Metropolis: Special Edition 2 Disc Set (1927)

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Released 23-Jun-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Enno Patalas (Film Historian)
Featurette-Making Of-The Metropolis Case
Featurette-The Restoration
Gallery-Photo-Production Stills, Missing Scenes, Architectural Sketches
Gallery-Photo-Costume Design
Gallery-Poster
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-Facts And Dates
DVD Credits
Trailer-La Strada, The Leopard, Playtime
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1927
Running Time 118:39
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:59)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Fritz Lang
Studio
Distributor
Transit Films
Madman Entertainment
Starring Alfred Abel
Gustav Fröhlich
Brigitte Helm
Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Fritz Rasp
Theodor Loos
Erwin Biswanger
Heinrich George
Case Gatefold
RPI $34.95 Music Myles Boisen
Sheldon Brown
Beth Custer


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Audio Commentary Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The city of Metropolis, in around the year 2000. The workers operate vast machines that appear to have no purpose, in ten-hour shifts. The city was built by Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), who runs the city as a corporation. His son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) lives the privileged life of the sons of the upper class, playing at games and taking his pleasures in the Eternal Gardens.

   That is, until he sees a young woman from the lower depths of the city. Maria (Brigitte Helm) appears briefly in the Eternal Gardens showing some of the children of the workers how the rich enjoy themselves. In pursuit of this vision, Freder ends up at the M-Machine. Shocked by seeing how the workers suffer for no apparent purpose, he trades places with a worker. It seems that there is a group of discontents who attend talks by Maria in the catacombs.

    Meanwhile the inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) has developed a man machine, which he wants to use to destroy Joh Fredersen, who took his beloved Hel from him. Fredersen wants the machine to take the form of Maria and to use it to discredit and destroy her, but Rotwang wants to use it to take his son from him.

    This is one of the most celebrated and influential of silent films, directed by Fritz Lang, yet for many years it was seen in emasculated and distorted versions. After the 1927 premiere, the US distributor Paramount hired playwright Channing Pollock to produce a version palatable to the American public. Pollock wrote a new scenario, and the film was significantly cut. The original version was reputedly 210 minutes, although a figure of 153 minutes has also been quoted as the running time of the premiere screening. The butchered release ran around 107 minutes, but variations in running speed should be taken into account.

    There have been several restorations and editions of this film, such as the one made by Giorgio Moroder in 1984 which was tinted, significantly cut, and had a terrible music score by Moroder (which some love) added to it. This had very good picture quality though.

    In the 1980s, film historian Dr Enno Patalas of the Munich Filmmuseum began to try to piece together the original, an impossible task as it has turned out given that some footage, about thirty minutes, is probably irretrievably lost. Using a combination of the bandmaster's copy of the original score (which indicated scenes to enable the score to be synchronised with the film), censorship records, the shooting script and Thea von Harbou's original novel, Patalas and his team scoured various archives around the world looking for missing pieces and better quality footage. A 1927 original negative was found, though it was partly decomposed. Eventually a restored version of the film was released with a newly recorded original score in time for the film's 75th anniversary in 2002. That restoration appears on this disc.

    The missing footage cuts out almost the entire subplot involving Fritz Rasp as the Thin Man, plus some of the Yoshiwara scenes and the monument to Hel. Some idea of what these looked like can be seen in the Deleted Scenes photo gallery on disc two.

    So much has been written about this film that I would not pretend that I could come up with anything original, nor do I wish to regurgitate what others have said. I have seen this film a number of times, including a 16mm print from the National Film and Sound Archive which may (or may not) have been taken from the tinted nitrate print found in Australia and from which one scene was excerpted for inclusion in this restoration. Many critics tend to be disparaging about Metropolis, but I cannot see why. Perhaps because it is a popular film, or perhaps the sentimentality and occasionally simplistic story is unfashionable. To me, Metropolis is a superb fable, very much a product of the era in which it was created, and while it may seem a little kitsch to some today, it is still vastly entertaining both as a spectacle and as a narrative. And it is sincere, unlike so many films of today.

    Metropolis features some remarkable scenes, for example the transfer of Maria's features to the robot, the flooding of the underground city, the explosion of the M-Machine and so on. There is also the archetypal mad scientist, complete with artificial hand and hunchbacked servant. The restoration is a revelation over previous versions of the film, with a remarkable level of clarity and a more engaging story. The religious symbolism also seems much more obvious in this new edition, with many references to the New Testament.

    Like most great directors, Lang surrounded himself with much the same cast and crew from film to film. His wife Thea von Harbou co-wrote all of his films from 1920 to 1933, and much of the kitschness in the film can be attributed to her input. Art director Otto Hunte also worked on many of his German films. Rudolf Klein-Rogge was von Harbou's first husband and he appeared in many of Lang's films, notably in the title role of the Dr Mabuse films, the first of which also featured Alfred Abel. Theodor Loos appeared in several of his films, notably as Gunther in Die Nibelungen.

    I have some concerns about the running speed of this transfer. The restoration version that was toured by the restorers was run at 20 frames per second. This release is at PAL speed of 25 fps, and the actors seem to scurry around at times. The false Maria's seductive dance at the Yoshiwara also looks silly at this speed, and the weariness of the marching workers is not conveyed as intended. It is believed that the running speed at the premiere was 24 fps, although some claim 25 or even 28 fps. The running speed at the premiere may have been determined by Ufa executives, who thought that the film was too long for German audiences. Certainly Lang thought in later years that his film had been taken out of his hands and destroyed by the distributors.

    In spite of these reservations, this is a great film, and a great edition of it. If you have not seen this film before, go out and buy this DVD. If you have, go out and buy this DVD.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, although the actual aspect ratio seems to vary slightly throughout. It is slightly window-boxed, though some sequences have wider borders.

    Compared to previous releases of this film, the video quality is a revelation. Most of the film is extremely sharp, with the clarity you would expect of films made many years later. Shadow detail is quite good. Blacks are generally quite rich and dark, and there is a good blend of various shades of grey. I did not notice any especially bright whites. Due to differences in contrast between frames, there is some flickering present throughout the film.

    I did not notice any film to video artefacts, although a couple of times I thought I saw some very slight edge enhancement. There are some sequences that are obviously from lesser quality material, and this shows in a higher level of grain than in other sequences.

    Due to the careful restoration process, most of the film artefacts have been removed, but there are still some remaining. The most obvious are the occasional vertical scratches. There are also some white spots, but I have seen worse on much later films. The most common artefact is discolouration due to decomposition, which can be seen at the edges of the frame. There is some very minor telecine wobble and a bit of fluff in the gate at 4:56.

    The titles appear in English, and the sole subtitle stream is for the audio commentary, which is in readable yellow text.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 61:59, at a fade in after a fade to black, and is only mildly disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks present, apart from the commentary. The default track is Dolby Digital 5.1, and there is an alternative 2.0 track. I listened to the default track.

    This is a very good transfer, with the bulk of the music emanating from the front channels and some low level sound coming from the rear channels. The subwoofer is used but does not stand out, except during the initial credit for Transit Film and the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung.

    When the Region 1 DVD of Die Nibelungen was released, I expected it to have a score cobbled together from chunks of Wagner, whose Ring cycle was based on the same legend. I was disappointed to learn that there was no Wagner, but instead the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. I was not aware at the time that Lang wanted to create a film that was completely independent of Wagner's magnum opus. When I heard the Huppertz score I was more than pleasantly surprised at how superb it was. The score he produced for Lang's next film, Metropolis, is no less fine with some splendid scoring and several memorable themes, such as the Metropolis theme at the start of the film, and the music for the false Maria.

    The orchestral score was newly recorded for this restoration by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken under the stewardship of Berndt Heller.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The film and audio commentary are included on disc one, and the remainder of the extras on disc two. While the packaging says that this is a two DVD9 set, the second disc is a DVD5.

    The packaging is a gatefold cardboard affair with glued-on plastic disc holders, and comes in a cardboard sleeve. While this may not be the most robust packaging imaginable, it certainly looks very nice. The cover is the same as the German and US releases of the restored version.

Disc One:

Main Menu Animation and Audio

    The main menu shows an animation of Moloch turning into the robot, and features an excerpt from the musical score. The second disc also has the same menu design.

Audio Commentary

    The disc menu describes the commentary as "by film historian Enno Patalas". In fact, the commentary was compiled by Dr Patalas but is delivered by David Cooke, who should have been advised that Lon Chaney's surname does not rhyme with "cranny'.

    The commentary mainly touches on the story of the film itself, going into detail about the themes and the various plot aspects, and dwells less on the production and the history of the film. The various leitmotifs of the score are also discussed and highlighted. This is a reasonably good commentary although I did feel that it could have been more detailed.

Disc Two:

Documentary: The Metropolis Case (43:53)

    Narrated by David Cooke, this documentary sets the film in context and details the lengthy and difficult production. Clips are shown from German films of the era, and there are interview excerpts with Fritz Lang from the 1960s as well as clips from his earlier and later films. The documentary is in sections dealing with various aspects of the production, including the special effects, music, Expressionism in German art of the twenties, and the butchering of the film by the American distributors. This last part includes a poor quality video excerpt as an example of how the film story was altered. A fascinating documentary that left me wanting more. German dialogue and text is subtitled, and there are optional subtitles for the narration.

Featurette: The Restoration (8:50)

    Martin Koerber discusses the restoration, with examples of how the film was restored using a combination of traditional techniques and digital restoration. This is quite interesting, showing some of the pitfalls of using computer software to automatically restore film. The entire featurette is in German with optional English subtitles.

Photo Gallery - Making of Metropolis Production Stills

    Thirty photos from the production, the fifth of which is the same as the third. Mostly shots of the camera crew filming. An annoying feature of these galleries is that the Gallery Navigation screen is shown before each.

Photo Gallery - Missing Scenes

    Twenty-seven photos of scenes still missing from the film, together with text explanations of the context and action. Useful is you want to get an idea of what is lost.

Photo Gallery - Architectural Sketches

    Sixteen sketches for the film, some of which are very close to the animations and drawings that appear in the final version.

Photo Gallery - Costume Designs

    Thirteen drawings of costumes, the last of which is described as being for the lady friends in the Eternal Gardens, but is in fact the costume worn by Maria in this scene in the film.

Poster Gallery

    Five posters from the original release of the film.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Thirteen text biographies with photos of the director, writer, director of photography, designers and actors. There is some interesting material in this, but only the thirteen page Lang biography has a  filmography.

Facts and Dates

    Five pages listing the cast and crew and the various release dates for the film.

DVD Credits

    Four pages of credits for this DVD release.

Trailers - La Strada, The Leopard, Playtime (8:10)

    Three trailers billed as Madman Propaganda, so presumably they will be released on DVD. The latter two are in widescreen but not 16x9 enhanced. The first is a US trailer, the second is the Italian trailer for the restoration (with burned-in subtitles) and the last is a French language trailer without subtitles.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are numerous editions of this film available worldwide.

Restored Version

    Kino have released the restored version in the US. This Region 1 edition has the same transfer and extras (minus the trailers) as the Region 4, but has two disadvantages. Firstly, it has been transferred to NTSC format, resulting in a slight loss of detail. Secondly, the film and the extras have been squeezed onto a single disc, meaning a higher rate of compression. I understand that the running time of this release is the same as the PAL versions; that is, there is no PAL speed-up.

    The UK Region 2 release of the restoration is from Eureka Video, and is identical to the Region 4 in almost all respects. The two discs come in an Amaray case with different cover art, not as nice as the Region 4 in my opinion. The menus are not as nice looking either. The layer change is at 58:28, in a fade to black between the end of the prelude and the start of the intermezzo, which is better placed than the Region 4. The only other difference is the absence of the Madman trailers, not a major factor in my opinion.

    The Transit Films Region 2 release from Germany has the same transfer as the Region 4, plus the same extras (excluding the trailers of course). This edition has the audio commentary in both German and English, and has English subtitles. The advantage of this release is that the film's titles are in the original German with English subtitles. A small advantage, but it seems just that fraction more authentic to me. You can see the German titles in the documentary extra on the Region 4.

Older Versions

    Force Video released the earlier Region 2 UK Eureka Video single disc edition in Region 4. I bought this, watched about two minutes, then ejected the disc and have not looked at it again until writing this. This is a good example of how bad previous transfers of this film looked. Blurry, poorly contrasted with the actors' faces just white blobs, this release was a disgrace. The running time is 138:39, but this would have been due to a slower projection speed. This appears to be the US version as butchered by Paramount and Channing Pollock.

    There were at least eight previous Region 1 releases of the film, all of which seem to be poor in quality judging by the reviews I have located. If you have any of these, throw them out and buy the new one.

    A previous restoration by Patalas in 1987 was released in France, but the video quality is significantly less fine than the new release.

Summary

    One of the great films of all time.

    A superb video transfer, if you take into account the nature of the source material.

    A fine audio transfer.

    Some useful extras, though there is still plenty of room on the extras disc.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, July 23, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
This is restoration done right! - garumph (read my bio) REPLY POSTED
Force Video's earlier version -
Copy of Giorgio Moroders 1984 version -