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.
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.
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.
I found Metropolis to be overrated and a numbingly slow film and I watched the truncated 90 minute version! To add insult to injury the acting is atrocious and so far over the top that I was either laughing at it or shaking my head in disgust. And on top of all of that Moroder's musical contribution is just plain stupid and serves to add further unintentional humor to the goings on. It did have some pretty far out and original ideas for its time and the sets and FX are really impressive but I will never sit through this bore ever again.
Made back during the golden age of Silent cinema, Germany had proven that they are the masters of cinema with their silent films by creating two of the greatest: Nosferatu and Metropolis. But it was with Metropolis that the most attention and love was shown towards. But, sadly, when this film was distributed, it was butchered and edited in a shameless manner with a good chunk of footage missing. Until 2010 when a completed version was found, but more on that in a different review. This review is for the edited, generic version.
Even with a good percentage of film missing, this is still a complete beautiful piece of artwork to watch. From the expressions on the actors's faces to the sets built for the film, there is not one scene that does not ponder your mind. Even more the story and scenes that have been tribute and parodied in years to come. If one was to think about it, this film demands the love and respect it has gotten over the years due to so many films in the science fiction genre taking liberites to try and master.
Now, there are two main reasons why I consider this film a great film. The first will have to be the visual direction. As a lot of my readers know, one of the greatest (that I consider great) directors of all time is Stanley Kubrick. Watching this film, I am left wondering if he ever saw this film when he was trying to film his films, Just, the attention to the detail of every shot (mainly the beautiful models) are, rather impressive and just breath taking. Even if the film was damaged and destroyed over time. The attempt and the passion is still there, and you still feel it no matter what.
Then you have the breath taking score. Another thing about me that is well known is my love for film scores, and this is still the only film I have found that has perfected films scores (even beating my all time favorite score: Trent Reznor's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). From the begining notes to the ending, this film never hits a sour note. With silent films, the score has to be great in order to help keep people's attention to the film. This film does that plus creating a piece of music that can stand on it's own. A rare feat.
At the end of the day, I still see films that take so much from this films. Films ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Blade Runner to the entire Star Wars saga. This film is still a testament to the power of cinema, and to the impact it has on people and their love for art.
Metropolis is a fundamental work in science fiction. True, the melodramatic acting of silent films can come across as unintentionally comedic. And the parable of class warfare is about as timeworn an idea as they come. At one point, Maria implores "There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." That sounds like the wisdom from a fortune cookie, but along with those overworked ideas, beats Fritz Lang's vision of a ultramodern city that continues to influence filmmakers of today. Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element all gather inspiration from Metropolis. Even the video for Madonna's "Express Yourself" relies heavily on the masterpiece. Giorgio Moroder's reinterpretation only accentuates Fritz Lang's imaginative talent. At times it's ridiculously over the top, but that's what makes the story so endlessly watchable. It stands up to repeated viewings. Giorgio Moroder's presents Metropolis is a revitalized adaptation of a classic film and deserves a hallowed place along side the original.
I've always pondered how 1939 yielded so many legendary films, when the era of silent film had only passed by ten years prior. Metropolis proved all of my hang-ups concerning silent films to be unjust. Yes, the acting is as over the top and hammy as the usual silent fair, but because of the German Expressionist nature the acting almost created an aura of believability. Just as lavish and expensive as you expected, Metropolis includes backdrops that fade in and out of paintings, a metal woman made for companionship instead of actual work, scenes that shift from modernistic to include a flashback of ancient Babylon. Before watching I was told not to look for realism in this film, but instead surrealism of a dystopian metropolis, vengeful against everyone except the people who actually live on a surface world. Below is the worker's city, full of smoke, sludge, and decay. The workers keep hunched, their ears pointed out of caps, a Nosferatu caricature of despair. Without sound the film used light, interesting camera work, backdrops, and atmospheric music, in order to imply things such as Maria's purity, dictatorship, and poignancy. The film is Biblical, lifting passages and scenes from the Good Book frequently, even using the main character as a template for Christ-like beings. An innocent figure is thrust into a land he's never seen before, and used to become a mediator between the workers and his father, the proprietor of the entire city. A jealous scientist, obsessed with the dead wife of a friend, betrays everyone by trying to kill the workers' children. Many things bothered me: the character of Maria resembling Olive Oyl, the machine functions being similar to an arcade game, and the strange acting of the Thin Man character, who resembles Count on Sesame Street. Though actress Brigitte Helm (Maria, Fake Maria, and Robot) does a great job of being vulnerable and saint like, she became hammy when portraying a winking, saucy version of herself as the Fake Maria. Even director Fritz Lang admits the message and ending are boring and contrived, but because of that you may choose for yourself what the film's message is. A masterpiece of all ages: Metropolis.
all in all-?????