Review - The Complete Metropolis (BR DVD - 2010)
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The Complete Metropolis (BR - 2010)

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The Complete Metropolis (BR DVD-2010)

Kino International

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 year.


The excitement 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. 


The incredible 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. 


Lang had 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. 


These were 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.


For almost 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.


Then, in 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. 


Using the 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.


Still, even 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.


Normally, 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.


But then 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. 


The years 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.


The 16mm 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.


Both versions 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.


2010 Dennis Kwiatkowski/Celluloid Dreams



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