Metropolis Special Edition Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Nov 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    Metropolis Special Edition Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £24.99


    First of all, I have not seen the new DVD presentation of this remastered and restored version of Metropolis, so I cannot compare how well this 1080p transfer fares against it in terms of detail. Part of me actually thinks that there may not be all that much in it. With material such as this, the vintage and archaic nature of the film, the inclusion of some terribly scratched “lost” footage etc, I find it slightly hard to believe that hi-definition is actually going to reveal anything more to the eye that doesn't require some very intensive scrutiny. But, having said that, film is film and no matter how old or worn the source, a meticulous hi-def transfer will always look better defined and resolved than a standard DVD image, no matter how scrubbed-up and well-restored it may be.

    Now the newly discovered footage is obviously going to be problematic. Hailing from a 16mm dupe that was taken from a battered and worn 35mm print, this just couldn't look all that good. And it doesn't. It looks terrible. But certainly not unwatchable. However, the difference is literally night and day when compared to the beautifully restored 35mm film that dominates the rest of the movie. You have to hand it to the restorers for not trying to remove such extreme damage as this would inevitably have resulted in very little of the image left to view. There is also a discrepancy in the framing for these scenes, resulting in them appearing window-boxed on the top and on both sides, as the material was cropped from the original. For those of you not familiar with the film, this also helps you to spot those previously lost scenes, which are glaringly obvious!

    The transfer elsewhere is excellent, all things considered. The new restoration has painstakingly removed damage, frame by frame and, thankfully, left no trace of its digital toil on the AVC encoded 1.37:1 image. There are still some speckles and spots and frayed frame-edges to be seen, but the clean-up job is truly admirable. Grain is natural-looking and consistent. Definition is nice and tight, detail actually quite incredible in many instances. There are some truly jaw-dropping close-ups that look absolutely immaculate and scarcely believable as being found within film that is now 83 years old! Close-ups of eyes and faces are stunning at times. But then even the distance shots will often take the breath away with their clarity, depth and three-dimensionality. Statues and towers, structures and figures all hold impressive resolution and integrity. Finite elements within buildings, machinery and sets reveal new levels of detail that utterly trounce all previous versions on home video. The scantily clad ladies prancing around in the Eternal Gardens seem to offer up a little bit more, ahem, detail, too. The books in Rotwang's study and the watch-face on Fredersen's wrist, the little marks on the map – all things that were once utterly blurred, but now look clean and clear and easily discernible. Crowd scenes allow for lots of individual faces to be made out amongst the action and the crush – some horribly sadistic faces towards the end, I might add. The flood sequences yield much that has been obscured in the past – great cracks in the ground, churning water and debris, soaked refugees in the background etc.

    Whites do not bloom artificially, and the grey scale is more natural and delineated than we have seen before. Blacks offer more stability and contrast, whilst still subject to the expected wavering due to the age of the material, is certainly much greater at handling the image. Elements of electrical discharge are suitably bright and sharp – no fuzzing around the edges. The light-show in Rotwang's laboratory, for instance, is a delight to behold. Even the candles down in the catacombs flicker brightly and warmly without warping. The finale, set in the gothic excesses of a fantastical cathedral offers some fast action that occurs with no aliasing, some fine silhouettes atop the roof that, like the imagery elsewhere exhibits no edge enhancement and a terrifically visceral quality that genuinely makes the film seem extraordinarily fresh.

    I promise you - this reconstructed version of Metropolis looks absolutely fantastic in 1080p, so maybe I was wrong to assume that the new DVD release couldn't be so far behind it, after all! This image would certainly take some beating, but it gets a very respectable 7 out of 10 when everything is taken into account.

    Metropolis Special Edition Picture


    Eureka work wonders with the sound for Metropolis.

    We have two audio options to choose from. The first is a two-channel DTS-HD MA track and the second is a fuller-sounding and more exciting lossless DTS 5.1 surround alternative. Both sound excellent, of course. Quite honestly, they would have to sound excellent … because the film has been re-scored by a modern orchestra and we are not hearing some tacked-on, re-jigged or mocked-up variation on what the film's original theatrical presentation had been, front-of-audience at the flicks. Contrary to how many silent movie enthusiasts have insisted over the years of re-evaluation, silent movies were never actually meant to be silent. They were designed with the ebb and flow of a live orchestra playing in-tandem to the imagery in mind all along. But, as many are no doubt thankful to note, we are not hearing Freddie Mercury or Bonnie Tyler or anything put together by Georgio Moroder this time out. This is the original score from Gottfried Huppertz, albeit dazzlingly recorded by the Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra of Berlin, and conducted by silent movie specialist Frank Strobel. Personally, I opted for the 5.1 mix. The music is incredibly rich and powerful. The separation is splendid and the force with which the freshly recorded symphony is driven around the environment is highly impressive. We certainly get some rear-support for some of the deeper themes, and there is plenty of weight afforded the orchestration.

    Being an obsessive film-score lover, as the many CD reviews I write will testify, I am always keenly interested in the presentation of a musical soundtrack. With nothing to stand in its way here – no gunfire, explosions, ambience or dialogue – Metropolis' score sounds simply terrific, although rather ironically, I have to confess that I don't actually like this score all that much. This Wagnerian pomp hails from a time before the great Max Steiner retooled classical stylings and created what we now know as the modern movie score. Without such leitmotif and thematic measure, Huppertz's wild and often thunderous material can be quite jarring and, I suppose, almost inappropriate in its unchecked continuance. I think you really have to love this sort of thing not to be irritated by its bold and overbearing insistence at times.

    But, either way, this DTS-HD MA track sounds amazing, quite frankly.

    Metropolis Special Edition Sound


    Eureka put together a fine package for this milestone in terms of booklets, artwork and the presentation of the film itself. But as far as genuine documentaries and added featurettes go, I find this release to be sorely lacking. What we get is good, don't get me wrong, but I just don't think that it is enough. This is a movie that informed how we think about SF as a genre, how we use iconography and mood and set-design as pure thematic narrative devices. This is a film that showed the way to a great deal of people within the industry, without which, we would not have seen the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Blade Runner or a thousand other such examples of the imagery and technological advances that such an imagination inspires.

    So where are the comments from Lucas, Scott, Cameron and any couple of dozen of other filmmakers whose opinions and insight would have been very important? Why aren't there multiple commentaries as opposed to just one? Where are the extensive featurettes on the set design, the special effects, the actors and the story? Where's the Fritz Lang story? How about the impact that Metropolis has had upon Cinema and genre? Nothing but a few pages of admittedly interesting text. No, folks, I don't think that this offers anywhere near enough material for such a landmark film that has gone through so much over the decades.

    So, with the rant over, let us look at what we have got with this release.

    Unlike the US edition from Kino, this Eureka disc (I have the promo copy, so no gorgeous steelbook here) contains a full length commentary from David Kalat and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Now, as relaxed as this combined effort is, there is a mammoth amount of information and insight on offer. The two work well together and are clearly still enamoured with the film, even more so now that the lost footage has been returned to it. They deliver plenty of facts and figures and discuss the weighty impact of the film, its themes and its ongoing legacy within culture and Cinema. Not above making some critical comments about the script and the performances, this is a wide-ranging and terrifically entertaining chat-track from people who really know what they are talking and are clearly relishing the opportunity to have their say on what is now considered a “closed case”.

    Whilst the US release also features an interview with Paula Felix-Didier, the woman who made the discovery and who now runs the small Museo del Cine museum in Barracas district of Buenos Aries, the UK version then moves on to the incredible 55-minute documentary Die Reise nach Metropolis (The Rise Of Metropolis), which tells us the dramatic story of how the film has evolved over 83 miraculous years, covering the production itself, the various incarnations it has been seen in, and just how that stunning discovery and reconstruction came about. We even meet the people involved in unearthing the lost reels. In German, but with English subs, this proves to be quite an engrossing dissection of what Lang achieved and the eternal legacy that his vision has left behind him. Lots of imagery from the Manhattan of the 20's seem clear to have paved the way for the director's imagination to have worked overtime at the burgeoning prospect of finding a creative avenue with which to depict such an impressive scene cinematically. The documentary runs beneath elements of the film's score, and it feels big and breezy, detailed and well thought-out.

    There is also a theatrical trailer for this reconstructed 2010 version of the film.

    We also get a 56-page book featuring illustrations and articles by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Karen Naundorf, archival interviews with Fritz Lang as well as a 1927 review of the film from Luis Bunuel and extensive notes on the restoration from Martin Koerber.

    My review copy also came with a great 16-page gatefold booklet containing gorgeous imagery and a series of bullet-points about the film and its tortuous route to this groundbreaking reconstruction.

    The iconic image of the robot advancing towards us from its chair also graces a postcard that tells of the film's cinematic re-release.

    So, what there is with Eureka's presentation is good … but, as I've said, still feels surprisingly shallow considering the importance of the film.

    Metropolis Special Edition Extras


    Metropolis is science fiction royalty, even if its genre credentials are more visualistic flourishes than tangible thematic observations. Much more of a parable of social and economic unrest, Fritz Lang's mightily impressive epic of dystopian rebellion remains utterly fascinating. The discovery of those extra twenty-five minutes is invaluable in bringing the film into a new light. Not only does Lang's leviathan movie make more sense and become a much more fully-rounded experience in the process, but it genuinely makes the hairs rise on the back of the neck to finally see Metropolis as the director intended it to be seen. Still revolutionary in its visual effects and its ideology, you can view the film in a variety of ways – socio-political, SF/fantasy, technocratic fear and wonder, future-gothic melodrama, prescient world-change … or, just to spot all those elements that would be used and re-used, regurgitated ad infinitum by filmmakers ever since. It is a remarkable achievement and one that stands the test of time, despite some horribly overwrought performances and that occasionally juvenile script. This is a big movie, and no mistake, and its importance just cannot be overstated.

    Together with Nosferatu, The Great Dictator, Frankenstein and King Kong, Metropolis marks the grand statement that Cinema, as a valid and profound art-from was here to stay. The fact that, as well as those other examples, it still shocks, mesmerises and enthrals is testament to a movie-making alchemy that only a select few craftsmen behind the camera can wield. I'm not its greatest fan, but I know genius when I see it.

    Eureka's excellent presentation offers significant reward. The image, on the whole, is superlative and I doubt that many would seriously complain about the detrimental quality of the “lost footage”. The audio is equally as superlative. I'm still not happy that the film, either this UK version or its US counterpart, is lacking in extras. For Metropolis I am absolutely certain that much, much more could have been lavished upon it. I mean there would have been no shortage of people willing to participate in retrospectives, further commentaries and whatnot. But, despite my reservations, what there is delivers fine fact and trivia in any case. The saga of the film's final (so far definitive) restoration is a little adventure in its own right, of course, and well worth telling.

    Even without me saying it, you know that this is the sort of film that you should have in your collection. In a way, we, as film-lovers, all owe it something for the evolution in concept and technology that it gave to the medium. So, Metropolis on Blu-ray comes with the highest possible recommendation.

    Metropolis Special Edition Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99

    The Rundown



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