on April 11, 2003
Fritz Lang's spectacular, gargantuan and visionary METROPOLIS has been seen for over 75 years but only in edited editions.
Now, digitally restored under the supervision of the Murnau Foundation, here is the most complete version ever. With the addition of the sometimes Wagneresque 1927 orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz, Metropolis can finally be enjoyed in its full eye-popping glory. The story takes place in 2026 (hey, not so far off), when the class differences of the human race are dramatically divided between poor laborers who live underground in dark warrens and labyrinths and the rich who live above in the light of towering, futuristic splendor.
The truly iconic images in this movie -- as famous as any in the 20th century -- have profoundly influenced the sets, ideas, props and themes in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and even Star Wars. A. O. Scott of the New York Times rightly called Metropolis "A fever dream of the future." This version is over one third longer than any previous release and is by far the most complete since its Berlin premier
Worthwhile extras include a fine commentary by film historian Enno Patalas, great 5.1 surround sound of the newly recorded orchestral score, "The Metropolis Case": a wonderful 43-minute documentary, Photo Galleries of production stills, fascinating missing scenes, striking architectural sketches, posters and more. Highly recommended.
on April 11, 2003
This restoration of Metropolis is a great achievement. I was astonished by the quality of the film; the picture is absolutely clear and undamaged for the entire length of the film. I am sure that the restorers had to resort to pieces of film collected here and there but the finished product is seamless and looks like an original print. This edition of Metropolis has the original orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz. There have been several scores written for Metropolis over the year, and some viewers may feel the original lack drama. This is perhaps true with the scene where the Robot is transformed into Maria. The music is eerie but quiet. Some composers probably would have used a lot of brass to punctuate the change in the Robot, but the original score is more subdued. On the other hand, the theme representing the Metropolis itself is quite memorable and dramatic.
The addition of a half-hour of film fills out the story beautifully and with the new inter cards relating the action of the missing footage, the action of the film can be followed easily. The older, more incomplete version of Metropolis suffered from a lack of context. One example that I recall is when Freder volunteers to take over the operation of a machine from one of the workers. I found this puzzling because the motivation of Freder was not clear, however, with the addition of the new footage it was easy to understand how idealistic Freder is and his quest of brotherhood with the workers was clear. The complexity of Freder's character as the one who will bridge the differences between the workers and his father, Joh Fredersen, is reflected in the visions he sees, as when he sees Moloch in the damaged machine and the workers marching into it as if becoming a sacrifice.
In sum, this is the edition of Metropolis to have. The story is presented in a clear and uncomplicated way with the best available print. Unless someone finds more of the original footage this remains the authoritative version.
on April 9, 2003
Because others have already done so, I won't elaborate on the film's visual enhancements (I agree it was an excellent tranfer to DVD with the same caveats used by other reviewers). However, I'm baffled by the fact no one apparently wants to go out on a limb and call this what it is - union propaganda. Could "Management" be portrayed in a more sinister light? Could the workers have been portrayed in a more drudgelike, hang-dog fashion (or did they seem like the Israelites were portrayed while enslaved in Egypt)? Essentially the workers were awaiting their Messiah - in this case the "Mediator" (make that union boss Freder) and finally got their Mediator after the boss's son was smitten by the "Union Organizer" Maria (or Mary much like Mary the Virgin gives birth to Jesus, so Maria essentially gives birth to the Messiah (i.e., union boss Freder). And the fact that technology (i.e., the "Evil Maria" that is the robot changed physically by the mad scientist Rotwang to resemble Maria) leads/incites the union people to commit horrible and stupid acts (much like the character in the Ten Commandments movie that incites the Israelites that followed Moses to behave poorly while Moses was away getting the Ten Commandments) was equally appalling. I could go on but you get the drift.
on March 18, 2003
I'll assume you've seen STAR WARS, or at least you're familiar with it. Suppose that STAR WARS was available only in a severly mutilated version shortened by a quarter, omitting key plot elements regarding the relationship of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi. Then for whatever reason portions of the dialog were rewritten, redubbed and the John Williams score was replaced with generic classical selections, or perhaps a contemporary rock score. To add insult to injury, let's suppose that even this mutilated version is only seen in blurry, faded and sometimes unwatchable prints. Well, that's precisely the treatment that Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS has received over the years. The new restoration gives fans of science fiction film, silent film, german expressionist film, classic film music and the magic of the cinema reason to rejoice! Though, sadly, the portions which were cut seem to be irretrievable, the remaining elements have been restored using state-of the art techniques and re-edited into their proper sequence with the original title cards. The results are accompanied by the stirring score prepared for the film's premiere in the 1920's and the final presentation is nothing short of breathtaking. I've seen the film many times over the years and watching this restoration is like seeing it for the first time.
on March 14, 2003
All previous releases of "Metropolis" are going to seem remarkably grungy compared to this one. Kino Video, Transit Film, the Murnau Foundation, and a small army of dedicated people have put a great deal of work and care into producing the most complete version of "Metropolis" that anyone has seen since its premiere. Although about a quarter of the footage is still missing, the new restoration restores not only the surviving footage but a great deal of the story line as well. We learn (among many other things) why the Robot is female, why 'she' tries to destroy the city, and why Rotwang appears to go mad toward the end of the film; secondary characters like Josephat, 11811, and 'Slim' are fleshed out, and Alfred Abel's character Joh Fredersen is given much more depth.
The picture quality is now comparable to that of a well-preserved '40s or '50s sound film; some of the effects scenes were entirely reconstructed from the original optical elements, and unobtrusive intertitles have been added to fill us in on parts of the film for which the footage has been lost. The soundtrack is the original orchestral score-- something for which I am extremely grateful. There have been several releases of "Metropolis" with soundtracks that had nothing to do with the film (random selections of old foxtrots or classical music)-- the original score holds the film together in a way that I've never experienced before. This is now a movie!
The DVD contains some nice extras; production and advertising art, two featurettes ("The Metropolis Case" and "The Restoration"), and various bits of background info. There is also an audio commentary by Enno Patalas, which is both informative and insightful and makes many relevant references to Thea von Harbou's original novel.
In short: if you want a copy of "Metropolis", this is the one to get.
on March 13, 2003
Metropolis was quite a stunning film for its time. It had "Star Wars" quality special effects which were unheard-of back then--all amazingly done by hand and combined with tedious optical effects. Considering the massive effort and talent required, it was far more ambitious and deserving of praise than Star Wars, which had the luxury of more modern technologies to fall back on. If you view Metropolis in this context, and consider the time period, you can't help but be impressed. In fact, as you watch it, imagine the amazed reaction it must have received in theaters back in the 1920's. Audiences at that time had never seen anything like it. For at least the next 50 years, this film held its own--quite a feat.
The Kino-produced DVD is in itself impressive. It is the absolute best version of the film ever to be made available in any form to the public. The video quality is astonishing considering the difficulty they must have had finding good prints to work with. The audio, too, is superb. You'll really enjoy the extra bonus material as well.
So get this DVD, pop up some popcorn, turn out the lights, and transport yourself back to the 1920's. You're really going to love this one.
on March 7, 2003
For all those who have not yet seen the movie, this is definitely the version to see. For those who are die hard fans of the film, this review is for you.
I was disappointed that, although Kino International worked so hard to fix the major flaws in this version, they still left some minor flaws in. One that drives me insane is, on one of the titles which explains a missing seen, they misspelled Freder and instead write "Feder." AHHHHHHHHH. Anyone who knows German will know that suddenly the character is being called "feather." Speaking of which, I disagree on the choice of digitally translating Hel's monument into English, since this scene never even made it to the English audience anyway. They should have left the original and added a subtitle. Likewise for the phrase "Great is the world and its Creator. And great is man." above the ruined Tower of Babel AND the invitation to Yoshiwara to see the robot dance, which in all other versions I have seen has been in German, leading me to believe that Lang did not shoot a separate English version of this scene. Another glaring error is that, in the picture gallery, a sketch by Aenn Willkomm for Maria's constume is inadvertently referred to as a dress for one of the girls in the garden (!!).
As for the digital restoration, it seems they didn't completely restore some scenes, especially toward the end of the film. On the left side of the screen there is some dust or other markings which could have been erased, and a thin black line running down Freder's face in another scene. Why didn't they fix this??
I also think the film is run too quickly and do not believe for a minute that it was originally run at 25 fps. I have also read that the original score had to be played faster for this very reason. The premiere would have been played between 16 and 20 fps, and subsequent showings by greedy theater owners may have sped it up to get a faster turnover.
My last complaint is that, unlike the other recent restored version, from Munich I believe, this version does not make use of stills to replace lost scenes. I enjoyed the stills in Munich's version because it helped to visualize the missing scene. For example, the photo of the thin man dressed as the bishop. It's not as if these pictures don't exist. On the DVD of this version, there are many lost stills from the encounter between Josaphat and the Thin Man. Why weren't these used in the film?!
Lastly, I still recommend the other Kino International release of 1989. The score, written especially for that release, is also good. Comparing the two versions, this newest one gives an 'evil' feel to the city when you see it for the first time and the robot's dance at Yoshiwara doesn't seem to fit the music. It is, however, still the best release yet.
on March 6, 2003
Over the years, as an amateur film historian, I have dutifully watched this film several times in its various butchered incarnations (with the sound turned down to stop myself from cringing at the various, woefully inappropriate attempts to score the film). I knew the film was one of the most important films in cinema history, but for the life of me, I just didn't "get" it.
With this new Kino restoration, I finally get it. Metropolis, as it was meant to be seen, really and truly is an astounding film. This restoration is incredible, making the movie look for all the world like it was filmed yesterday. Yes, it still contains its dated pantomime overacting; but, my god, what a beautiful, stunning film! The incorporation of description cards and photo stills to fill in the missing footage really helps to flesh out the story, so it makes more sense. Best of all, the addition of the original 1927 score really enhances the film -- Finally, we have a score that matches the movie's action and historical significance! The score itself is magnificent and memorable, and hopefully will be made available on CD.
This DVD is definitely a must-have for anyone interested in science fiction or film history in general. If you already own one of the older, butchered copies of this film, keep it so you can make comparisons -- It will help you appreciate Kino's restoration even more.
on March 2, 2003
I've read over the reviews given here, after having viewed my own copy of this DVD, and must agree with all of you. This version is really stunningly fine, and a must-buy for anyone at all interested in the history of film, and in quality cinema in general.
My first experience of Metropolis was seeing the usual truncated version in a little community cinema in San Francisco some 23 years ago. The musical accompaniment was improvised brilliantly on the piano by an old friend of mine who had seen the original film in Germany as a teenager! It was an unforgettable experience. I especially remember as I greeted him at half-time him saying (probably about the actor who played Freder), "oh, that one actor is a real Westphalian ham! It's really hard to keep up with him!"
Anyway... this restored version is a great revelation for me. As a composer myself, and one who has been studying silent film music lately, seeing this film restored with the music originally written for it is hugely rewarding. The music is well-written, and perfectly carries across the film-maker's intentions, in a style in keeping with that of the film. It is a model of good silent-film music, worthy of study. It points up all the more how problematic it is when silents are released without proper music (e.g. the DVD of Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", with a bunch of spliced-together extracts of Shostokovitch symphonies: fine music, but often incongruous with the film; a CD now exists of the original music by Edmund Meisel -- when will someone finally match this with the movie for a true restoration?).
Besides the music, the visual restoration is truly magnificent, often breathtaking in its beauty. Would that all great silent films could get this treatment (but the cost would be astronomical)!
As to speed: actually, there's reference in the DVD (or its booklet, I forget) to the original speed being 25 frames-per-second, which is pretty close to the modern 24 fps. But the action does sometimes look a little frantic, so I wonder about the 20 fps theory... If so, that's about the only flaw in this production.
Again, a must-buy!
on March 1, 2003
Ok, by now I assume you know what Metropolis is about, so let's go to the juicy parts: You want to know how it looks and how it rates to other versions.
First of all, the one thing you will notice inmediatelly is that the quality of this DVD is *OUTSTANDING* (when considering this is a 1927 movie). The digital wizards that restored the film not only got rid of the scratches, they actually went all the way and instead of using an automated process to restore the film they went BY HAND frame by frame and fixed all imperfections. They fixed the grainnes, the contrast, AND the shaking (common to old film). The film almost looks like if it was recently shot with a black and white camera, it is THAT good. They even went further and when they combined many reels from different sources into one scene they actually fixed the images on both reels so that you don't notice the difference between then (i.e.: the transitions occur seamlessly).
You can find out about all this in the included documentary on the restoration. They even mention that such a painstaking and expensive process is not used in most films, but due to the importance of Metropolis they went all the way.
I also recommend you read the small booklet included which has even more information.
As for the story, I have to admit that I was completely surprised. The movie now makes sense!!! For example, in previous "mutilated" versions of Metropolis, we were all told to believe that the robot was created to control the masses. Now we learn though that in the original film, the robot is really the creation of a scientist whose wife dies, and thus he tries to recreate her again.
Also note one quarter of the film is still missing (sadly, very likely forever), but thanks to deep research they restoration team actually found out what was missing, and for those missing scenes they include special "title cards" that explain in text what's missing when (when you watch the movie this does not distract you, since it feels that the titles are part of the movie, this being a silent film after all).
Also, you will find TONS of scenes you very likely never saw before in any previous version, and this also makes the film feel "complete". You will also be amazed at the grandeur of some of such scenes, giving any modern "monumental" movie a true run for their money. This also has to be said about the special effects, which in many cases hold up pretty fine even in today's age of digital wizzardly.
As for the soundtrack: WOW. Now finally the soundtrack follows the action on the screen!!! They actually went back and restored the original soundtrack and used the original written clues in the soundtrack notes to find out what went where. Now everything feels much more in place and the music sets the mood in many scenes, making the movie much more enjoyable.
Let me summarize this by saying that after watching this Kino Version of Metropolis, I went RIGHT AWAY and dispossed in the garbage of all my other Metropolis versions.
All I can say is that this is a true labor of love, and that my deepest humble thanks go to the team that did this restoration. If I were one of them, I'd be extremelly proud for acchieving something many thought impossible. It finally makes justice over 75 years later to an amazingly great film, very likely the film "that started it all" when it comes to science fiction and many other genres (I can see 2001-A Space Oddisey, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Terminator, and the Matrix all being directly and heavily influenced by this film).