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The Complete Metropolis - Blu-ray Review

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Metropolis blu-ray Review

Hypnotizing.  Absolutely.  There is no other way to describe viewing the completely restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as little in the cinematic arts comes close to the brilliance of this futuristic story about humanity caught somewhere between the urban cruciform-shaped skyscrapers and its own neglected underground.  Shot in such a way that the film still resonates with some damned strange and mighty powerful images – thanks to a camera strapped onto something that can only be described as a prehistoric yet mobile ATV – Metropolis existed through the ages as an edited version of Lang’s vision.  In spite of missing reels and blackened screens, the film has gone on to inspire a whole list of Hollywood directors, including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and Peter Jackson.

Visually arresting in its handling of a future dystopian society where workers are figuratively fed into machines, Lang’s work – with its ‘Power to the People’ message - was never far from controversy nor was it safe from an editor’s cutting table regardless of the country it was being shown in.  The film, since its Germany debut in 1927, has never been completely shown in its 153 minutes for audiences as different countries have different cuts and no one knew precisely where missing reels were in order for a wholly complete original to be made from.

At least, that was until right now.

Recently- as in 2008 - uncovered in Buenos Aires, the original negative – the most complete in existence – provides viewers with the complete experience of Metropolis and, true to its word, there is nothing else like it.  Nothing.  Cleaned up for its Blu-ray release from surviving 16mm prints, Kino International presents viewers the closest they will ever come to witnessing Metropolis as it was initially intended by Lang.

With a screenplay written by Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, Metropolis takes it cue from the exhilarating view of the skyscrapers of New York City and opens with a resounding call to arms deep below the earth’s surface – where the workers live.  Day to day, they work only to keep the city and its inhabitants – where the upper class roam and party – satisfied; they are two lifestyles kept away from each other by controlling forces – namely Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel).  While not entirely evil, Joh selfishly works to keep the “spoiled” population away from his city and his son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich).  Freder, once exposed to the beautiful worker Maria (Brigitte Helm), can’t help but know more about her and her cause for leading the workers in an uprising against their masters.  Soon, Freder is caught up in a conspiracy that involves an evil Doc Brown-looking scientist named Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and his female robot who is instrumental in the doctor’s plans to pull the cord on everything unique about the city of Metropolis.

Metropolis – while being an influential juggernaut in the realm of cinema - was never a critical darling at the time of its release, yet it stood the test of time by being ahead of itself in many ways.  First, the score – written by Gottfried Huppertz – is a marvel all unto itself.  It is a masterpiece of emotional inflection.  Certainly, this bombastic score has influenced countless composers after it with its sensitivity and clear thematic vision as it threads the narrative of social brotherhood together with several key anthems and familiar father-and-son cues.  The other component of Lang’s impact is his set design.  Brilliantly displayed on screen as set and model work, his vision ushered in an entire era of influence as it ushered in the cinematic “look” of the future.

The Tower of Babylon inside of Metropolis, in itself, is based off of (and miraculously is only) a painting, yet – as a backdrop for the film’s location – is deceptively more than that.  It shimmers with the intelligence of man-made design in an effort to be gloriously self-congratulatory; thusly, hammering home the theme of unity.  Yes, the film is gothic – note the man-eating factory the workers rhythmically march toward – and it even has a bit of the old surreal waxed into its grain.  It’s also maddeningly inventive – lots of camera tricks being tried out here, some for the first time.  There’s an energy about it; an energy that is madcap, monstrous, and machine-oriented.

Metropolis is still valid and still highly influential.  This is primal art.  Thematically, it is where we are today – enjoying a life made easier because of machines complete with a huge gap between the rich and the poor; a gap that has successfully swallowed the middle class.  Sure, we don’t have a devil robot maddeningly beckoning us forward with a hellishly-charged dance of female flesh, but we do have temptations – mechanical or otherwise - that keep us from uniting as one people with one purpose in peace.  For that alone, Metropolis is a film worth watching again and again and again and once again.

Embrace the future.  She has arrived.

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 23, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
Music: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Music: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Seeing as how one fifth of the film is newly discovered, Kino International completely overhauled their 2001 restoration print in order to make way for the extra 25 min of found footage for this Blu-ray release.  It shows.  It shows well.  This is a beautiful 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that is sure to delight its fans.  Some of the jumps from the newly discovered footage can be a bit jarring, but its easily forgiven considering the importance of the find and this restoration.  Black colors are strong and pretty consistent and the detail is crisp; shockingly so in some sequences.  Gottfried Huppert's 1927 score has been re-recorded with a full orchestra and is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that is gloriously thrilling.

Supplements:

Commentary:Unfortunately, this release – being the monumental occasion as it is – has none.

Special Features:

There are very few and they are insufficient in explaining the importance of this release.  While they do cover some basic areas in explaining how the newly found footage came to be, they aren’t significant enough in telling the story of Lang’s masterwork.  One is a documentary that is loaded with information concerning the history of the film and its many edits, but that’s about the only supplemental detail.

  • Voyage to Metropolis (55 min)
  • Interview with Paula Felix-Didier (10 min)
  • Promotional Re-release Trailer (2 min)

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