This year, 2017, marks the 90-year-anniversary of one of the silent era’s most iconic and influential films: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). One of the earliest science-fiction films, Metropolis has been a source of influence in a number of later sci-fi movies including Frankenstein (1931), Blade Runner (1982), and the Star Wars saga.
Above all else, Metropolis is a beautifully stunning visual masterpiece. The set design creates a whole new world, much more dramatic and fantastical than our own; yet it is so masterfully composed that its reality is never unfelt. Enormous, imposing buildings and structures tower over everything, making the viewer unaware of any endings to the futuristic city of Metropolis. An ultra-modern, Art Deco aesthetic pervades every last detail, down to the furniture, staircases, and even eyeglasses. Quite appropriately, this aesthetic is only lacking in the church meeting-place of the catacombs, where a more medieval, rustic quality prevails. But of all the visual elements of the film, none is likely more recognizable than the robot created by the inventor Rotwang, known as “the Machine-Man.” The costume is an eerie yet beautiful work of art which is an obvious inspiration for the character C-3PO in Star Wars. My favorite scene is when the Machine-Man is transformed into the evil double of Maria. The scene displays the film’s dazzling special effects which I believe are capable of inciting wonder even in Twenty-First Century Viewers.
Though some critics, including the film’s contemporary H.G. Wells, claimed the story was trite and obvious, its dystopian man versus machine themes and Marxist qualities have endured as hotly-debated topics to this day. The plot also includes the very Shakespearean elements of love, Romance, and familial betrayal, all of which continue to drive narratives even in modern times.
The story of Metropolis follows Freder, who is the son of the city’s ruler, Joh Fredersen. The wealthy inhabitants of Metropolis, including Freder and his father, live above-ground in “the complex known as the ‘Club of the Sons.’” The complex is powered by the workers who slave away “deep below the earth’s surface,” operating gigantic and dangerous machinery under appalling conditions. One day, Freder is visited in the Club of the Sons by Maria, who has brought children with her from the workers’ city. She walks into Freder’s world, totally unannounced and exclaims to the children, “Look! These are your brothers!” Before this moment, Freder’s life in the Club of the Sons was a paradise; but after Maria’s visit, Freder looks around his supposed paradise, questioning it for the first time. His questions lead him to seek out Maria, but on his way to find her, he accidentally ventures into the workers’ city and sees the inhumane and horrific conditions under which the workers are forced to live.
Freder decides he wants to “switch lives” with one of the workers, which he does, temporarily. Freder works his grueling ten-hour shift and afterward follows the other workers to a church-like meeting place in the catacombs beneath the city. This is where he finds Maria again, apparently the leader of a peaceful workers’ rights movement. She tells her followers the legend of the Tower of Babel, in which “the hands that built the Tower of Babel knew nothing of the dream of the brain that had conceived it.” Maria concludes the story by stating, “Head and hands need a mediator. The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart!” Freder then comes forward and volunteers to be this mediator. Unfortunately, Freder’s father and Rotwang had been spying on this meeting and witnessed Freder’s commitment to Maria and the workers’ cause. This is perceived as a threat to Freder’s father and those in charge, and they vow to end this movement by destroying the faith Freder and the workers have in Maria.
While I must agree that the story is not terribly original, especially in comparison to the ground-breaking visual elements of the film, Metropolis does explore themes which have stood the test of time; it asks questions which humans have been pondering since our origins, and which we still debate today.
Eureka Entertainment is coming out with the 90th-anniversary special edition Blu-ray box set to celebrate the 90-year existence of the beloved film Metropolis. Although it will include many very cool features, there will only be 2000 copies available for purchase, and it will be Region-B locked due to U.K.-U.S. licensing issues. This means that you will need an all-region Blu-ray player in order to watch Eureka’s restoration of the film! So, don’t bother ordering it unless you are willing to fork over at least $100 for an all-region Blu-ray player.
But, don’t fret! The 150-minute 2010 restoration of Metropolis is available on Netflix. Only small portions are of poor quality, and some scenes were too badly damaged to restore in this version, but are described so those plot elements are not missing. Plus, in just ten short years, it will be the 100 year anniversary of the film, which will surely generate an American special box set release!