The Spiders (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
February 19, 2012 by Dennis Amith
Many decades before Indiana Jones, there was the suave treasure hunter Kay Hoog. With a new restoration, Kino Lorber will release Fritz Lang’s adventure epic “The Spiders” (Die Spinnen) on DVD featuring both films “Episode One: The Golden Sea” (1919) and “Episode Two: The Diamond Ship” (1920). If you are a cineaste who is passionate about Fritz Lang’s oeuvre especially his very early works, this DVD is a fine addition to add in your cinema collection!
© Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden. 2012 Kino Lorber, Inc. All rights reserved.
DVD TITLE: The Spiders (Die Spinnen)
DATE OF FILM RELEASE: (1919) The Spiders – Episode 1: The Golden Sea (Die Spinnen, 1. Teil – Der Goldene See), (1920) The Spiders – Episode 2: The Diamond Ship (Die Spinnen, 2. Teil – Das Brillantenschiff)
DURATION: (1919) The Spiders – Episode 1: The Golden Sea (Die Spinnen, 1. Teil – Der Goldene See – 69 Minutes), (1920) The Spiders – Episode 2: The Diamond Ship (Die Spinnen, 2. Teil – Das Brillantenschiff – 104 Minutes)
DVD INFORMATION: Color Tinted, 1:33:1, Intertitles
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber Inc.
RATED: NOT RATED
RELEASE DATE: February 28, 2012
Episode One: The Golden Sea
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Fritz Lang
Produced by Erich Pommer
Music by Max Josef Bojakowski
Cinematography by Karl Freund, Emil Schunemann
Production Design by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrich Umlauff, Hermann Warm
Costume Design by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrcih Umlauff, Hermann Warm
Episode Two: The Diamond Ship
Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Fritz Lang
Produced by Erich Pommer
Cinematography by Karl Freund
Art Direction by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrich Umlauff, Hermann Warm
Costume Design by Otto Hunte, Carl Ludwig Kirmse, Heinrich Umlauff, Hermann Warm
Carl de Vogt as Kay Hoog
Ressel Orla as Lio Sha
Georg John as Dr. Telphas
Lil Dagover as Sonnenpriesterin Naela
Rudolf Lettinger as Terry Landon
Friedrich Kuhne as All-Hab-Mah
Meinhart Maur as Chinese/Bucherwurm
Paul Morgan as Jude/Diamantenexperte
Edgar Pauly as Vierfinger-John
Reiner Steiner as Kapitan des Diamantenschiffs
Thea Zander as Ellen Terry
THE SPIDERS (DIE SPINNEN)
- EPISODE ONE: THE GOLDEN SEA (Der Goldene See) 1919 69 min.
- EPISODE TWO: THE DIAMOND SHIP (Das Brillantenschiff) 1920 104 min.
With this exotic adventure film, director Fritz Lang established himself as a master of epic storytelling, a talent that would reach its pinnacle in such monumental films as Metropolis and Die Nibelungen.
Influenced by the French serials of Louis Feuillade (Fantômas) and infused with Lang’s own fascination with Asian culture, THE SPIDERS follows international adventurer Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt) in his quest for Incan gold and the precious “Buddha’s head” diamond. Along the way, he must contend with an organization of criminal spies known as The Spiders, who will employ any form of treachery, including murder, to snatch the artifacts from his possession.
Many decades before Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would create the “Indiana Jones” films, back in the 1919, Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang would write and direct his adventure epic “The Spiders (Die Spinnen)”.
It all began not long after Lang was discharged from the Austrian Army, having been wounded in combat, Lang would use his time during his recovery to write ideas he had for films. As an actor for the Viennese theater circuit, he was hired at Decla, which was a Berlin-based production studio led by producer Erich Pommer.
During the early stages of his career, Fritz Lang would create art films but his popular thriller “The Spiders” was known for combining German Expressionist techniques and popular mainstream cinema and in essence, it was considered as art house cinema.
And for many decades, this film had been considered lost until it was discovered in the 1970’s. While a restoration was done in 1978 and released on DVD in 1999. A new restoration was commissioned from a tinted 35mm print and footage that was not included in the 1999 DVD release has been added to the 2012 DVD release courtesy of Kino Lorber Inc.
“The Spiders” is considered to be the beginning of the golden age of silent cinema. Originally, there was a planned trilogy but only two films were created.
The first episode “The Golden Sea” begins with a man escaping from the Inca’s who are planning to use him as a sacrifice. The man, a Harvard professor who has been missing since his travel to Peru, writes a note, which he puts into a bottle and throws it off to the ocean before being speared.
We are then introduced to Kay Hoog (played by Carl de Vogt), a sportsman who is attending a high society party for those involved in a major yacht race from San Francisco to Japan. But Kay is not planning to take part in the competition as he found a bottle in sea from the missing Harvard professor that said there is treasure located inside a temple of a lost Incan civilization. Coordinates were included and now Kay hopes to travel to that area and find some treasure.
But also attending the party is Lio Sha, the head of a secret criminal organization known as the Spiders now wants that information that Hoog possesses. And immediately, they break into Hoog’s home and steals the treasure map.
It’s a race against time as Hoog begins his expedition to find the treasure at the lost Incan civilization and hopefully get it before the Spider’s can. But in return for them stealing his map, Hoog ends up stealing an even more important map from the Spiders on the location of The Diamond Ship.
As Kay is wanted by the Spiders and everyone trying to find the lost treasure, Kay encounters the beautiful Priestess of the Sun named Naela. But with the Incan’s aware that there are outsiders in their area, who will live and who will die?
In episode two, “The Diamond Ship”, after facing a major tragedy caused by the hands of the Spiders, they have now made things personal for Kay.
With the Spiders now seeking a diamond on the “Diamond Ship”, the Spiders hope with the possession of the Buddha head diamond will release Asia from tyranny. And Lio Sha believes that the diamond may be in the possession of a millionaire named Terry Landon (played by Rudolph Lettinger). But when the Spiders do not find it, they kidnap his daughter Ellen (played by Thea Zander) and will not release her until they get the diamond.
But since Kay has the information about the Diamond Ship which he stole from the Spiders, perhaps he can find it and help bring Ellen back home.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“The Spiders” is presented in 1:33:1 and is color-tinted from sepia to red. It’s important to note that the color-tinting is not the same as the 1999 Image Entertainment DVD release. With the new restoration that was done by the Blazena Urgosikova and Ingrid Tetkova, the main goal was to introduce some of the missing footage but also to fix the speed of the film.
With the original 1999 DVD release, there were silent film fans who were critical that “The Spiders” was a bit too fast. I personally have not seen the 1999 DVD release but have read that the new restoration does fix that problem. Personally, movements seemed natural to me and not overly sped up or too slow.
As for picture quality, as one can expect from a film that is 90-years-old, you are going to see some scratches but in the context of silent films, “The Spiders” looks very good and doesn’t have any major nitrate damage, warping, blurring or blackening on the film print.
While it’s not my preference to see a lot of red color tinting in the film (as I’m so used to seeing sepia, orange, blue and green), I am not too sure of the differences of the color tinting from the previous Dave Shepard restoration.
For the most part, the film was in much better shape than expected and looks good on DVD.
As for audio, the music is composed and performed by Ben Model.
“The Spiders” does not come with any special features.
The release of “The Spiders” on DVD is fantastic! With the original 1999 DVD release out-of-print and costing a lot due to its rarity, with a lot of interested in Fritz Lang films (may it be his silents such as “Metropolis” or his foray into Hollywood Film Noir), Kino Lorber has been very good when it comes to the release of Fritz Lang films on Blu-ray and DVD.
While the Spiders has been released on DVD back in 1999, the 2012 DVD release is said to be better because it includes lost footage and also a corrected speed. The original Image Entertainment DVD ran for 137 minutes, this new version is 170 minutes long (which is possibly the newer footage and the slowing down of speed). According to the credits, this version was licensed by Transit Film on behalf of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and archival sources were from the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique and Filmovych laboratorich Barrandov Praha.
While I never watched the original 1999 DVD release, going by story alone, “The Spiders” was an intriguing and surprising adventure epic.
Sure, “The Spiders” was shot many decades before the Indiana Jones films and sure, the technology involved in production has evolved a lot since 1919 and 1920 but considering what was accomplished on this film, there was a decent amount of production in recreating the Incan civilization with its appearance of Incan carved rocks in the first film and a lot of focus on makeup and costume design for both films.
The first film “Episode One: The Golden Sea” was enjoyable as you get the suave adventurer/sportsman Kay Hoog. With the tuxedo and the slicked back hair and look that seemed more like a prototype to a James Bond film, “The Spiders” had style but it also had an intriguing story with Kay trying to get to the treasure before his adversaries, the criminal organization the Spiders and their leader Lio Sha gets to it.
And for 1919, the overall storyline was adventurous and intriguing but it’s that extra touch at the end which you don’t expect, that made the first film so much more enjoyable and exciting and making you want to see the sequel.
But one you do watch the sequel, “Episode Two: The Diamond Ship”, I felt that the second film was rushed as Fritz Lang tried to incorporate too much and focus more on the adventures and action than the storyline itself.
While it was intriguing to see Kay Hoog going underground in China Town to find Lio Sha and the Spiders, everything afterward seemed as if it was not well-planned. As much as I enjoyed the fact that Lang wanted to take the viewer from one location to another, unfortunately, it’s not executed all that well. There were far too many characters and unlike the first film which tried to narrow things down between Kay Hoog and Lio Sha, the storyline was all over the place.
But bare in mind, this was Fritz Lang’s earlier work, done way before “Metropolis”, “Spies”, “M” and his “Dr. Mabuse” films, but there is no doubt that with Lang working on these two films, he would improve significantly a few years later to take on films such as “Destiny” (1921), “Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler” (1922) and “Siegfried” (1924).
For any Fritz Lang cinema enthusiasts, “The Spiders” is essential viewing if you want to see Lang’s earlier work but how he tries to integrate German expressionism and arthouse with a action/adventure theme. Whether or not it’s good, it is all subjective but I enjoyed “The Spiders”, the first episode a lot more than the second. But for any cineaste, one can see how much Fritz Lang evolved in filmmaking during the 1920’s and eventually for hardcore fans, how much his work has changed when he left to work in America.
Overall, “The Spiders” is a DVD release worth watching. You often don’t come upon a silent film release in which its main protagonist has that James Bond suave look, characters traveling to exotic locations and action sequences in different parts of the world. If you are a cineaste who is passionate about Fritz Lang’s oeuvre especially his very early works, this DVD is a fine addition to add in your cinema collection!
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