Critics Consensus: A visually awe-inspiring science fiction classic from the silent era.
Critics Consensus: A visually awe-inspiring science fiction classic from the silent era.
Movie InfoIn a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.
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Critic Reviews for Metropolis
Occasionally it strikes one that [Lang] wanted to include too much and then that all one anticipates does not appear. But at the same time the various ideas have been spliced together quite adroitly.
One of the last examples of the imaginative -- but often monstrous -- grandeur of the Golden Period of the German film, Metropolis is a spectacular example of Expressionist design.
I have just had a sensational night at the movies, and the picture was only 83 years old.
A fully realized work of art whose influence on science fiction, set design and symbolism can scarcely be put into words.
Too bad that so much really artistic work was wasted on this manufactured story.
[VIDEO ESSAY] Although it ends with an overwrought climax, topped off with a laughably banal cliché that unites the workers with their greedy overlord, "Metropolis" is filled with stunning archetypal imagery and grand-scale spectacle.
Metropolis remains the benchmark of agenda-driven extravaganzas, stirring and fun in the right spots.
Is Fritz Lang's 1927 epic Metropolis the most influential film ever? It certainly spawned the cinema of futurism, and watching it today. it's uncanny to see how many shadows of cinema yet to come it already contains.
Brigitte Helm is absolutely brilliant in a tricky dual role. The real star, though, is Lang's incredibly fecund imagination and his glorious realisation of the futuristic Babel he dreamt up in his head.
Lang is at fever pitch. Although the film is renowned for its architecture -- and thus has a reputation for being static -- what makes it seductive is how much organic energy Lang and his collaborators put into the imagery.
A visionary science-fiction spectacle; a still relevant dramatization of 'class warfare'; a pulp nightmare of Freudian-Marxist-Christian symbolism and Expressionist-Futurist-Old Testament imagery; and a source of inspiration for Nazis and Utopians alike.
Here for the first time the chill mechanized world of the future... has been given reality. Here is the city, that tormented circus of buildings which touch the sky, of tunnels that disrupt the places under the earth.
Devoted film- and music-lovers alike will enjoy the latest reconstruction (images and sound) of Fritz Lang's truly marvellous tale of mediation over violence.
Oh, it's wacky. But the visuals are unlike anything we've ever experienced. For the film aficionado, it's a cinematic must-see.
Among the most famous and influential silent films ever made, Metropolis has lost none of its ability to inspire awe and provoke debate.
A luminous and resplendent visual masterpiece yoked to a puerile and embarrassingly trite plot.
Audience Reviews for Metropolis
Dystopian Society films are one of the most interesting genres to tackle. Each film brings a portrait of a society that is unique in the way that it oppresses its citizens. George Orwell did it with his stunning masterpiece of literature 1984; Aldous Huxley did the same with Brave New World. However those two are novels, but these are two examples of such works. In film however, Dark City, Children of Men and A Clockwork Orange are three such examples of films that have stood out in the genre. However, one picture is one of the defining works, Fritz Lang's 1927 Science Fiction masterpiece Metropolis, which is a brilliant work on using dystopian concept to tell an engaging story. Using simple ideas, Lang's portrait of a society is sublime, poetic and ultimately nightmarish. Since this is a silent film, the visuals are what keeps you enthralled at Lang's portrait of this society. In terms of Science Fiction, Metropolis is a standout work of imagination, storytelling, and filmmaking. Lang's ideas are wonderful, and though the story here is simple, the sheer visuals, especially effects are what captures your attention, considering that this was made in the 20's, a relatively young time for cinema. The innovative film techniques used to create the film are truly wonderful, and the sets are brilliant, and it's exactly what you'd expect from a dystopian society. I've seen my fair shares of dystopian films, and read plenty of works, and Metropolis ranks as one of the genres finest achievements, not just in film, but in the dystopian genre as a whole, literary and film. The sheer vision that Fritz Lang has for his society is exactly how you'd expect a world like this to look. Would plenty of other films and books that has surfaced in the genre, it's no wonder that Metropolis has influenced many filmmakers and authors alike, upon watching this film, you see plenty of memorable images that have inspired their work. Metropolis is a work of brilliance because it presented new ideas, and stretched the boundaries of what you could do in the cinematic medium when little technology. I thought this was a stunning piece of cinema, and if you're on a quest to further your knowledge of great movies, I highly recommend that you watch the film. Even today, the film looks impressive because of the creativity that went into accomplishing such a feat in cinema.More
The son of an industry tycoon leads a proletarian rebellion.
Like many science fiction films, this early example of the genre is anti-science, portraying progress as synonymous with technological determinism and anti-humanism. But the film is passionately produced and a technological achievement. The performances are all excellent, especially Brigitte Helm's turn as angel and automaton devil.
Overall, modern science fiction films owe a debt to one of the earliest and best of its genre.
First time seeing this epic and I will be honest as I usually am, I found most of this very boring!. I knew it was a silent black and white film of course (even better! I enjoy black and white films), but the plot is totally not what I expected. I always thought this was a kind of Frankenstein story, the creation of a robot, life, its actually partly that but mainly based around a religious theme of a woman (almost akin to Moses and being worshipped as a saviour) leading the lowly workers to revolt against the high and mighty city planners. In turn it then proceeds to turn into a disaster movie and then finally ends with a Gothic horror type finale in the same visual realms as 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'.
Its hard to take the whole film in as its very complicated with all its messages, themes and metaphors which are both obvious and hidden. The characters are all very well portrayed and much deeper than you'd expect as the film progresses, although the lack of wording/text (any missing or taken out?) makes it hard to follow and pick up all the information you need. Its a basic premise used over and over these days, the rich elite living high above the earth in towering buildings of power whilst the poor grunts toil in the bowels below powering the fantastic city above them which they cannot hope to live in.
Of course the film being made by a German in 1927 with the Nazi regime starting to linger in the background the film does have that oppressive vibe and heavy set biblical undercurrent. Lang was anti-fascist and he tries to show that with the squalid peasants that live beneath the mighty city. Its funny because this film feels very much like a fascist film with its certain clear cut visuals, especially in this era, you do get mixed signals I think.
The real reason to watch this film is of course the visuals, stunts and musical score (it is really), its a masterclass in movie making. The score is an opera, its first rate, top class, its as good as any known Hollywood musical and practically tells the story on its own...which its suppose to do I might add (no speech remember). Every person and every event is recorded with the perfect tune/note/theme which guides you along the way as if you were holding hands with the composer.
The visuals, imagination and design of the film are the real stand out spectacles with absolutely incredible special effects ranging from simple model work to matte paintings that create a blend of craftsmanship that truly puts some modern films to shame. This was in 1927 remember!. The now familiar harsh stark black and white contrast adds to the stylish German expressionism to give it that Gothic, gloomy yet quite realistic feel which I really believe would be lost in colour. The camera angles and forced perspective used to create the towering Art Deco skyscrapers, flashing neon signs and sprawling urban jungle of buildings is simply perfect, you just can't fault it, and its so very easy to see where many top directors of the biggest sci-fi and Gothic films in history have gotten their inspiration, but I don't blame them for one minute. The skylines on view in this film are awe-inspiring with immense depth and tiny movement everywhere, its a model train set on an epic scale and it still looks awe-inspiring today.
The costumes worn by the city planners and their leader 'Fredersen' don't appear dated too much...just smart basic and believable whilst the set designs and futuristic creations on show are pretty accurate of our age and do look really nice (video phone). The offices and building layouts just look quite practical, livable, clean and well thought out, much like first impressions of 'Blade Runner', everything does seem to be functional. Lang and co do appear to be very stable futurists.
All this without even mentioning the near perfect body suit used to create the robot 'Maria'. The sculpture work is iconic and begs to be worshipped!. Not only does it look like a real working robot (for the time) and the influence behind god knows how many sci-fi characters, but the actress inside gives a beautifully silent (obviously) slow performance with hardly any effort used. Merely standing and walking but using the suit to her advantage to make it work on every level. The scientists dark 50's looking lab where Maria is resurrected is gorgeous looking too and those now memorable ascending/descending glowing halo's that surround Maria where she sits are the icing on the sci-fi cake (now of course the stuff of B-movie legend).
Not only are the effects amazing but the stunt work during the second half of the film is quite risky and daring to say the least, as the machines crumble after the workers revolt the sets come crashing down in eye widening sequences. The huge props fall apart and puff out smoke whilst the flooding scenes mix neat model shots with quite large sets and huge amounts of extras used (there are some quite stunning scenes with masses of extras used during the film all without the use of CGI making them very special indeed). Some of the sets must have been vast or at least give that impression, the cathedral steps and ginormous doors are a sight to behold trust me. Many sequences do look like stage sets in a theatre with props taking up almost all the space with their realistic scale, most are obvious of course. But there is vast contrast in detail between some of the huge greasy mechanical sets, religious Gothic sets, decaying earthy catacomb, Nazi-esque power sets and cold blank sterile black and white dystopian technological sets. Religion and fascism/anti-fascism set in a thick expressionist future. The film touches on various genres in a way.
A historic film that defies belief, everything is so well done, such precision yet so old you just wonder how film makers can make such trash these days. The story is boring and a little hard to follow I have to admit, lots of odd almost surreal images, ideas and character arch's going on, which isn't surprising seeing as its getting close to a hundred years old. But you watch for the craftsmanship on display, the effects, lighting, camera angles, set designs, models, costumes...all these must be seen to be believed. You can easily look past the religious/fascist connotations and enjoy the fantasy, this is the true art of proper film making.
Whenever critics or film institutions publish lists of the greatest films ever made, the same old names keep cropping up with an air of increasing tedium. It's very easy to be blasé or dismissive about Citizen Kane or Casablanca on the grounds that nothing original can be said about them; all possible plaudits have been dished out and the matter is settled.
Metropolis is one of those films whose reputation is so richly deserved, it is almost annoying. You sit there in the darkness poised ready to pick the film apart, to laugh at all its flaws and scoff about how dated it is. But despite its length and the inherent extremities of silent film, all you can do is sit there in unrelenting awe of what remains an extraordinary piece of cinema.
Like so many of the films we now revere, Metropolis was severely misunderstood when first released. The New York Times film critic Mourdant Hall described it as "a technical marvel with feet of clay", and socialist author H. G. Wells dismissed it as "foolishness, cliché, platitude and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general." At a time of high cinema attendance, American distributors refused to distribute any film which ran longer than 90 minutes. The film was therefore cut and edited severely, and some theatres actually ran it through projectors at one-and-a-half times the intended speed to get the running time down even more.
The discovery of a longer, 16mm print in Argentina in 2008 means that today's version of Metropolis is the most complete and logical available. There are still small sections missing from the original version, which are replaced with extended inter-titles; we still don't have the scene of Rotwang and Freder fighting each other in the lab. And in some of the reinstated scenes, the print is grainy and murky. But ultimately none of this matters, because the visual splendour and substance of Metropolis is enough to take anyone's breath away.
The first startling point about Metropolis is its sheer scale; it was and is the most expensive silent film ever made. The city which Lang puts on screen is absolutely vast, with roads snaking around buildings and aeroplanes dodging the highest floors of the New Tower of Babel. The film popularised the Schufftan process, in which the actors are super-imposed in-camera onto a scale model or drawing reflected in a partial mirror. Through this technique, the actors appear small and insignificant against the architecture of the city. The shots of the athletics track or the workers' underground city look expansive and realistic, and unlike a lot of epics the scenery expresses and communicates the themes, allowing you to lose yourself in this world without losing sight of the characters.
In addition to its mechanical scale, the film employs over 37,000 extras and around 750 child extras, in scenes which make even Ben-Hur look thin on the ground. Even in this age of advanced motion capture, in which Peter Jackson can create astonishing battles with an artificial cast of thousands, it is fascinating that so many genuine human actors can be captured on camera in such a personal and kinetic manner. The scenes of the workers rampaging through the streets, or the children rushing through the drowning city, are every bit as breathtaking and exciting as the Odessa steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin.
Beyond its technical brilliance, Lang's films is also hugely influential in its impact on the character conventions of Western cinema. Although doctors and scientists had already been portrayed in a sinister light (in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, for instance), Rotwang is the archetypal mad scientist. Both his character and the lab in which he works were a huge influence on James Whale's Frankenstein, and reflections of his long hair and gloved hands can be seen in everything from Back to the Future to Dr. Strangelove.
The politics of Metropolis are also more complicated and nuanced than one would first assume. It is a deeply Marxist film, depicting a rich capitalistic class who live in happiness in the Eternal Gardens while the workers struggle in a subterranean city (which, one might add, prophetically foreshadows 1960s brutalist architecture). The workers are both the bottom of the pile and the foundations on which this affluent society depends. The early footage of the workers drudging through the gates conveys the misery of proletarian life, with individuals being driven to exhaustion working the same machines, performing the same tasks, day-in, day-out.
But although it contains scenes of revolution, Metropolis differs from conventional Marxism both in its treatment of religion and in the role it accords to women. The meetings which Maria holds down in the catacombs are held in a chamber with huge crosses and an altar. She uses the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel to demonstrate the inherent and fruitless conflict embedded in the capitalist system - namely one in which the head (bourgeoisie) and hands (proletariat) are permanently unable to communicate, thereby hampering progress and eliminating any possibility of widespread happiness. The very fact that she invokes a 'mediator', who will come and join these forces through the heart, is ample evidence that Lang does not regard religion (or at least faith) as purely the opium of the people.
The character of Maria is cleverly employed to both subvert traditional expectations of female roles and to expose the excess and hypocrisy of the upper classes. Although she ends up with our male hero, and is frightened to death by Rotwang (who wouldn't be?), Maria is still an independent, intelligent, forceful figure, who stands up for herself rather than just hanging around waiting to be rescued. When the robotic Maria (or maschinenmensch) is created, Rotwang demonstrates how indistinguishable she is from the real thing by having her perform an erotic dance for the gentlemen of Yoshiwara. These seemingly respectable men drool over her like sex-mad adolescents, and all veneer of dignity on their part is gone.
One of the key themes of Metropolis is that of machines being able to replicate and impersonate humans, and in doing so influence the way we live. Like Blade Runner and The Terminator after it, the film entertains the possibility of humans and machines unknowingly coexisting, and the latter being able to manipulate us, either through violence or more subtle forms of suggestion. Lang demonstrates this both through the Frankenstein-like transformation of Maria and by Freder's emotional responses to the plight of the lower orders. In one terrifying scene, he imagines a malfunctioning machine as a ghoulish face with a mouth full of fire, and man walking into its jaws as human sacrifices to slake its wrath. The perception of machines being human is a two-way process; we have to form an emotional bond to fully believe what we are told.
While it comes at you dripping with substance and wowing you with its imagery, Metropolis isn't afraid to let its audience have fun as well. It's often the case that people laugh at silent cinema, with its exaggerated gestures, quicker frame rates and often pantomime characters. But with Metropolis, you're encouraged to laugh with the film, whether it's Freder being chased through the Eternal Gardens or the robotic Maria laughing gleefully at the workers doing her bidding. By encouraging this, the film avoids getting bogged down in its darker moments, resulting in a film which is both enlightening and entertaining.
Metropolis remains one of the best films of the silent era. Its impeccable level of craft and beautiful imagery is matched by a storyline so dripping with substance that we forgive any elements which seem confusing or overly familiar. It has dated extraordinarily well on both a technical and a political level; certainly it holds up a lot better than something like The Birth of a Nation, or Battleship Potemkin. Most of all, Metropolis is one of the foundation stones of modern film-making, in science fiction and beyond. It is expressionist cinema at its absolute best, and a real must-see for all film fans.
- Joh Fredersen:
- I must know! Where is my son?!!!
- Tomorrow, thousands will ask in fury and desperation: Joh Fredersen, where is my son!
- Joh Fredersen:
- Off where they belong...
- Of where they belong?...In the deeps? ...And if those in the deeps one day rise against you?
- The mediator of the head and the hands must be the heart.
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