The Film (5/5)
It is difficult to discuss a film like Fritz Lang's Sci-Fi masterpiece Metropolis. The film is 83 years old this year, and so much has been written about it in that time, it is after all one of the earlier film classics, and one of the last great films of the silent era. Like many people of my generation, I discovered Metropolis through a film history class, and watching it first time, I could already see it's influence on the Sci-Fi films from Blade Runner to Dark City and beyond.
Metropolis as a film has a pretty troubled history, it was considered a failure on it's initial release, and was cut extensively by the studios to make it more palatable for audiences of that era. This was done before the auteur theory came out, and made the director a films most important creative visionary. This was also during the period where films were considered a simple novelty, and preservation and restoration were not considered to be an integral part of film and film culture. Thus, the footage cut from Metropolis was considered lost forever.
Over the last 83 years footage has been found, restored, and added to Metropolis, but the film was still largely incomplete. However, recently a 16mm dupe negative was found in Argentina. This dupe negative included 25 minutes of footage not seen since the 1920's, and a restoration was undertaken to edit the new footage into the existing film. This was helped by a copy of the original script found in a censorship office, that helped restructure the film based on the newly found footage, and thus we have the most complete version of Metropolis we are ever likely to see, with only about 5 minutes of footage still missing.
Watching a film like Metropolis my be a difficult proposition for modern film-goers who were weaned on MTV editing, but for the rest of us Metropolis is pure gold. It has a wonderful art deco design, the performances although difficult to judge by modern standards are nonetheless impressive, and the direction from Lang is impeccable. The film has had such a large influence on film, and the science fiction genre in general, so much so, that watching any modern sci-fi film you can still see trickles of it's influence. The films imagery from the cityscapes, down to the factories, and the man-machine (robot) is absolutely wonderful, and the effects hold up quite well considering their age.
Metropolis takes place in a futuristic city only known as Metropolis. The population of Metropolis is separated by a class structure, there are 2 classes an upper and a lower class. The upper class lives above ground, and includes the masterminds behind the city. The lower class lives underground, and maintains the day to day functions of the city. Metropolis is run by a man named Joh Frederson, his son Freder has no idea of the class separation until one day he sees a beautiful woman named Maria and follows her down into the underground "workers" city. There he realizes that the city is not what it appears to be. It turns out that Maris sort of a prophet/activist for the workers underground, and has been prophesizing for some time about a mediator who will bring peace to their society. Freder tries to persuade his Father to listen to Maria's message, but he refuses. He ends up hiring Rotwang, a mad scientist, who has just created a man-machine (robot) that can take on a human likeness, in this case Maria's. He attempts to use the robot to stop the burgeoning workers movement from attempting to create peace, and ends up causing the workers to revolt giving Joh Frederson the justification to keep the workers underground.
This is kind of a trick release to review, the Blu-ray has a wonderful 1080p AVC-Encoded transfer that looks absolutely stunning, in fact I would say that this is probably the best this film will ever look. There's some film grain, but it is natural and adds to the film like presentation. The clarity of this release is absolutely stunning, and black levels are quite deep. And while the footage that has been previously restored in 2001 looks phenomenal, the restored footage does not.
The restored 25 minutes of Metropolis were sourced from a 16mm dupe negative, that was struck from a highly damaged 35mm print of the film. The 35mm elements are cleaned up and presented in the original aspect ratio. The 16mm elements were cleaned up as best as they could, and are edited into the film in a slightly different window boxed format. This footage is extremely scratchy, the scratches are primarily vertical in these sequences. It takes a little getting used to the aspect ratio shifting, but overall it's handled quite well. Also, the above score is from the footage that was previously remastered in 2001, the new footage would normally reduce the score slightly, but the only reason for really buying the BD is the inclusion of this footage, which takes a film that had a sort of muddled plot before, and makes it much more accessible.
The audio which is a newly recreated orchestral score based off the original composers notes, is presented in 2 tracks. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and a LPCM 2.0 track. For the purpose of the review I switched between the 2 tracks, and eventually settled on the 5.1. These are both bombastic tracks, and the music practically erupts from the speakers.
Kino has put together a nice, yet slim package of extras together for their Blu-ray release of the Complete Metropolis. The main extra on the disc is a nearly hour long documentary called Voyage to Metropolis, this documentary traces the history of the film, it's deconstruction, and reconstruction, and also goes into detail about the films creation. There are also archival interviews with director Fritz Lang included. This is followed up by an interview with Paula Felix-Didier the museum curator that discovered the print used for the restoration. The final extras is the 2010 theatrical re-release trailer for the film.
Not only a great science-fiction film, but one of the all time film classics. This re-release of Metropolis is notable for having the most complete version of the film ever assembled anywhere, and as such is completely essential for all dedicated film fans. The A/V is phenomenal for the most part, although the restored sections clearly show that they have not been cared for in the same way as the rest of the film. The extras are slim, but informative. Seriously, if you love film, BUY THIS NOW.