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For those unfamiliar with this groundbreaking film from 1927, it’s hard to appreciate how exciting it is to finally be able to see the entire film, uncut in this newly released edition on DVD and Blu-ray. Like many things that have been lost in history, I never imagined the footage would ever be found to re-assemble this film to the original cut. At about 2.5 hours, I’ll be the first to admit it’s too long and drags at points, but I’m also more forgiving of an 80 year-old film than I would be for something released today. I’m actually not going to be an apologist for the length or the hokey aspects of this film either. It’s got so much to offer, the negatives aspects are dwarfed by the positive ones.
You don’t have to worry about not noticing any of the newly discovered footage, as it will be readily obvious what is what when you are watching. The only known complete print, discovered in 2008 in Buenos Aries, is a ravaged 16mm negative which is in terrible shape. They have cleaned it up considerably for this release, but it still looks awful, and has a different crop than the rest of the film. It’s so bad, in fact, and the running time is so long, it’s easy to wonder why they bothered to include it. Especially compared to the rest of the film, which is taken from a 35mm camera negative, as sharp and HD as anything other than an IMAX movie.
Aside from trying to capture Fritz Lang’s original vision, there are two reasons to see this extended version. Number one is that the story makes much more sense with the new material. I haven’t watched Metropolis as often as other movies because the plot seemed kind of choppy before. The second is the music. Since this is a silent film, the music is more important than in most movies today. Having the original score and the complete film, allows us, for the first time, to really get immersed in the world of Metropolis. There is a quote I’ve heard attributed to Stanley Kubrick, that “film is 90% sound”. An amazing admission from a guy who got his start as a photographer and is known for the keen visual style of his movies. The point is you can’t play the complete score of Metropolis without the complete film, and the music needs to be heard in it’s entirety to really do its job right. This is something one can really only appreciate if you’ve seen the edited version and the complete version, because, just as the plot is choppy in the edit, the music is choppy too, and that really detracts from the experience.
As a movie, in 2010, Metropolis does have it’s problems. The politics and ‘message’ are presented in a very dated and unbelievable manner. Silent film acting is about as natural as plastic plants. Being a silent film, there are many times when people are talking and I’m dying for the next title card to know what they are saying. Some sets are completely unbelievable, and not in a good way. There are times when you clearly understand why this is a future that never came to be.
But contrast that with stunning visuals, 80 year-old special effects that still look great, a story that, despite being dated, is still engaging and exciting, some (at times) spectacularly interesting camera work, and superbly composed and beautifully recorded score. The scope of this film is amazing and, not to number drop, but 36,000 extras, millions of feet of film exposed in making it, over a year of principal photography. This film was done to excess, and it shows. So many things that could be done so easily with digital today, had to be built and photographed for this film. In my opinion, that doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day we respond to what works, and this film works, and it works hard. Metropolis is an historic landmark film, but I’m saying you should watch it to be entertained and dazzled, because it can do that, if you let it.
And about those effects, who knew the wide city shots were done using stop motion animation? Not me. There are still a bunch of effects I can’t figure out either. For example, the floating rings around the machine man as it acquires Maria’s face. And speaking of Maria, watch how her eyes seem to glow at times as if lit from within. Amazing stuff.
The Complete Metropolis is just out on DVD and Blu-ray. If you’re new to it, you might want to rent it first to see if it’s your thing. But otherwise, I can’t praise or recommend this enough. I’d put this on any list of MUST WATCH films. It stills my heart. You know, that bridge between the hand and mind.