Today: June 20, 2024

Metropolis DVD

It’s incredible how science fiction is generally reviled as a genre
by film critics and yet sci-fi movies will often appear at the top of
lists of the greatest, and most popular, films. Of course, there are
plenty of badly made sci-fi movies, as there are in all genres, but for
films with big ideas and stunning visuals it is a genre that deserves
far more respect than it tends to get. Metropolis is a prime
example of this, and it couldn’t be more highlighted by the amount of
time and effort that has gone into restoring this 1927 silent classic,
which is shown in the accompanying documentary on the DVD/Blu-ray.

While the world is oohing and aahing over Avatar and its CG effects, Fritz Lang‘s 1927 parable of the heartlessness of mega corporations (a theme Avatar also alludes to) is more engrossing than all of Cameron‘s
3D trickery. Lang’s vision of the future was created out of organic
materials on massive sets, along with groundbreaking optical effects and
animation, that give much a greater sense of reality, and foreboding,
than Cameron’s shiny digital worlds. With matching runtimes Metropolis
is a lot easier to endure despite the lack of colour, sound or explosive
battles, possibly because you actually care about the characters, even
with the lack of dialogue and the overacting that was inherent in the
movies of the time. The enduring legacy of this movie is reflected in
its influence on today’s filmmakers, including Cameron and more
obviously Ridley Scott, whose 1984 Apple ad as well as the
opening sequence to Blade Runner bear more than a passing resemblance to
scenes from Metropolis.

There have been several releases over the years, including a
colourised version with an 80s music score, but this latest release is
about as close to Lang’s original version (including a new recording of
the original orchestral score) as we are ever likely to see, thanks to the discovery of a full-length print in an archive in Buenos Aires.
Unfortunately, this footage was copied to 16mm and not very well
stored, so the bits that are inserted into digitally restored 35mm print
are easily differentiated. While this can be distracting compared to
the pristine restoration, what it adds to the story more than
compensates. In fact, it is hard to imagine the story without the
additional footage.

The other point that this restoration brings up is the importance of
shooting on film. The organic nature of film has meant that it has been
obsolescent-proof over all those decades, and even the dirty, scratched
16mm print was still viewable, and the 35mm print restoration looks almost as sharp as anything shot today
(making allowances for improvements in lenses and film stock). Try that
with anything shot on video more than 20 years ago, if you can find
anything to play it on.

Metropolis is without doubt one of the most influential movies ever made and although it may not be as prescient as W. Cameron Menzies’ Things to Come,
which was released less than a decade later, its message is still as
relevant today as it was then. This is a film that should be in the
collection of any sci-fi fan, or aficionado of cinema in general, and
this new DVD/Blu-ray transfer with all its extras and a superb 56-page booklet of photos, essays, articles and interviews adds even more depth to a fantastic film.

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