmakers instead of writers.
The social situation in Metropolis is about to change. As Joh Frederson basks in the luxurious surroundings of a massive club built for the city's affluent youngsters, he catches sight of a beautiful prole named Maria who accidentally leads a group of workers' children up to the top of the building. She quickly apologizes for straying from her assigned areas, and in the process calls Joh "brother." Intrigued, the rich youth begins to search for this lovely vision despite the strict oversight of his demanding father. Joh wanders into the byzantine depths of the city, switching his identity with a worker and even toiling away at a wearisome task. Meanwhile, up in the Fredersen control center, Joh's father meets with a scientist named Rotwang to discuss the turmoil going on down in the worker areas. This technician is responsible for most of the mechanical innovations of the city, and he's planning a special treat for the clueless workers. The leader of a movement to destroy the plutocracy just happens to be the beautiful young girl Joh is seeking out; so the crazed scientist builds a robot that looks just like her. He programs this machine to mislead the dissident workers, thus insuring the plutocrats will continue to rule. Things don't quite work out the way the oligarchy plans, however, when Joh uncovers the plot and attempts to bring the two groups of humans together.
There's more to the story than this description. A subplot about Joh's deceased mother factors into the activities of the scientist and his father, for example, but the theme of class warfare dominates every frame of the movie. You'll probably spend more time staring in wonder at the world Lang and his compatriots constructed than you will analyzing a plot that has the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the stomach. The city is an amazing triumph of model mock-ups and painted backgrounds. Planes soar between skyscrapers, cars and trains whiz along suspended tracks, and lights and giant neon screens twinkle and flash. Forget CGI effects; while this movie was made eighty plus years ago, the special effects work is so spectacular that you'll hardly believe they could convincingly pull this off. The great effects extend to the machines and underground scenes, especially in a scene where a huge piece of equipment turns into "Moloch," a living, breathing beast capable of swallowing up whole ranks of hapless workers. "Metropolis" served as an early example, if not the only earliest example, of what cinema could really do. I see it as a precursor to the effects laden films of today. That it took sixty to seventy years to match the intensity of this work speaks well of Lang's visionary prowess as a filmmaker.
The DVD contains a plethora of exciting extras. You get a detailed biography of Lang's career, the obligatory commentary track by a film historian, stills, a facts and date feature, a short documentary outlining Lang's career, the film's history, and German Expressionism called "The Metropolis Case," and a restoration featurette. The documentary is quite intriguing, showing how Lang and his crew constructed the special effects for the film. I usually avoid most DVD extras, but I made an exception in the case of "Metropolis." All fans of science fiction and effects heavy films owe a huge debt of gratitude to Fritz Lang. Watch "Metropolis" as soon as you can.
on February 12, 2004
I was enjoying this right up until halftime, when the defective disc stopped playing. The biggest problem with the film is with aspects that could have been corrected.
KINO has no basis taking a German titled silent film, removing the German titles from the film and transposing " digital " English titles. It really damages the film, and some of us who can read German would have preferred having the option of either original German titles by themselves or having english subtitles underneath the German from the actual film.
One part, where the Tower of Babel is described as "Praised by one and cursed by many " actually shows the German titles, by mistake, first! You may have to stop/freeze to see the German. What a sloopy restoration!
I do not know about the jerky movements of the actors in the film. Some have said that it was an error by KINO that undermines Lang's original cut. No question though, the movements are incredibly jerky and stilted throughout the film.
Of course, this dvd is worth getting, there seems to be no other edition out.
on February 10, 2004
It' a classic, no question about it. But is it really that great? I find it diffucult not to cheer at the evil Robot-Messiah turning the slave-workers into communists, destroying the machines and flooding the city, but I'm not sure that's the point. Hitler wept with emotion after the screening, actually he saw it on several occasions and declared it his favourite movie. McCarhthy would had wept too, if he knew anything about art. Well, I don't think the story or the ethics has made it a classic, rather the visuals, but apart from the transformation-scene they aren't really that impressive. The german expressionist-scene has made far superior movies, not half as celebrated as this one. I wonder why.
Fritz Langs own "M" is a much better movie, great visuals, intelligent script, great acting (in stark contrast to the silly twitching in this one), brilliant and disturbing - and made only four years after this hilariously overrated piece of hokum. Not to mention that the nazis hated it.
on April 5, 2003
Let me start by saying that a movie of this stature can't be praised highly enough. Having said that I beg to differ with all the five star rave reviews concerning the DVD transfer. I'm quite the Metropolis fan and my toes curled when I saw that the newest and latest official release has its intertitles translated into English up to the point of actually changing the original images as well.(The address card Freder shows Josaphas, the Hel memorial plaque, the tower of Babel sequence, a business card picked up by Freder, etc, are all English translations inserted by digital or other means into the film.) So, claiming that this version is original is dubious to say the least. Why not benefit from DVD's technology to leave it up to the viewer to choose between the (original) German or English intertitles? If it can be done with subtitles, I'm sure intertitles can't pose a problem. Imagine the frustration of the German movie buffs who have to watch one of their greatest movies of all time with English intertitles and German subtitles! What really made me frown is that in the scene selection section on the DVD you can make out the original German intertitles in some of the preview windows! The frustrating part about this is that even when using DVD's technological advantages to choose between intertitles, changes made onto the print by substituting English text over the images are permanent.
Furthermore I challenge any film technician or any of the members on the restauration team of the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation to tell me that this version of Metropolis is transfered at the correct speed. And by that I mean the speed at which any normal human being walks, runs and can gesticulate without looking like an episode from Comedy Capers. Have a look at the final scene where Rotwang chases Maria up the Cathedral. It is actually comical and embarassing to see, taking into account the enormous effort the F.W.M. Foundation took in restoring this monument. Trust me, you don't have to be an animation student or an expert in locomotion to see that the actor's movements are sped up. Even the big clock's second hand in Frederson's office races by at exaggerated speed. When Joh Frederson stands opposite of Rotwang (Hal statue sequence), Rotwang waves his hands frenetically in Fredersen's face to gesticulate refusal. For a moment his hands elude me because of motional blur. Eureka's 1999 release of Metropolis had much better and natural movement of the actors. What very few people know is that Fritz Lang under-crancked the camera for some of the shots in his movie to add drama and weight to some scenes. These little moments of genius gave Metropolis some of its extraordinary atmosphere and appeal and are now completely lost with this release.
In 1927 the German production company UFA ordered the film to be cut for the US release. The American editor charged with this operation also exchanged the German intertitles and scenes with German texts for English substitutes. It's an irony that this release has been labeled "Restored Authorized Edition" for it perpetuates the act of defacing the original print as the editor did in 1927. The claim Kino makes this being a restored edition is at least misleading. Apart from footage that must be considered permanently lost, the claim holds no truth. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines "restore" as: "To put or bring back into a former or original state." Metropolis is a German movie. It used German text and titles. So let's get over the five star rave and try to be at least a little critical. I mean we're talking about one of the most influential and monumental movies of all time. Too bad its fantastic restauration is marred by such obvious flaws.
My first copy of Metropolis was Eureka's 1999 release which runs at 139 minutes on region 2 equipment. Although the image suffers from a very bad transfer and even more missing footage in comparison with this release, it is so much more the viewing experience you want and ultimately can't forget. Speeding up a film destroys the director's artistical vision together with the movies ambience and atmosphere. Needless to say I immediately returned my recently acquired Restored Authorized Edition for a refund.
on January 1, 2004
Science fiction suffers from a lack of sound and color. I love old sf films -- but I have to agree with Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Arthur C. Clarke in The Making of 2001 -- A Space Odyssey). Most science fiction before 2001 -- A Space Odyssey is awful. My love of Metropolis and Things to Come and Destination Moon is a result of nostalgia -- an 80 year old man may still love an 80 year old woman, but he can hardly expect a young man to see her in the same light. The only reason for a young person to watch old (pre-Kubrick) sf films is to learn about the history of the science fiction film. If you do want to learn about the history of film sf, Metropolis is the place to start, and despite some valid and informative objections from purists, this version comes the closest to making sense.
on January 24, 2004
I kept waiting for the great looking female robot (what really qualifies this as sci-fi), and she has all of a minute of screen time! All that work to design and create her, so why not find a way to use her? As to the poignancy of the narrative, it is basically angry communist propaganda. Time did not prove that philosophy relevant. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about the story, the cinematography, nor the acting. And the entertainment value is fairly low for a film this deep into the silent era. I really don't think this film is at all entertaining or important. Fire away, but I think this is probably the overrated silent film ever.