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Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

March 29, 2010 by  



For all sci-fi fans, the sci-fi silent 1927 film “Metropolis” from Fritz Lang is fantastic and ahead of its time.  But with a new and longer restored film currently making its round in the festival circuit in 2010 and a planned release on Blu-ray, this 2001 restored version of the film from Kino Video is worth it only if you can find it for a great price.

Images courtesy of © 2002 Kino Intl., Corp. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition

DURATION: 124 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 1:33:1, Black and White

COMPANY: Kino Video

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: 2002

Based on a novel by Thea von Harbou

Directed by Fritz Lang

Screenplay by Thea von Harbou

Producer: Giorgio Moroder, Erich Pommer

Music by Gottfried Huppertz

Cinematography by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht

Costume Design by Aenne Willkomm

Starring:

Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen

Gustav Fohlich as Freder

Brigitte Helm as Maria/The Robot

Rudolf Klein-Rogge as C.A. Rotwang

Fritz Rasp as The Thin Man

Heinrich George as Grot

Theodor Loos as Josaphat

Erwin Biswanger as 11811

Perhaps the most famous and influential of all silent films, Metropolis  had for 75 years been seen only in shortened or truncated versions. Now, restored in Germany with state-of-the-art digital technology, under the supervision of the Murnau Foundation, and with the original 1927 orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz added, Metropolis can be appreciated in its full glory. It is, as A. O. Scott of The New York Times declared, “A fever dream of the future. At last we have the movie every would-be cinematic visionary has been trying to make since 1927.”

Metropolis takes place in 2026, when the populace is divided between workers who must live in the dark underground and the rich who enjoy a futuristic city of splendor. The tense balance of these two societies is realized through images that are among the most famous of the 20th century, many of which presage such sci-fi landmarks as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. Lavish and spectacular, with elaborate sets and modern science fiction style, Metropolis stands today as the crowning achievement of the German silent cinema. Kino is proud to present the definitive, authorized version of this towering classic, at a length over one-third longer than any previous release, for the first time on DVD and VHS.

One of the biggest announcements in cinema in 2008 was the discovering of a 16mm reduction of the original cut of Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic/sci-fi silent film “Metropolis”.   The 2001 restoration gave us the best representation of this classic film which has been shown in so many cuts and variations since its release back in 1927.

But the DVD release in 2002 featured the 124 minute cut of the film and was the best version out there for the film.  That was until July 2008 and the 16mm film found in Argentina was located which contained over 210 minutes.  Spearheaded by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, since Feb. 2010, the restored film is currently making its rounds around the world and being screened. For those not familiar with “Metropolis”, the version that we have seen recently features missing footage but the footage is told by a black screen with text, to give us information of what has happened during parts of the film.

Granted, the explanations were enough to watch this fantastic silent film but one could imagine how much footage one had missed.  And now knowing that we have seen 124 minutes and the 16-mm found is over 210 minutes.  That is a substantial amount of footage missing.   With that being said, if I am able to catch a screening of this fantastic film, I needed to watch the previous 2001 restoration once more.

And after the film has made its run, KINO Video has announced that will be releasing a Blu-ray version of the film which I definitely look forward to.

“Metropolis” was a sci-fi silent film directed by Fritz Lang (“M”, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse”, “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried”, “Fury”) and is based on the novel by Lang’s wife at the time, Thea von Harbou. Upon its release in Germany in 1927, needless to say the film didn’t do that well.  So, it was cut and re-edited against Fritz Lang’s permission.    And because the film was costly and nearly bankrupted the film company, it was important to make money through this film and with many theaters not so enthusiastic of films longer than 90 minutes, the film was shortened even more, especially the version show in the United States.

“Metropolis” is a film that takes place during a time where the rich and people who work in a management function live high above the Earth in skyscrapers while other people are just workers who live the same routine everyday, same routine and live a hard and difficult live in the underground.  Their movements are the same and their blood, sweat and tears are required to power the city.

One day in the Eternal Gardens, a young man named Freder (played by Gustav Frohlich), the son of Joh Fredersen (played by Alfred Abel, the main man responsible for building the Metropolis), sees a woman who catches his attention.  The woman is accompanied by a large group of children but as she tries to introduce them to the gardens, she and the children are kicked out.

This leads Freder wanting to seek the young woman out and venturing to an area that he is not allowed to.  The underground where the workers live.  He sees how these workers have the same routine, are worked hard to exhaustion and sees as one worker is unable to keep up and collapses due to exhaustion.  Because he is unable to man the machine, the machines start to explode and several workers are killed.  While watching this take place, immediately Freder starts imaging this monstrous deity appear while its tribe takes the workers into be sacrificed.

When Freder comes to, he immediately goes to his father’s office to share what he had seen.  He tells his friend Josaphat (played by Theodor Loos, who is the assistant of his father) about what happened but because Josaphat was unaware of the news, he begins to worry and Joh Fredersen admonishes him for not knowing about what happened at the factory and having to learn from his son.

Then we see Grot (played by Heinrich George), the guardian of the heart machine and oversees the workers, come into the office and show Joh Fredersen diagrams that came from the pockets of those who died at the factory.  Again, Fredersen is upset that he had to learn from another person and not Josaphat about these diagrams and fires him.  Josaphat is now in shock because that means that without being in management, he is now forced to become a regular employee and must live and work in the underground.

Freder is angered that his father had done this but its too late.  Freder runs after Josaphat and gives him a job in order to save Josaphat from working underground.  But Freder wants to know how the life of those in the underground truly is and is willing to swap places with someone.  As for his father, Joh Fredersen doesn’t trust his son now that he is venturing out to the underground and hires the Thin Man (played by Fritz Rap) to watch over his son.

As Freder goes underground, he manages to swap places with another worker and by working his job, learns of how torturous the work hours and work is for a person and can’t believe his father had subjected these workers in this manner.  Meanwhile, some of the workers have encouraged Freder to join them in the underground tunnels for a secret meeting.

As for Joh Fredersen, he goes to the Metropolis inventor, C.A. Rotwang to look at these diagrams found in the dead employees pockets.  We learn that Rotwang and Fredersen are rivals who were in love with a woman named Hel.   Hel died giving birth to Freder and Rotwang despises Joh.  But Rotwang has been hard at work in trying to create a robot in the image of Hel in which he shows to Fredersen.  Also, Rotwang finds out the diagrams are actually maps to the underground and thus he and Joh Fredersen go down the underground in a hidden entrance to spy on the workers.

We learn than the workers have been going to secret meetings that are led by the woman that Freder had seen in the garden.  Her name is Maria (played by Brigitte Helm) and she tries to fight for the worker’s dignity and tells them that she awaits the mediator who is supposedly going to bring together the workers and the management. When all the workers leave, Freder meets with Maria and immediately they fall in love.  Maria realizes that Freder is the mediator.

Joh Fredersen gives Rotwang an order to use the robot he made and make her in the image of this woman Maria to destroy those workers who are following her and sure enough, Rotwang kidnaps Maria and immediately creates the robot in her image.  Now an evil Maria (“the robot”) is out and causing havoc but with Rotwang despising Joh Fredersen, he programs her to not only destroy the workers, he wants the robot Maria to command the workers to destroy the entire city.

As for Freder, he must find the real Maria and hopefully stop the madness that Rotwang had unleashed on the city.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Metropolis” is a film that is available in so many formats especially in public domain.  But this 2001 authorized restored version was the best looking version of the film in the last decade until the new restored footage was found.  But a lot of time has gone into cleaning up the film and restoring it.

The film looks absolutely beautiful and one can’t help but be in awe of the special effects and how futuristic “Metropolis” looked, how clear the picture quality this film looks considering it being a nearly 80+ year-old film.  From the special effects to the costume design especially during Freder’s dream of the sacrificial deity to the dream of death and then seeing this metropolis with vehicles and planes circling around the city.  It’s just an amazing sight of what was created during that time period before computers and CG.

The film is featured in 1:33:1 black and white and is the best version.

AUDIO, SUBTITLES & INTERTITLES:

“Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition” features music composed by Gottfried Huppertz presented in 5.1 Surround Sound.  The music works great with this film.  Intertitles are in English, while subtitles for the audio commentary and special features are in English, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by film historian Enno Patalas. Subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.  Enno Patalas is very knowledgeable about Fritz Lang’s work and gives us detail on the film.
  • The Metropolis Case – (43:49) A 2002  documentary on the making of “Metropolis” by Enno Patalas.  Patalas goes into the making of the film, the architecture, special effects, and what took place after “Metropolis”.
  • The Digital Restoration of “Metropolis” – (8:48) Martin Koerber goes into depth of the restoration of the film and side-by-side comparisons of the film and what was done in the restoration.  In German feat. English, Spanish and French subtitles.
  • Facts & Dates – Text based information on production of Metropolis.
  • Photo Galleries – Using your remote, viewers can cycle through images such as production stills, missing scenes, architectural sketches, posters and artwork.
  • Cast and Crew Biographies – Featuring 13 cast and crew biographies (text based) .

EXTRAS:

Included is an 8-page insert booklet on the restoration of Metropolis written by Martin Koerber (supervisor of the 75th Anniversary Restoration on behalf of the F.W. Murnau Foundation/Transit Films)

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” is just incredible.  What is amazing is that this 83-year old film has literally caught the attention of cinema fans because throughout the decades, there is always something new to find with this film because of the new footage and restoration that has been done to the film.  With this 2001 restored version, one would imagine that this was the best there would be of this film but sure enough, a new and longer version has been found, restored and is currently being shown in theaters.

But still despite the missing footage that many people have seen for many decades, these incomplete films still manage to be quite entertaining and literally put any viewer in awe of how stylish the film was, how ambitious Fritz Lang was when it came to the overall production design and most of all, the science fiction elements which may have not been appreciated when it was first released but “Metropolis” was way ahead of its time.

The film is literally dreamy and dark and just something that is hard to believe was created in 1927.  Could you imagine the vast miniature and large sets that were built to create the look and feel of this huge city where the management live and then this underground worker’s city that seems dark and dismal.   With over 25,000 extras and such elaborate setups way before CGI and green screen, one can only be in awe of German Expressionism and Lang and Harbou at their very best.

And this film has had its share of dangers as children were in the middle of rising cold water, while actress Brigitte Helm during her robot lady scenes was put near hot flames.  We get the sense of dire straits and sure enough, Fritz Lang knew how to get the talent to react as if something terrible has happened.

When this KINO Video release of “Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition” was released, this DVD was the definitive version to own.  But yet, not Fritz Lang’s complete version.  Even with the new footage circulating at the film festivals, because of degradation, we are still a bit away from having a 100% complete copy of “Metropolis” but we are getting close.  Especially with this highly anticipated Blu-ray release coming at the end of the year from KINO Video.

But for now, with so many public domain copies of the film out there, the “Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition” is the definitive version of the film to own for now.  Even though we are missing major chunks of the film, we learn from narratives of what happened during the scenes not present in the film (you can view a lot of these photos via stills included on this DVD).

The restoration done on the film is absolutely amazing and picture quality looks great and I love the musical, symphonic score for the film.  And also you get a pretty detail and in-depth commentary and documentary by Enno Patalas.  If you haven’t watched “Metropolis” before, I definitely recommend watching this film.  It’s a precursor to today’s sci-fi films and its a film that continues to surprise people by it’s look, its story and the superb acting.

“Metropolis – Restored Authorized Edition” is definitely recommended but for those who have a Blu-ray player, be patient as there will be a Blu-ray release of “Metropolis” to be released later this year.






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