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review added: 5/21/02



Metropolis
2001 (2002) - Toei (Columbia-TriStar)

review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Metropolis (2001)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B-

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
105 min, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9-enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered, custom Digipak foldout packaging, theatrical trailers (for Metropolis, Final Fantasy, Cowboy Bebop and Roughnecks), animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: Japanese (DD & DTS 5.1), English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English (literal translation and theatrical subtitles), Portuguese, Spanish, French, Chinese, Thai and Korean, Closed Captioned

Disc Two "Pocket DVD" - Supplemental Materials
single-sided, dual-layered, 3-inch "pocket" disc, Animax Special: The Making of Metropolis featurette, filmmaker interview footage, multi-angle animation comparison sequence, History of Metropolis production notes, cast and crew filmographies, conceptual artwork gallery, animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, program access, languages: Japanese (DD 2.0), subtitles: English

Metropolis is a landmark anime film in many ways. To start with, it represents the first collaboration between Japanese greats Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and Rin Taro, best known for the lyrically beautiful Galaxy Express 999. It also represents the final major project of the god of manga, Osamu Tezuka, best known in America for Tetsuwan Atom (a.k.a. Astro Boy) and Jungle Taitei (a.k.a. The Lion Ki--, er... Kimba the White Lion). Inspired by Fritz Lang's silent film of the same title, the manga of Metropolis depicted a world of segregation and racial tension between man and machine. Tezuka never felt the project was really complete, and decreed that it would not be made into a film, unlike his other creations, while he was still alive. Flash forward to modern day. Tezuka is no longer with us and Rin Taro, who has wanted to do this film for 30 years, finally got the rights (from Tezuka's heirs) to do the film he always imagined.

Metropolis presents a departure from the way that many Japanese productions are undertaken. Only recently has computer graphics entered their world of animation, which stayed firmly grounded in ink and paint. It started most noticeably with 1998's Cowboy Bebop series, which used computers to augment existing animation and do certain effects. CGI is now becoming old hat. With Metropolis, virtually all of the key backgrounds are... well, virtual, rather than the traditional watercolors. Many characters also seem to have also been painted in the computer rather than by hand (look for the robot fire crew, which should bring back fond memories of Otomo's segments in the animated anthology film Robot Carnival). This may not bode well for cel collectors, but it's huge for those who enjoy highly detailed animation, as computer coloring provides an unlimited palette to work from, rather than the few dozen colors a standard anime production would normally have used in the past.

For its visual presentation on DVD, Metropolis sports an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are sharp and well defined, and every detail put into the character design is well represented. Comparing it to the Japanese DVD released several months back, the U.S. disc lacks a bit of vibrancy in comparison, probably caused by the addition of multiple sound tracks (DTS and English 5.1, as well as a new French track), in addition to the multitude of subtitle tracks. Mind you, if you never saw the original Japanese disc release, you'll be totally satisfied. A layer of artistic grain seems to have been kept in the image, but it's not in the form of distracting "noise". Instead, I think it adds a very desirable atmospheric effect to the environments. It's especially pleasing in the snowstorm scene, where every drift takes on a texture of its own, and in the city environments, which practically breathe with teeming life. Every shot is alive in this film. From little birds flying in the background, to the teeming masses of Metropolis City, every detail is brought out clearly in this transfer. And as we descend into the depths of Metropolis' caste system, the palette turns from gold into gloom, but is no less expertly rendered.

As I mentioned above, there are dual DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks included for Metropolis' original Japanese language audio. Dialogue is clear and well defined, and the vibrant jazz score booms from your surrounds. I've found that the Japanese don't tend to be nearly as aggressive when it comes to mixing their 5.1 tracks, and Metropolis is no exception. Subtle bits can be found, from the patter of water to just surrounding footsteps or even the skittering of a rodent - each clip demands your attention, and really serves to immerse you in its world. And go figure, but I detected no discernable difference between the two sound formats. I would say go with whatever floats your boat - you'll still get a great mix.

The English dub track features the same basic qualities as its Japanese counterpart, with the addition of the usual poor voice actors. Especially miscast is Rock, who ends up sounding like an immature 13-year old. As is typical with English dubs, the voices are mixed much closer to the front of the stage, making it sound dubbed. Some U.S. engineer could learn from the Japanese how to integrate dialogue into an animated mix. Overall, it's not as painful as most dubs, but please listen to the Japanese track if you want to hear the good performances.

This is Columbia TriStar's first DVD release to include the extras on a smaller, "pocket" DVD (sized three inches as opposed to the usual five). Thankfully, the studio did not see fit to dub the extra features into English, and the Japanese narrator of the Animax special is very entertaining to listen to. Basically, this is the Japanese equivalent of an HBO First Look, but without the schmoozing aspects. Much of the key production staff receives equal time with the all-star team of Taro and Otomo. Interestingly enough, the seiyuu (voice actors) get the least on-camera time, probably because for 99% of Japanese features, the voices are recorded after the animation is completed. There's a lot of good information here - you'll learn quite a bit about the animation process and how 3-D is being integrated into production. Next up are the interviews with Katsuhiro Otomo and Rin Taro. These look like they're b-roll footage from the main Animax special, and there isn't too much new info here. Moving right along, The History of Metropolis gives an overview of Tezuka's original work, and the production notes chronicle much of the material already covered in previous documentaries. Rounding out the extras are a collection of theatrical trailers for the film, as well as the upcoming domestic release of Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

Metropolis is not a film for everyone, but I doubt anyone would say that it isn't finely crafted in both story and execution. Completed for only $15 million dollars, it shows that great animation does not need super-sized budgets (like Titan A.E.), and that maybe instead of looking to produce bloated features with celebrity voice actors, a more simplistic approach would yield superior results. Buy it blind if you're open to the possibilities animation has to offer, or rent if you're not sure this is your cup of tea. Either way, you'll probably like at least SOME part of the ride.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com




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