Ahead of its time: Metropolis

metropolisIn 1927, German film maker Fritz Lang released one of the best examples of early science fiction cinema: a film called Metropolis. The film, an allegory to the poor, working class person and the stark contrast of the ‘man’, or upper management or, even, the so-called 1%, to use today’s terms.  Indeed, the film has many levels: a science fiction film, the fight against oppression, a love story, and more. It has many traditional science fictions elements, including futuristic cityscapes, flying cars, robots (which is a female version of what C3PO looks like) and lots of gadgets. It features a love story between the elitist son of the oppressor and the lower class voice of the people. It features the mad scientist, who created the aforementioned robot.  The list goes on.  In short, it’s wonderful film, and was beautifully made.

When the film was released, by Paramount, in the United States, about a quarter of the movie was cut out. It received similar treatment in Europe as well. Sadly, it was further cut when shown on late night television.  Over the years, this cut footage was considered lost and, thus, the film had not been seen, as Lang wanted, since it was released in Germany, in 1927.

Many attempts were made to restore it and to update it for contemporary audiences. Now, remember, in 1927, color and sound were very rare and, as such, this film was shot in glorious black and white and features no sound.  Most releases, however, have an orchestral soundtrack.

In 1984, Giorgio Moroder attempted to restore and release the film for a robotmodern audience. It was colorised and features a soundtrack with performances by Pat Benetar and Freddie Mercury, among others.  Where he could not find actual footage, he used stills.  He managed to bring the film to life again and into the public eye.  Unfortunately, it was still way off from the original.

In 2008, several reels were discovered in an Italian museum that contained some of the missing footage. (Moroder had also uncovered missing footage, but not as much.) The footage totals 25 minutes and is mostly what was originally cut out.  In 2010, efforts were done to integrate the new footage into the existing footage and the result is a nearly complete version, as Lang intended, of the film.

Other efforts also continued and one of them, Metropolis Remix, is out on You Tube. This version, while a drastic departure from the original, is worth a watch. It differs in that it features SOME colorization, though the film’s story is still Black and White, a sound track with dialogue (using an audio book of the screenplay) and contemporary music.  The film, for the most part, looks fantastic. It is obvious that a decent copy of the print was used and, in some parts, there is a ton of wear, which, I’m guessing, consists of some of that missing footage.

There is another release, stemming from the 2010 effort, that looks nice, though I do not have a copy yet.  Simply called, ‘Metropolis1927.com’, there is a ton of material about the film, the restoration efforts and more. The release is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download.

shiftchangeThere are many versions of the film floating around, You Tube has several, on tape, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-Ray. If you have CED, there was a version on that old, dead format too. 

This is such a fantastic film, even in its butchered form. I urge you to set aside a couple of hours, darken the room and watch this movie. Watch any version you can find, but watch. Then, seek out one of the recent restorations and give it a go again.  This is such a wonderfully crafted film.  Keep in mind, when watching, the time it was made. The opticals, the miniatures, Maria the robot…all of it is just wonderful to look at. It is clear that more modern SF films are highly influenced by Metropolis, including Star Wars, which Lucas admits he got inspiration from Metropolis.

So, stop reading this blog (but, do come back) and watch this movie.  Go on, go watch it.

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