One of the first science fiction films, Metropolis’s influence can be felt in many films since, from Star Wars to Blade Runner. Set in a dystopian future, Metropolis follows a young man (Federer, Gustav Fröhlich) attempting to unite the oppressed workers with his tyrannical father before a revolution occurs. His father (Alfred Abel) works with a mad scientist to create a robot version of the worker’s representative (the sweet Maria, Brigitte Helm), hoping to use her to keep them oppressed. Federer has to hurry to stop the workers from destroying Metropolis.
The film is famous as much for its troubled history as for its actual plot. Released in Germany in 1927, for its American release they trimmed a great deal of the runtime, making the film very disjointed and confusing. During World War 2 the original prints were lost, leaving only the edited footage. Many people have attempted to track down the lost footage, with a complete unedited version being discovered in 2008.
The film presented here is a version from 1984, recreated by Giorgio Moroder using recently discovered footage, with modern (back then) music, sound effects and adding colour to some scenes. Moroder’s alterations were derided by many, and indeed some regarded what he did as sacrilege, but it’s now become a bit of a cult curiosity.
The changes mostly come across as jarring, if not bizarre. The recovered scenes are not of the same quality as the original footage and some unrecoverable scenes have been recreated using still images and illustrations. Additionally some scenes have been left in black and white while others are sepia toned and a few are fully coloured, which takes you out of the film a bit. The music choices often make scenes seem cheesy or ridiculous, which isn’t helped by the over-the-top acting that was common during the silent film era. While these changes don’t harm the powerful imagery of the film, they change the tone. The only change I can’t criticise is the addition of sound effects, which makes the film seem more modern.
I have never seen the edited version of the film, having been first introduced to it with the release of the original print in 2008, so I cannot attest to how much better this film is than the edited version. Understandably compared to the version I had seen previously, this one seems to be lacking something; the film has a complete story but often due to the lost footage, characters lack motivation and scenes which are irretrievable are replaced by cards describing events. One scene which I am aware was discovered for this release is a scene near the end of Federer saving the worker’s children from a flood. I would consider this a vital scene in that it motivates the workers to stop their revolution.
The only special feature on this release is a documentary from 1984, entitled The Fading Image, describing how the original print was lost and how Moroder worked to track down any footage he could. While this is interesting it is obviously now very outdated as the complete film print has been recovered.
Overall Verdict: While this film still has the striking image and effects of the original, the attempts at modernisation ruin the experience.
The Fading Image – discussing the history of Metropolis up until 1984.
Reviewer: Matt Mallinson