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Die Nibelungen: Special Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 26, 2012 by  



“Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” is an epic that silent films fans should watch and also own!  May you be a Fritz Lang or Thea von Harbou fan or a cineaste who appreciates German Expressionist cinema, “Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” is a Blu-ray release that is highly recommended! 5-stars!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Kino Lorber, Inc., All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Die Nibelungen: Special Edition

FILM RELEASE: SIEGFRIED (1924), KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE (1925)

DURATION: Die Nibelungen: SIEGFRIED (149 Minutes), Die Nibelungen: KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE (131 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p high Definition, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Color Tinted, Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: November 6, 2012

Directed by Fritz Lang

Screenplay by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou

Produced by Erich Pommer

Cinematography by Carl Hoffman, Gunther Rittau and Walter Ruttman

Art Direction by Otto Hunte

Set Decoration Karl Vollbrecht

Costume Design by Paul Gerd Guderian

Original Music by Gottfried Huppertz with Paul Richter, Margarete Schon, Theodor Loos, Hans Adalbert Schlettow, Hanna Ralph, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, George John

Starring:

Die Nibelungen: Siegfried

Gertrud Arnold as Koenigin Ute

Margarete Schon as Kriemhild

Hanna Ralph as Brunhild

Paul Richter as Siegfried

Theodor Loos as Koenig Gunther

Hans Carl Mueller as Gernot

Erwin Biswanger as Giselher

Bernhard Goetzke as Volker von Alzey

Hans Adalbert Schlettow as Hagen Tronje

Hardy von Francois as Dankwart

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge

Margarete Schon as Kriemhild

Gertrud Arnold as Konigin Ute

Theodor Loos as Konig Gunther

Hans Carl Mueller as Gernot

Erwin Biswanger as Giselher

Bernhard Goetzke as Volker von Alzey

Hans Adalbert Schlettow as Hagen Tronje

Hardy von Francois as Dankwart

Yuri Yurovsky as Der Priester

Iris Roberts as Der Edelknabe

Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Konig Etzel

One of the greatest artistic and technical achievements of the German silent cinema, Fritz Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN is a passionate retelling of Nordic legend, invested with all the resources of the colossal Ufa Studios.

Scripted by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou (who later collaborated on Metropolis), and originally released as two separate features, the saga begins by constructing an enchanted kingdom populated by dragons, magical trolls, and heroic figures defined by rigid codes of honor. In the long-underrated second half, the death of Siegfried causes fantasy to devolve into nightmare, as his beloved Kriemhild enacts a vengeance that contaminates everyone in its path – a vengeance as ferocious and uncompromising as anything the cinema has ever depicted.

This edition is mastered in HD from the extensive 35mm restoration conducted by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, completed in 2012.

They were Germany’s powerhouse couple, filmmaker Fritz Lang who had a successful hit with “Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler” (1922), the famous director would marry writer Thea von Harbou, the woman he helped writing her screenplay and helped her with the production of the adaptation of her 1917 novel “Das indische Grabmal” (The Indian Tomb).

The two worked together for the film “Der mude Tod” (Destiny) in 1921 but for von Harbou, she would continue to gain acclaim in 1922 for her adaptation of F.W. Murnau’s “Phantom” and the 1924 film “Die Finanzen des Grobherzogs” (Finances of the Grand Duke).

But as von Harbou was planning on her next novel known as “Metropolis”, before that novel, she would and Friz Lang would work together in what would become a major, epic collaboration between the husband and wife team.

Writing a detailed script for an adaptation of “Nibelungenlied” (The Song of the Nibelungs), an epic poem created between 1180-1210 in Middle High German and is a tragic story.

The script would be part of “Die Nibelungen” and be featured as two films “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried” and “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache” (Kriemhild’s Revenge).  And suffice to say, the film was a success.  Deemed as a form of German Expressionist through symbolism, it is said that “Die Nibelungen” was the inspiration for Sergei Eisenstein when he created “Alexander Nevski”.

At an event in Yale back in 1966, Lang said of “Die Nibelungen”, “I was interested in bring to life a German saga in a manner different from Wagnerian opera, without beards and so on.  I tried to show in the “Nibelungen” four different worlds: the primeval forest, where lives the crippled Mime who teaches Sigfried to forge his sword, the dragon and the mystic subterranean realm of Alberich, the deformed dwarfish keeper of the Nibelung treasure, which he curses when slain by Siegfried.  Secondly, the stylised, slightly degenerate, over-cultured world of the kings of Burgundy, already about to disintegrate.  And finally the world of the wild Asiatic hordes of the Huns, and their clash with the world of the Burgundians (Who changed their names to Nibelungen after taking over their treasure).

Filmed in nine months, it was the most challenging film that Lang had undertaken in his career thus far.  It pushed his crew to create something that has never been done but also to create a film knowing they will not have the budget, compared to something like a D.W. Griffith Hollywood drama.  He and his wife, Thea von Harbou knew how to work around budget constraints, while Lang knew how to push people’s buttons but get the best out of them.

Working with a distinguished crew such as Carl Hoffman as cinematographer but also working with art direction courtesy of Otto Hunte and Karl Volbrecht, set decoration by Erich Kettelhut and Vollbrecht and costume design by Paul Gerd Guderian and Aenne Willkomm, it was a production that required the best in visual effects of that time period.

Atmospheric landscapes were built, Attila was inspired by etchings by Max Klinger and the German Expressionist of creating harmony, balance through its characters, its structures and architectural composition was important.

So, nearly 90-years after this film was released to theaters and would be released on DVD, an extensive 35mm restoration was conducted by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung .  While there is no original cut that exists, fortunately many negatives of a variety of versions made for different countries  did survive, albeit in various states of deterioration.

Using today’s modern digital technology, “Die Nibelungen”which took four years to restore, was screened in April 2010.  And now, the HD special edition of “Die Nibelungen” was released on Blu-ray and DVD in the U.S. courtesy of Kino Lorber as part of their Kino Classics lineup.

The first film “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried” begins with an introduction to Siegfried, son of King Siegmund of Xanten, who has mastered the art of forging a sword at a shop of a Mime.  Shocked by how quickly he had learned to craft a sword of high quality, the Mime sends Siegfried home.

But while walking home, Siegfried listens to a crowd of blacksmiths discussing the tales about the Kingdom of Burgundy and the King’s daughter, Princess Kriemhild.  Siegfried discusses how he wants to win her hand in marriage and the men laugh at him.  But not a man who likes to be spurned, Siegfried tells them to show him the way and he will win her over.

The Mime who is jealous of Siegfried’s knowledge of swordmaking tells him to cross the Wood of Woden, which in truth is a trap where Siegfried would be killed by magical creatures.

And as Siegfried goes through the woods, he spots a dragon and gets into a fight with it.  He slays the dragon and sees its hot, yellow blood flowing.  While sitting, he begins to understand the birds who tell him that if he bathes in the dragon’s blood, he will be become invincible.

So, Siegfried does what the bird has told him and while bathing in dragon’s blood, a fallen lime leaf falls on his shoulder and covers a spot not touched by the dragon’s blood.

As Siegfried continues to make his way towards Burgundy, he trespasses on the land of the Nibelungs and is attacked by Alberich, the King of Dwarves.  But because of his invincibility, Siegfried defeats him.  Alberich offers his net of invisibility and transformation if he spares his life and also offers to make Siegfried the richest king on Earth with the Nibelung treasure.  But while Siegfried ponders on the treasure, he is attacked by Alberich, but because of his invincibility, Alberich is killed and before he dies, he curses all those who inherit the treasure to be cursed and his dwarves all turn to stone.

When Siegfried arrives to Burgundy, he takes on the guise of the King of 12 Kingdoms.  Siegfried offers his hand in marriage for Kriemhild, but King Gunther wants him to be his vassal.  Siegfried tells him that he would never be one’s vassal which upsets King Gunther, but mostly his adviser, the warrior known as Hagen of Burgundy.

But before any skirmish can happen, Princess Kriemhild appears and Hagen negotiates with Siegfried that he will be able to take Kriemhild’s hand in marriage if he helps King Gunther win the hand of the Queen of Iceland, Brunhild.

Siegfried agrees and when they arrive to Brunhild’s kingdom, Siegfried uses the invisibility net to make it look as if King Gunther has defeated Brunhild.  And because Brunhild has lost, she must marry King Gunther and because Siegfried has helped, according to the deal made by King Gunther and Hagen with Siegfried, Princess Kriemhild would be his bride.

And as Siegfried and Kriemhild would live a happy marriage, Brunhild and King Gunther do not.  Brunhild can not see how someone as weak as King Gunther can defeat her in battle and thinks something is wrong.

Without revealing too much of what happens for the final half of the film… What happens when the secret of what Siegfried had done for King Gunther is revealed to the Queen.  How will she react and what will happen to Siegfried?

NOTE: By revealing a synopsis of the second film, it will spoil what happens for the first film, so do not read any further.

For the second film “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge”, the film takes place after the death of Siegfried under the hands of Hagen.  And because her family uses Hagen as an adviser and he was acting on the orders of the King, Kriemhild continues to ask for her family to end their ties with the murderous Hagen.

But the family will not.  Because the family decided to act in what would lead to Siegfried’s death, they will continue to protect him.  King Gunther tells his sister to stop asking.

Meanwhile, Kriemhild uses the Nibelungen treasure to give to the poor and win over the people of Burgundy, as part of her plan to take revenge against Hagen.  Meanwhile, Margrave Ruediger of Bechlarn arrives to Burgundy that in behalf of King Etzel (or otherwise known as “Attila the Hun”), the King asks for Princess Kriemhild’s hand in marriage.

At first Kriemhild declines but when she sees the opportunity to get back at Hagen as a possibility, she has Ruediger promise her through his blade that if she marries the King, he will do anything she asks, that includes getting revenge on the person that has wronged her.  Ruediger makes the promise and the vow.

While the two are talking, Hagen seeing Kriemhild working against the king, takes the treasure given to her by Siegfried and dumps it into the Rhine River.  Because of this, she realizes that Hagen has once again take something dearest from her and agrees to marry the King.

So, disgusted at her family for siding with Hagen, she leaves Burgundy with no care towards them.  When she arrives to greet King Etzel, she tells him the agreement made with Ruediger that if she marries him and also bears a son, the King will grant her a wish.

Eventually, Kriemhild bears a boy and to celebrate the Midsummer Solstice, Queen Kriemhild of the Huns tells her husband that now is the time to make good on her wish and that is to invite her family to the kingdom.  At the same time, she bribes the Hun warriors with money to avenge and kill Hagen when he arrives.

When King Gunther, Hagen, the family and several knights attend the Hun feast, the Huns try to kill Hagen but are unsuccessful. When the Knight Dankwart warns King Gunther and Hagen of what has happened, they realize they were deceived and in revenge, Hagen kills King Etzel’s young boy.

This leads to a battle between the Knights of Burgundy vs. the Huns and Queen Kriemhild will do all she can to take revenge against Hagen.  But how far will Krimehild go and what cost?

VIDEO:

“Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is color-tinted.  Having owned the previous Kino DVD release, “Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” looks absolutely magnificent on Blu-ray but most importantly, the restoration done by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung was incredible!

It’s important to note that when you start up both Blu-ray releases, you are given the following message:

“Despite its rich history and reputation, no complete, German version of Die Nibelungen exists today, neither in the form of original distribution prints nor camera negatives. This photochemical restoration is derived from incomplete camera negatives. Missing parts were supplemented with various dupe negatives and surviving distribution prints. The tinting follows the color scheme of the original prints and utilizes the authentic photochemical method: the creation of a black and white print, which is then colored in a dye bath. The German intertitles were digitally restored, taken from preserved prints and negatives. Reconstructed titles are indicated with the logo of the Murnau foundation. For the HD mastering, the picture was corrected in some places and severe film damage was digitally repaired.”

Similar to “Metropolis” which incorporated footage from other sources, you can not tell by watching this film on Blu-ray.  The film looks as if it hasn’t aged.  Yes, you can see specks and scratches from this nearly 90-year-old film but the film’s clarity is impressive.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the original 1924 score by Gottfried Huppertz is captivating.  HR-Sinfonieorchester and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra should be commended for recreating Huppertz 1924 score because as epic as the film is for its artistic and visual achievement, the music is magnificent!  I absolutely loved the music for this film!

Also, included is a LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack and intertitles are included.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” comes with the following special features:

  • The Legacy of Die Nibelungen – (1:08:36) A 10-part documentary on the making of the film, Nazi Germany’s plagiarism of the film, the restoration process and the recreation of the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. 
  • Fritz Lang on Set – (1:44) A behind-the-scenes look at Fritz Lang on the set at Ufa Studios.

EXTRAS:

“Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” comes with a slipcase and an essay by Film Scholar Jan-Christopher Horak – If you have a BD-Rom drive, included is an essay.

Over a decade ago, when I first watched Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, I absolutely fell in love with the film.  I came to enjoy Fritz Lang films, as well as films written by Thea von Harbou.

Watching as many Weimar-era films, watching many films based on German Expressionism, reading books on the genre and really, trying to imagine how filmmaking was in Germany during that era.  But one film has always caught my attention in terms of epic early German films and that film was “Die Nibelungen”.

Yes, “Metropolis” was a masterpiece but “Die Nibelungen” was a major achievement for both Lang and his wife-at-the-time, Thea von Harbou.  Not only did this film lead to Harbou’s work becoming internationally known but for its visual and artistic achievement, it would show producers that Fritz Lang was a capable filmmaker that is able to take on huge films.  Films that may not have the budget or the size of a D.W. Griffith Hollywood epic but Lang would have to find a way and von Harbou would have to accommodate any writing changes to reflect any changes that would be deemed to expensive.

So, during this time of German cinema, there was a lot of experimentation that Fritz Lang and his cinematographer Carl Hoffman  would have to tinker with.  For example, one scene in which the dwarfs are turned into stone by Alberich had to show a moment where the dwarfs are screaming.  The other well-known cinematographer Gunther Rittau would find ways to come up with movie magic through superimposing images.

For Siegfried’s fight against the dragon, mechanisms were needed to be created in order to make the movement seem life-like.  So, I can imagine for early 1920’s, how this film would be a marvelous achievement in visual effects in cinema.  The crew was pushed to their limits and no matter how strict Lang was to pushing one over the edge, it led to the efficacy of the film as “Die Nibelungen” looks and feels like an alternate world that has come alive.

But as the first film was more of an introduction of characters, the first film was important in establish Siegfried and Kriemhild, King Gunther and Hagen as well as Brunhild and how far one would go into exacting revenge.  Vengeance is a theme that shows no positive conclusion to either film as it only leads to tragedy.

For “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried”, viewers were probably in shock as what looked to be the films protagonist, finds himself betrayed by the same people he worked and cared for.   The film was like an an adventure, a dream come true with tragic results.

But of course, Germans had a different interpretation of the film at that time.  Marx-Engels wrote in 1840 for “Telegraph für Deutschland No. 197”, “Siegfried is the representative of German youth.  All those among us whose hearts are still untamed by the oppressions of life know what this means.  We are filled with the same thirst for action, the same resistance against the conventional… in us, the eternal weight up of things, the philistine fear of quick action is something we hate with all of our soul..we would like to tear down the barricade of circumspection.”.

While “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge” was a film that felt bittersweet, dark and vengeful.  And because of that, I found it the most fascinating of the two films.  Mainly to see how a woman, so full of love, would literally give her soul and her life to see the man who killed her beloved Siegfried, killed.  And because she believes her life died when Siegfried was killed, but also when her family would do nothing but protect Hagen, the man who killed Siegfried, she is a woman on one mission.  And that mission is to exact revenge on Hagen and to her, that is all that matters.

Suffice to say, people have various interpretations of this film.  People are moved differently when watching this film.  Sergei Eisenstein was inspired by “Die Nibelungen” and it would give him the inspiration to go on and create his own epic “Alexander Nevsky”, many debated the film because it was loved by Hitler and Goebbels and some even felt the film was anti-semitic  and that the character of Alberich depicted in the film had Jewish features.  In Lang’s defense, he did consult the Ulmlauff of the Hamburg Ethnographical Museum in order to capture the overall look of these characters.

I’m not an erudite on German history or culture, so I’ll leave it to the debaters to engage in polemic discussion.  For me, personally, I saw this film as a good vs. evil storyline with tragic consequences.  I know this is probably a bad example to use as a comparison, but in order to create a juxtaposition that some people reading this review will be able to understand, one can look at a film like “Star Wars” and see how one can be good, but easily consumed by darkness and vengeance.

In the first film, Siegfried and Kriemhild wore white and were the couple who were the symbol of love, Hagen and Brumhild in black and were symbols of darkness or instigators of tragedy.  The second film, Kriemhild who was once the purist princess had become a dark queen.  So dark that even Attila the Hun seemed as if he was weakened by his new wife.  Nevertheless, a tragic film, an epic film with wonderful architecture and the scale of the many people who were involved as extras without having to go to extravagant when compared to D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film “Intolerance”.

But one can easily look back at the film and think, how things would have never gotten out of hand if Siegfried kept his mouth closed.  Suffice to say, no lessons would be learn and this is based on a tragic poem.  But you have to give credit to Thea von Harbou for taking on such a monumental task of crafting a screenplay with full detail and Fritz Lang for bringing that script to life in cinema.

For silent epics, I found “Die Nibelungen” to be a more engaging and accessible silent film because its story and actors are coherent.  Sometimes, words do not need to be said and everything can be seen within one’s eyes.  Actress Margarete Schon was fantastic as Kriemhild as you can easily sense the tragedy, the emotions of pain, happiness, sadness, love and evil.  Sometimes, there are characters who tend to overact but when it matters most, it’s the look that you get from watching Margaret Schon, the eyes of Kriemhild and the transformation she goes from one film to the the second.  An innocent flower to a cold-hearted queen.

And for decades, this film has continued to entertain audiences of different generations.  I’m glad that Fritz Lang did not accept offers to remake “Die Nibelungen” because the film would lose have lost its luster and possibly be overacted or poorly acted.  For the way they are now, these two films manage to be effective and highly entertaining as silent films that can never be duplicated.

Now, with its release on Blu-ray, fully-restored, one can appreciate the painstaking effort by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung for its four years of restoring the film.  Picture quality was fantastic and no sign of major damage.  Yes, for a nearly 90-year-old film, it will have its white specks and scratches but for the clarity alone, I was impressed of how awesome both films look on Blu-ray.  This is the cleanest, sharpest and best looking version of the film to date and I was impressed of how much of a difference “Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” looks in HD compared to its previous Kino DVD counterpart.  Big difference!

And as for the music, HR-Sinfonieorchester and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of the original 1924 Gottfried Huppertz composition presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 was simply magnificent.  I was captivated by the music soundtrack and to heart in HD, I was moved and even going so far to look up if a soundtrack is available!  And as far as special features are concerned, there is a 68-minute documentary plus newsreel footage of Fritz Lang included.  But I’m just happy that these two films were presented together on Blu-ray and they look and sound so awesome on Blu-ray!

Overall, “Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” is an epic that silent films fans should watch and also own!  May you be a Fritz Lang or Thea von Harbou fan or a cineaste who appreciates German Expressionist cinema, “Die Nibelungen: Special Edition” is a Blu-ray release that is highly recommended!  5-stars!






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