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"Look! These are your brothers!",
This review is from: Metropolis [Reconstructed & Restored] (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray]  (Blu-ray)
Some films have a cultural impact evident by their influence on cinema for generations after their release. This is most obvious in the Science Fiction genre, and you immediately think of 1950s classics such as 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' and '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' (without which there'd be no Godzilla!). But this silent film from the 1920s had a vision which seemed beyond the boundaries of cinema at the time, and yet it managed to capture an epic sci-fi dystopia with a quality of special effects which films even 60 or 70 years later failed to reproduce.
The film opens to a grim scene of workers walking in depressing unison to begin their shift deep underground. Expressionless, fatigued, and with no display of individuality, the drones look more like prisoners than citizens - and perhaps they are. The slow music captures the sense of their despair but the tempo quickly changes when we see the upper levels of the city. There, fit young men laugh as they play sports in the Eternal Gardens while the ladies dance in their finest wears and volunteer to 'entertain' Master Freder, the son of the city founder.
Fountainside frolics are briefly interrupted when an undergrounder flings open the doors to show the less privileged children their more affluent 'brothers'. It's a scene which manages to portray the unfairness of the two-tiered society and highlights the growing disquiet which exists among those less fortunate. The gate-crashing Maria makes an impression on the young Master Freder, whether it's her spirit or understated beauty, he finds her occupying his thoughts and he goes in search of her. Travels beneath paradise open his eyes to the horrors which face the lower caste each day, he soon witnesses an industrial accident and the distraught Freder goes to tell his father who is more concerned about the internal reporting procedure and the fact his son was near the machines than the tragic loss of life.
Metropolis explores a society fractured by an asymmetric division of labour and power, there are rumblings of revolution in the air but the many voices struggle to find a leader who can organise them into any sort of regime. Hope surprisingly seems to lie with the son of their 'ruler' and his epiphany after experiencing first hand the brutality of the system he has long benefited from. The futuristic city is shown using impressive sets, and models which maybe don't look too slick now - but they are still far more believable than comparable scenes in Logan's Run filmed 50 years later. Even more futuristic is the android (or "Machine Man") created by mad scientist Rotwang, the robot isn't the clunky sort typical of `50s Sci-Fi but is instead a slender figure. It is female in appearance and accentuates the female form in an almost erotic way, it looks like a cyberman's sexy mistress and again it's hard to imagine that it's the product of a film only just outside of the first quarter of the 20th century.
This release is well presented in a metal case and contains an informative booklet of information. More impressive however is the blu-ray transfer which looks superb. viewers of previous restored versions will appreciate the recently found footage which increases the runtime to 2 and a half hours and means we don't need many of the black storyboards which filled in the plot in previous releases. The previously lost footage isn't as clean and the drop in quality stands out, but it doesn't spoil the viewing experience. This sounds incredible too, the newly recorded orchestral score is full of life and gives the film an epic quality - and of course there's no need to worry about it drowning out any speech!
If you're new to silent film then the overacting may take a little getting used to, everything is overly dramatic but that was the style of the time and necessary as a way to express what the characters are trying to communicate without speech. It's effective and probably best appreciated during an erotic dance scene where the close ups of the male audience reveal exactly what they are thinking without the need for any words. This is a story grand in both scope and execution and though the style has dated the plot is still just as gripping and serves as a chilling warning of what was to come - this German film was a favourite among senior Nazis who could no doubt relate with oppressive rulers.
In a nutshell: Spectacular science fiction blends with the story of an imminent uprising from the bowels of a city created to keep a few living in paradise. The darkest of attitudes is summoned up perfectly when Freder confronts his father about the hands that built his city and questions where they are kept, his father's reply is cold and laced with casual despotism - "where they belong".
Location: Doncaster, Yorkshire, UK.
Top Reviewer Ranking: 157