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Until now, Metropolis has usually been rated as a spectacular but simplistic science fiction film, but this version reveals that the futuristic setting is not so much prophetic as mythical, with elements of 1920s architecture, industry, design and politics mingled with the mediaeval and the Biblical to produce images of striking strangeness: a futuristic robot burned at the stake, a steel-handed mad scientist who is also a 15th Century alchemist, the trudging workers of a vast factory plodding into the jaws of a machine that is also the ancient God Moloch. Gustav Frohlich's performance as the hero who represents the heart is still wildly overdone, but Rudolf Klein-Rogge's engineer Rotwang, Alfred Abel's Master of Metropolis and, especially, Brigitte Helm in the dual role of saintly saviour and metal femme fatale are astonishing. By restoring a great deal of story delving into the mixed motivations of the characters, the wild plot now makes more sense, and we can see that it is as much a twisted family drama as epic of repression, revolution and reconciliation. A masterpiece, and an essential purchase.
On the DVD: Metropolis has been saddled with all manner of scores over the years, ranging from jazz through electronica to prog-rock, but here it is sensibly accompanied by the orchestral music Gottfried Huppertz wrote for it in the first place. An enormous amount of work has been done with damaged or incomplete elements to spruce the image up digitally, and so even the scenes that were in the film all along shine with a wealth of new detail and afford a far greater appreciation for the brilliance of art direction, special effects and Helm's clockwork sexbomb.
A commentary written but not delivered by historian Ennio Patalas covers the symbolism of the film and annotates its images, but the production information is left to a measured but unchallenging 45-minute documentary on the second disc (little is made of the astounding parallel between the screen story in which Klein-Rogge's character tries to destroy the city because the Master stole his wife and the fact that Lang married the actor's wife Thea von Harbou, authoress of the Metropolis novel and screenplay!). There are galleries of production photographs and sketches; biographies of all the principals; and an illustrated lecture on the restoration process which uses before and after clips to reveal just how huge a task has been accomplished in this important work. --Kim Newman