The Complete Metropolis (BR DVD-2010)
Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski
When a special
new film print of Fritz Lang’s silent film classic, Metropolis made its way
across the United
States in theatres
in 2002, it was considered to have been restored to near perfection, and it was hailed by many as the cinematic event of the
was understandable, considering the film’s spectacular and troubled history. Metropolis
is Fritz Lang’s super production of 1927; it took an unheard-of seventeen months to shoot in the mid-1920s at the UFA
Studios in Germany.
sets, bravura art direction and highly advanced special effects galvanized Lang’s visionary story set one-hundred years
in the future, which depicted a super city filled with class struggle, corruption, runaway technology, decadence, passion
and modern science pitted against occultism.
set out to make the costliest and most ambitious picture ever, and when it failed commercially in the weeks following its
premiere in Berlin, the film’s length was cut by nearly an hour and re-edited
by Paramount, its American distributor.
That mutilated version was the basis also for the film’s release in Germany as well as its international release.
still the relatively early days of cinema, a half century away from the concept of film preservation—a time when negatives
could wear out from making prints and when multiple negatives themselves were often cut and re-cut, or more tragically, lost
or destroyed. Years later, even Lang would consider his original full-length
version of Metropolis to be irretrievably lost.
seventy-five years, Metropolis existed in variations of this much-shortened and
heavily edited form. And yet, so strong was Lang’s brilliant vision that
even this confusing version of the film continued to fascinate and mesmerize audiences.
2001, a reconstruction of the film came about through the efforts of Enno Patalas, the F.W. Murnau Foundation, Transit Films
and Martin Koerber among others. The discovery of both the original texts of
the films intertitle cards and the original music score from 1927, which contained handwritten cue notations for the film’s
scenes, enabled a new version to be pieced together.
existing incomplete negative, additional negative fragments and scenes from prints culled from sources worldwide, a stunning
and magnificently restored Metropolis played in theatres to great acclaim in 2001
and 2002. It featured a new recording of the superlative Gottfried Huppertz original
1927 music score and additional title cards detailing the story for scenes that were still missing. The restored Metropolis was a worldwide success and was
even more successful when released on DVD by Kino International a short time later.
this near-perfect version, which was thirty minutes longer than the previously available versions—except for Lang’s
premiere original which only played at a single theatre in Berlin in 1927 for a couple of weeks before it was drastically
cut---even this version had been pieced together with some guesswork and it was not complete.
A full twenty-five percent of the film was still missing and presumed lost forever.
that would have been the end of the story. An incomplete but authentic and wonderfully
restored version of a great cinematic masterpiece had been preserved for one’s viewing pleasure. Cinema lovers would
be able to live without the missing footage, grateful already for what they had.
in 2008, in Buenos Aires, an amazing discovery was made.
In those few weeks way back in 1927 when Lang’s uncut version of Metropolis
played in a single Berlin theatre, a visiting Argentine film collector saw the film and
persuaded Lang to give him a 35mm copy of it.
passed. The film collector died. The
35mm print, on flammable nitrate stock, was in danger of being lost so it was hastily transferred to 16mm film and placed
on a shelf in a museum film archive where it sat for decades until it was discovered in 2008.
copy itself had very badly deteriorated, but it contained at long last, a complete print of Lang’s original Berlin premiere print of Metropolis. The damaged footage was cleaned and restored as much as possible in order to make it viewable and the missing
footage was then inserted into the 2001 restoration print.
With a brand
new recording of the original Gottfried Huppertz music score, the film, properly sequenced for the first time has now been
released by Kino International on Blu-ray DVD and standard DVD as The Complete Metropolis. Save for four minutes of footage that was irretrievably damaged, it is indeed complete. Roger Ebert calls it ‘The film event of 2010.’ And so it is.
If you own
the earlier authorized restored version that Kino released on DVD
in 2002, hang onto it. It is still a wonderful edition and has different supplementary
material than the new DVD. Also, it contains
a different recording of the original score.
But you simply,
absolutely must also get the new complete version (whether on Blu-ray or standard DVD). The twenty-five minutes of missing footage shows wear and tear, yet
it is very watchable. It finally fills in the subplots and clears up the confusion
of previous versions. And, it features some spectacular effects footage. The rerecording of the score is superb; actually, both recordings of the original
score are great, just differently nuanced.
of the film have one thing in common: Metropolis
has lost none of its emotional impact and power since its premiere in 1927. Its
iconic images have influenced Kubrick, Hitchcock, Lucas, Spielberg, Ridley Scott and scores and scores of the most notable
filmmakers. Metropolis ranks among
the great achievements of world cinema. It is what the cinematic experience is all about.