Metropolis Review

Although the year 2000 depicted as the far future in Metropolis is now past, Fritz Lang’s visionary masterpiece still holds tremendous power and popularity 75 years later. That reputation is likely to endure with this new fully restored version of the 1927 silent classic, currently re-released to cinemas and on a special 2 disc DVD set from Eureka.

Inspired by a visit to New York, the director designed and brought to the screen the untimate city, Metropolis – a city of vast and towering structures, dominated by the new Tower of Babel where Joh Fredersen and the ruling class preside over the working-class. In the Lower City these men are enslaved to keep the complex machinery of the city running smoothly. Fredersen’s son, Freder sees the plight of these people and becomes aware of the unrest that threatens to turn into rebellion and destroy the great city. He meets a charismatic woman called Maria who sees in him the role of a mediator - a ‘heart’ between the ‘head’ and the ‘hands’ of the city. His father however, concerned about the threat of rebellion, orders the inventor Rotwang to create a robot with the face of Maria, to regain control and influence over the workers.

Withdrawn only a few weeks after its premiere in Berlin in January 1927, the film was edited and re-worked to shorten its two and a half hour running time. Almost a quarter of the film was removed and almost all of that footage is now lost, even though there were three original negatives of Metropolis, made up of alternate takes and shots from additional cameras. As a result of this many different versions of the film have proliferated, but none close to the original intentions of the director. This release gathers restored elements from the only existing negative with copies gathered from film archives all over the world. Adding additional material where available and adding text and stills for the deleted material, this is the closest version yet to the original film.

And it really is still a wonderful film. Using many innovative and complex techniques, the film looks as fresh and exciting as it ever did. Brigitte Helm’s fantastic performace as Maria and the robot is a marvel. Every nuance of each of her characters is depicted with great skill and each role is strikingly different. It is like watching two entirely different actresses.

The print quality is truly amazing, almost miraculously so. Not every scene is perfect, some traces of scratches, marks and damage remain, but the restoration has been carefully and meticulously carried out to represent as closely as possible the print quality of the original negative. Some of the marks couldn’t have been fully repaired - scenes full of steam must have presented considerable problems and made the restoration extremely difficult, but it seems to have been carefully done. There is little visible grain, no more than would have been on the original negative. There is a sharpness and clarity of tone with a full range of greyscale tones on display. Blacks have real depth and there is good detail in the whites, with glare carefully removed. This looks really very good.

The film features a new recording of Gottfried Huppertz’s original score composed for the film, a brilliant composition that is given a marvellous treatment here with a powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and an alternative Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. The score carries much of the force of the film and is extremely important with its themes and leitmotifs.

The German intertitles have been removed from this edition and replaced with new English titles. As the principal source for the film appears to be an edition of the original negative edited for English audiences, and since even the re-edited German edition doesn’t have the true intertitles there is no reason to expect the original German text. (Curiously though, the scene selection shows the intertitles in German). The text and font used seems to be in keeping with the original. Text that appears in the film itself – such as the ‘Great is the World and Great its Creator and Great is Man’ text above the Tower of Babel, has been digitally transformed into English also.

The film has a feature length commentary from film historian Enno Patalas, one of the principal figures in the restoration of the film. Throughout the commentary he refers to passages from the original novel by Thea von Harbou. Since the novel was closely adhered to in the making of the film, this demonstrates how the descriptive passages were put onto the screen and also fleshes out characters’ actions, reactions and thoughts, which are pretty well acted in any case, but with subsequent editing of the film, the original intentions have become confused. The commentary covers many aspects of the film – camera movement, character motion, music, and themes of the film – and it manages to add an extra level of information without duplicating material from the documentary on disc 2. It is a good commentary offering background and technical information rather than critical evaluation. Very much scholarly in nature, Patalas’ intention is is to demonstrate that this version of the film is as complete and true to the original as it is possible to be, considering a quarter of the original material is lost and his comments reflect this perspective.

Documentary - The Metropolis Case (43:52)
This is a brand new documentary by Enno Patalas with Stefan Bitterhof, presented in 4:3 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English and optional English subtitles. It takes a historical look at the film, from its place in German Expressionism in the wider arts, but particularly its place in German cinema of the time. It covers the career of Fritz Lang up to that point and examines the historical context of the picture. This is an excellent documentary covering in great detail all aspects of the film’s making and subsequent history.

The Restoration (8:49)
An in-depth look at the laborious and painstaking restoration process and the problems associated with reconciling the different prints with different takes and in different states of deterioration, to make a seamless print as close to the original as possible. A combination of digital processes and hand retouching was applied for the best results possible – an expensive process that would only be undertaken for an important film of this stature.

Photo Galleries
An extensive and fully annotated selection of photos, divided into the sections The Making of Metropolis, Production Stills, Missing Scenes, Architectural Sketches, Costume Design and Posters. There are many fascinating stills of missing scenes from the deleted subplots.

Photos, biographical information and filmographies of the cast and crew.

Facts & Dates
The film credits are presented here.

This is a beautiful 2-disc package of an important and brilliant film. To complement the superbly restored picture and soundtrack, the extra material provided is extensive, relevant and worthwhile.

9 out of 10
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