Authorized Edition - 1927 (2003) - UFA/Friedrich-Wilhelm
Murnau Stiftung (Kino)
review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/C+
Specs and Features
124 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no
layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by film
historian Enno Patalas (available in English with English, French &
Spanish subtitles), The Metropolis Case documentary (43 mins, 12 chapters, 4x3, English DD 2.0 with English,
French & Spanish subtitles), The
Restoration featurette (9 mins, 4x3, German DD 2.0 with
English, French & Spanish subtitles), 5 photo galleries
(featuring production stills, missing scene images, architectural
sketches, costume design sketches and poster art), cast & crew
biographies, Metropolis "facts
& dates", DVD credits, animated film-themed menus, scene
access (33 chapters), music-only audio in DD 5.1 & 2.0,
subtitles for title cards available in French & Spanish
"The Mediator between Head and Hands must be the Heart!"
Originally released in 1927, Metropolis
tells the story of a utopian city of the future, designed and guided
by the genius of its founder, Joh Fredersen. The children of
Metropolis live in idyllic splendor... at least the children of the
city's elite class. But deep underground, the workers of Metropolis
toil endlessly to keep the city running smoothly for those above.
Fredersen's own son, Freder, never gives the plight of the working
class a moment's thought... until he meets Maria one day in the
Eternal Gardens. Freder follows Maria deep into the bowels of the
city and discovers a world of suffering that he never dreamed
existed. When he confronts his father with what he's seen, he's
quickly dismissed. And so Freder journeys back into the underbelly
of the great city, actually switching places with one of the workers
in order to better understand the kind of lives they lead.
Freder once again meets Maria, and soon learns that she's trying to
keep the disenfranchised workers hopeful that one day a "mediator"
will come to champion their cause with the elite class. But when Joh
Fredersen discovers what Maria is up to, he has a scientist named
Rotwang replace her with a robot duplicate. Fredersen's goal is to
ferment the workers into acts of civil disobedience so that he can
clamp down on them once and for all. But he fails to account for the
determination of his own son to see that justice is done. And it
seems that Rotwang has set his own sinister plan in motion....
Fritz Lang's epic tale is not just a fevered and dizzying vision of
the future - it also represents a landmark moment in the history of
both the German and world cinema. It can truly be said that Metropolis
was the first great science fiction film ever made, and its mark is
seen in nearly every film of the genre that came after it. Heavily
influenced by the German Expressionist movement, and benefiting from
an economic climate that encouraged an explosion of German film
featured impressive use of state-of-the-art special effects and
innovative cinematography that were highly unusual for the period.
The reaction, from both audiences and critics at the time, was at
once enthusiastic and extreme. Even by today's standards, few films
have inspired such an extensive degree of commentary and analysis.
This version is the most complete Metropolis
ever seen since the film's debut in 1927. Taking advantage of the
latest in digital restoration technology, and employing a massive
archeological effort to understand the construction of the original
version of the film, Metropolis
was meticulously was restored in 2000/2001 from the best available
elements. Unfortunately, some scenes have been lost to time - as
much as 20% of the original version. For this release, title cards
have been added to describe missing scenes, and small black sections
of film have been edited in to designate individual missing shots.
For anyone who has ever seen this film before, the quality of the
image presented on this DVD is impressive indeed. Presented in its
original full frame aspect ratio, the black and white image is
faithfully reproduced. The picture is remarkably free of dirt, dust
and other print damage, which has been removed in as much as is
possible without distorting the original image. Contrast is
generally excellent, and there's only moderate grain visible. The
image quality does vary somewhat depending on the condition of the
available source material for each scene, but the quality has been
generally brought into line whenever possible. You certainly can't
call this reference quality, but it's as good as this film as ever
looked since 1927, so it's very hard to complain about what defects
Every bit as important to the film's emotional impact as the
visuals, is the accompanying musical score by Gottfried Huppertz. I
can only imagine how incredible must have been the experience of
seeing the original film projected with a live orchestra present to
render this music. This DVD represents the first time that the film
has been available on any home video format, set to the original
Huppertz score. Using notations taken directly from Huppertz'
manuscripts, as well as the film's original script, the restoration
team has been able to reconstruct the timing and musical tempos as
closely as possible to the way they were originally intended.
Performed by the Rundfunk-Sinfonteorchester Saarbrücken and
recorded in full Dolby Digital 5.1, the resulting track is a
supremely welcome addition the DVD. Clarity and fidelity are
excellent, and the mix features a wide soundstage and very natural
imaging. The track adds tremendous impact to the viewing experience.
A note on length: Any notation of time in minutes for Metropolis
should not be taken as an indication of the completeness of the
film. This version is the most complete release of the film ever
presented, more than 1,300 feet longer than the last major
restoration in 1997. But it's worth noting that the restored film
was recently projected in Germany at 20 fps (frames per second),
with a live orchestra providing the accompaniment. Kino's U.S.
exhibition of the restored film was projected at a sound speed of 24
fps, so that the newly recorded score could be included on the
print. Different projection speeds mean different running times for
the film. Kino's 24 fps choice is also how it has been presented on
this DVD. I would have preferred it if the telecine for the DVD had
been done at the 20 fps speed, and then the recorded soundtrack
could have been edited to match the visuals. But such is not the
case. The result is that some of the film's originally intended
impact is lessened, often to comedic effect, as characters move
faster than was intended. It's not a tragedy, but it is a
significant nit... and one that is well worth picking.
The extras on this DVD are good given the film's age, but leave the
viewer wanting. Arguably the best of the available materials is the
43-minute documentary on the history of the film and its production.
Not only are we given a great deal of information about the film
itself, historian Enno Patalas also places the film in the context
of its time period and its place in both art and cinema history.
There are excerpts from vintage interviews with those involved in
the production, behind-the-scenes photographs and more. The
documentary feels somewhat stilted in its construction and
presentation, but it works if you hang with it.
Unfortunately, the audio commentary, also by Patalas, doesn't fare
as well. Patalas' approach to the track is to describe the emotional
and psychological impact of what we're seeing on screen, scene by
scene, as we watch and listen. And he seems to be reading it from a
script. While much of the information he offers is fascinating, the
presentation is a little too theatrical and is very distancing.
Imagine a commentary where the director does a dramatic reading of
the film's original treatment: "The gate is raised... the cage
sinks... and with it the camera. The titles pick up the movement..."
I'd rather just watch the film, because I can see all the rest for
myself right there on screen. There are a lot of better approaches
to audio commentary tracks, and I wish this disc had taken one of
Other extras here include a 9-minute featurette on the film's
restoration, showing before and after examples. Of particular note
are examples of how digital restoration software can sometimes go
too far in "restoring" the image, actually removing
portions of the scene itself. You also get multiple galleries of
production photographs, design sketches and poster artwork, cast and
crew biographies, and several pages of facts about the film. But my
favorite supplemental item is an excellent insert booklet, which is
packed with liner notes on the history of the film and the elaborate
restoration process. These are written in exacting detail by Martin
Koerber, who supervised the process, and are a fascinating read.
I really wish Kino had stepped in to give Metropolis
a more elaborate and satisfying special edition treatment, and that
they'd corrected the projection speed for this DVD. That said, there
can be no doubt that this is the definitive presentation of this
film available on any format, both in terms of video/audio quality
and the "completeness" of the film itself. For that reason
alone, this disc is a must-have for any serious student of the
cinema. Metropolis is a
wondrous marvel, even speed up slightly and with more than 20% of
the original cut lost to the ravages of time. And it's a film
experience that enthralls me more with each new viewing.
For more on the effort to restore this film, I recommend that you
visit Kino's official
website for the title.