page added: 11/3/10
Blu-ray Disc review by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits
The Complete Metropolis
1927/2009 (2010) - UFA/Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (Kino)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 23rd, 2010
Also available on DVD.
The Complete Metropolis Blu-ray also available from Amazon.ca.
Film Rating (Complete Version): A+
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18
All right, for this review I'm not going to delve too deeply into an actual film review, as I've done that before in some depth for Kino's excellent 2003 DVD release. What I will say, however, is that the experience of attending the TCM Festival's recent North American premiere of the newly-restored, COMPLETE version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis was one of the great movie-going experiences of my life.
As most of you should know by now, a complete version of Lang's original 1927 version of the film was discovered in a film archive in Buenos Aires in 2008. Some 25 minutes of its footage - individual shots and entire scenes throughout the film's running time - had previously been considered lost, and were not available for the 2001 restoration effort. This footage has now been cleaned up as much as possible and restored to the film, along with the original, full-length Gottfried Huppertz score. Only a few minutes of one scene was still too badly damaged (and beyond restoration) to be included, so text description replaces it. To be fair, the quality of the new material varies, but it's rough. The original 35mm nitrate print (once in the possession of the Argentinean government) was considered too dangerous to store, so all of the footage was copied - rather poorly - to 16mm safety film, probably in the mid-1970s. Because the copy was 16mm, the aspect and image area isn't quite the same as the previously restored footage, so there are occasional black bars around the edges of the frame to retain the proper scale. Nevertheless, F.W. Murnau Stiftung's 2009 digital restoration effort has rendered this footage entirely watchable, and its impact on the overall story is immense.
First, the recovered print allowed the restoration team to properly edit the film to match its original cut - the previous edit was assembled according to the best available notes (and the original script) and some of it was conjecture. Next, what you realize when watching the film with this new footage, is that the editing was extraordinary for the time. Few other films of the era use quite the same aggressive pace of cutting, and this really enhances the dramatic experience. Finally, you're actually getting to see HUGE portions of the story that had previously only been told with descriptive title cards. So what's been added? More of the Yoshiwara nightclub sequence is now included. The character of The Thin Man becomes a much greater and more menacing presence in the new cut - not only tracking down Josaphat and 11811, but also appearing as a monk to Freder and revealing a Bible image of the Seven Deadly Sins that is visually identical to Machine Maria's frenetic dance. In the previous cut, you'd see title cards when the workers storm the M-Machine, when Freder and Josaphat break through the bars of the air shaft to free the children, when Rotwang kneels before his monument to the real Hel, when the worker mob finds and chases Maria, etc - now you get to see all of that. The result is that you FEEL the tension build - the film experience is much more dramatic and gripping now. (A complete list of newly restored shots and scenes is available here in PDF form on the Kino website.) As was the case with the original King Kong, film audiences back in 1927 must have just been completely freaked out by Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It's still an extraordinary experience today, some 83 years later, and with this new restoration that's more true now than ever.
Kino's new Blu-ray presents the film in full 1080p high-definition (pillar-boxed to preserve the original 1.33 aspect ratio), perfectly preserving the visual experience I enjoyed at the TCM Festival. Compared to other B&W film releases on Blu-ray, the actual image quality varies from excellent to poor, depending on the condition of the film elements. Some footage offers exceptional detail and contrast, with a lovely range of textures and shadings. The 25 minutes of restored footage, on the other hand, is blurry, scratchy and obviously digitally-restored. It in no way matches the rest of the film and is meant only to be watchable. But watchable it is. The more important point here, is that - overall - most of Metropolis is in very good condition. Now... this is a film that exhibited grain in its original release, and that grain remains. So if you object to grain, don't even bother with this disc. But I think the vast majority film fans - even many casual film viewers - will find this restored version a rare and wonderful visual feast. Barring any potential future discovery of these newly-restored scenes in higher quality, it's hard to image Metropolis EVER looking better than it does here on Blu-ray, so I feel it deserves high marks.
On the audio side, Kino's Blu-ray includes the newly-recorded original, full-length Huppertz score (as performed by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Frank Strobel) in full 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless. You also get the same score in 2.0 DTS-HD stereo. Both sound absolutely fantastic. I will say, I was deeply disappointed that the alternate Alloy Orchestra score wasn't also included as a bonus listening option. The Alloy Orchestra preformed this score live at the TCM Festival screening, and it was just an extraordinary experience. I can't seem to get a straight answer out of Kino as to WHY it wasn't included, because I know they considered it. But I'll take an educated guess and say that I suspect F.W. Murnau Stiftung (which owns the rights to the film) really didn't want it on the disc, preferring instead that this release emphasize their new recording of the complete Huppertz. I can accept that - it's only right that the Huppertz score should be front and center. And while I'm disappointed, I also know that most fans of this film have never had the experience of hearing the Alloy score. I can only hope that it gets released at some point in the future. Perhaps the Alloy Orchestra could make their full version - timed to the Blu-ray presentation - available for sale in high-resolution via iTunes, so that viewers could experience it via headphones. In any case, the Alloy Orchestra is currently on tour, taking their live performance of the score to screenings of the film around North America. Be sure to check the tour schedule page on their website. Trust me: If you get the chance to see them, TAKE IT.
[Editor's Note: The Alloy Orchestra is now selling an MP3 CD of their Metropolis score on their website. I've confirmed that it IS the full expanded score, as preformed at the TCM Festival, and can be synched to the DVD and Blu-ray for viewing. I've tried it myself and it works beautifully - more details on this can be found at the end of this review.]
One other thing that should be said, is that this Blu-ray is in no way meant to be an 'ultimate' release of the film on disc. For example, none of the extras from the 2003 DVD release have carried over here, so if you want to retain them (as I do), you'll want to hang on to that edition. BUT... what you do get is excellent, including Kino's 2010 re-release trailer for the film, a 9-minute interview with Paula Felix-Didier, the curator of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires who helped discover the complete print, and filmmaker Artem Demenok's truly excellent 54-minute documentary (Voyage to Metropolis) on the making of this film, its long and tortured history, the various restoration efforts and the discovery of the complete version. All of this is in full HD, and looks terrific. The documentary is really wonderful, including such visual gems as high-resolution looks at original production photos and paintings, photos of the filming of the lost scenes, even the film's original censorship card (found in a Swedish archive) that detailed all the original Intertitle text. The documentary also includes a number of vintage interview clips with Lang himself, done in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And it ends with newly-discovered photos of the film's 1927 theatrical premiere in Berlin. It's just impossible not to enjoy seeing it all. The Blu-ray comes packed in a standard BD keepcase with a liner notes booklet. You also get a cardboard slipcase, the front of which features an attractive lenticular hologram of Machine Maria.
I have no doubt that one day, someone - maybe Kino - will release a truly 'ultimate' box set of Metropolis on DVD and Blu-ray, including all the different versions of the film (2001, 2009, 1984 Moroder), the Alloy Orchestra score, all the previous disc-based extras and what-have-you. On that day, I will rejoice. In the meantime, this Blu-ray (and the DVD version of it that's also available) represents the first time that film fans have EVER had the chance to see Fritz Lang's original version of Metropolis in its entirety at home. I'm here to tell you, it's a sublimely and viscerally thrilling experience that's not to be missed.
[Notes on the Alloy Orchestra score: I've now obtained a copy of the score CD and have tried the viewing experience myself. The CD (available here on the Alloy Orchestra website for $20) contains a single, full-length MP3 file of the complete Alloy score in high quality stereo at 192kbps resolution. This file syncs exactly with Kino's new 2010 Blu-ray and DVD release of The Complete Metropolis, recreating the experience of seeing the film with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra. You simply listen to this MP3 soundtrack file INSTEAD of the BD/DVD audio, either via your stereo system, an iPod or other portable MP3 player. I choose to listen to the score via a set of Grado SR-80 headphones using my iPod, and let me tell you... the music is every bit as good as I remember it from the TCM Festival performance, and the sound quality - while not lossless - is still excellent. Here's how you sync the audio:
HOW TO PLAY:
1. Start playing the Blu-ray or DVD normally, with the sound off. Using your remote, turn the on-screen display on, so that you can see the playback time clock.
2. Start playing the MP3 file at EXACTLY 1:42 into the program, just before the film's first title card ("An Ufa production, distributed by Parufamet.") appears. The music should start simultaneously with the appearance of the title card.
If correctly synched, you'll hear the steam whistle SFX exactly as the shift change whistle blows on screen, and the metallic scraping SFX will be synched with the worker's elevator gate opening. If this is the case, the audio should be synched properly for the entire length of the film.
3. Turn off the on-screen display counter and enjoy!
One last note: Alloy doesn't include CD cover art with their disc, so here's a cover image I made that you're free to use.]