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 December 9, 2003
Metropolis is one of my favorite movies of all time. Furthermore is one of my favorite stories of all time.
I was quite exited to see a Restored "Authorized" Edition, but when I saw it I was very dissapointed.
The restauration in this one is one of the most uncaring and unloving works I have seen. They did not care if the story in the movie was told smoothly or not, they just said "hey we found this footage... lets stick it in!!", and they did.
Some of the the chunks they put in made the story relly on the written letters and less in the image, and some others were just not calibrated at the right speed (but oh, yeah, we managed to restore this "lost marvels"... right).
People in charge of restaurations, please: before gluing the pieces together, first learn to love the film you are working , wonder if the restauration you are making adds some merit to the film or it is just candy for the depraved film experts out there... Movies are not meant to be classes of history (although they are) they are supposed to be tales told with lights and shadows and wonder... Do not spoil them with bits and pices that spoil or might spoil the fun.
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.
For some strange reason Amazon is putting up reviews for the 2003 Kino release version of Metropolis and using them in the revamped 2010 version!? Go figure.My review for the 2003 release is below.This one is for the 2010 release Kino version of the so called "complete" Metropolis.Well let us set the record straight right off the top by saying the 2010 release is NOT complete.It is between 6-9 minutes short of the original theatrical release,but it is the most complete as of now.An extra 25 or so minutes was found in an archive in Buenos Aires,but in a reduced frame of 16mm.It was in a terribly scratched condition and the archivists in Germany did their utmost to reduce the effects.With that extra footage added in,while it is not complete,it is,to date,the most complete and the movies plot now makes sense for the first time since its release back in the 20s.Like the 2003 Kino edition,this new 2010 edition is a marvel of restoration.It also boasts two discs.The second disc contains a documentary on the making of the film and its restoration,along with an interview with the curator of the museum in Buenos Aires where the footage was discovered.So for those that think that this 2010 release is just a re-release of the 2003 edition it is not.This is the definitive version right now and I highly recommend this new title for purchase.It is outstanding for its historic value and the restoration work accomplished on it.Kudos to all who were involved.
All major studios the world over take note!! This is THE film by which all your restoration and release work should be measured by.
As a movie this version,the most complete ever released,is one of the masterpieces of the cinema in any age.
As an end product of extensive and exhaustive restoration work,this is the new benchmark by which all studios should be releasing their products whether old or new!!
I won't bore the reader with details of the exact process by which this was done(the accompanying liner notes in this DVD are quite clear on the subject),but I will say I have never seen a movie that was originally in this terrible of a condition literally reborn through the efforts of two archival groups in Munich and Wiesbaden,Germany.
Fritz Lang,the former art student turned scenarist turned director had become one of Germanys' Universum Film Aktien Gesellschafts'(UFA for short) brightest talents.
Lang who co wrote the story for Metropolis with his wife,always preferred his movies/sets on the grand scale and this one was no exception.When released world wide in 1927 it caused quite the sensation and Lang was courted by every major studio around the globe for his services.
Langs's story works on many levels from labour versus management,mechanization versus humanity,good versus evil,etc.But Lang's grand vision and scale brilliantly binds everything together,while his attention to small details and deft touches reinforces the tale.A prime example of this would be Langs' staging of the changing of the workers' shift.The workers leave their stations in precise rows and groups,walking in step,heads bent forward.They enter an elevator.They exit the elevator again in tandem,heads still down.This "choreography" reinforces wonderfully our empathy for these downtrodden and depleted people/slaves.The workers who enter the elevator to replace their spent brethren also walk in tandem but their heads are held upright.But you know that come the end of their shift it will be they who will walk with heads down once more, bent over with the pain of exhaustion and continuing the never ending cycle of hopelessness and despair.
Powerful scenes with much to say and Lang did it masterfully.
This movie deserves each star(and more!) I've given it.
Kudos to Transit Films in Germany for its phenomenal work in the restoration of this "silent" masterpiece and to Kino in the U.S. for obtaining the rights to release this on DVD here in North America.
One of the best releases of any type,in ANY genre released on DVD to date!!
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 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.