In 1981, famed composer Giorgio Moroder setr about to restore Fritz Lang's masterpiece of silent film, Metropolis using the best elements available to him. Not content to simply restore the film, he also chose to apply some colorization to the film and update the score, placing popular music of the day over top of the iconic images to create a fairly different experience than the one provided by Lang's original film.
For those who haven't seen the visionary 1927 masterpiece, the story follows Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the son of a wealthy man named Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) who controls a futuristic city where the working class are forced to basically live underground. Above ground the wealthy more or less live in a utopia but below the ground where the workers keep the machinery the city needs running, things are horrible which Freder learns when he follows a woman home to her underground dwelling. Freder soon finds out that this woman is Maria (Brigitte Helm) and that she aims to change the way things are. Joh, however, doesn't want there to be any changes to the status quo and so he calls upon an inventory named Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to create a Maria robot which they hope will cause the workers to riot and basically self destruct so that the rich can keep control over the city.
One of the most famous silent films of all time, Metropolis is entirely deserving of all the praise that has been heaped upon it over the years. It's about as visionary as a film can get and at the time it was created it stood as the most expensive film ever made. Lang's direction is strong, the performances are great (particularly when you consider that all the performers had to work with was their body language) and the visuals as impressive and haunting now as they probably were back then. Also impressive is the design work, from the instantly recognizable robot we see in the movie to the iconic tower that represents all that the rich have and which the workers do not this is a film that makes interesting use of lines and which really broke new ground in the world of visual effects and their place in film.
But let's get back to the specifics of the version at hand. Very much a product of the eighties, this Giorgio Moroder is interesting. Moroder worked with film archivists and librarians around the world to get elements together to create the best possible version of the movie possible (at the time - as a lot of fans know, more footage would later turn up and in 2010 we'd get the extended version of Lang's original version). It's an admirable goal to be sure, but the colorization will probably irk some - though in Moroder's defense, many of the changes in color are fairly subtle and suit the tone of the movie rather well. Given that Moroder's specialty was pop and rock soundtrack work (he's probably best known for Flashdance), it's not surprising to see that his new take on Lang's film uses popular music if the day. This makes this particular version of the movie pretty dated in that regard, but it is what it is and if it doesn't necessarily work so well on that level, this version of the movie does deserve some credit for bringing the film back into the collective mind of the public. The music used in the movie is as follows:
Love Kills by Freddie Mercury / Here's My Heart by Pat Benatar / Cage of Freedom by Jon Anderson / Blood from a Stone by Cycle V / The Legend of Babel by Giorgio Moroder / Here She Comes by Bonnie Tyler / Destruction by Loverboy / On Your Own by Billy Squier / What's Going On by Adam Ant
Moroder's version also replaces the movie's intertitles with standard subtitles, which decreases the running time of the film but also restored a few missing bits and pieces that were cut out of the original theatrical release of the film. This version will never replace Lang's original version (the eighties pop music just makes it too hard to take it as seriously as we would otherwise - this is a very grim film, really) but it does serve as an interesting companion piece and for that reason alone, fans of the film will probably want to check it out.
Metropolis looks pretty solid in this 1.33.1 AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation remastered from existing 35mm elements. It should be noted that this transfer is of the Moroder version and not the newly restored and extended version, so it's got the color tinting throughout and it's not the pure black and white version that most people will be familiar with. Some will no doubt dismiss the colorization that's been applied here, which is pretty understandable given the significance and importance of this movie, but it's actually done well to the point where once you get used to it you sort of stop noticing it, as it's quite in keeping with the visuals. As far as the transfer itself goes, some mild print damage is present throughout in the form of specks here and there but nothing too serious while the disc is well authored, showing good detail and solid black levels without any compression artifacts, noise reduction or edge enhancement to note.
You've got the option of watching the film with the soundtrack presented in PCM Stereo or DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Both tracks sound very good, offering up the music in great condition with well balanced levels and strong, well defined bass. There's no dialogue here and nothing in the way of sound effects, so it's really just the score to discuss, but either option will suit you well and there's nothing to complain about here, the quality of both tracks is strong.
The best supplement on the disc is The Fading Image, a featurette that was produced by Moroder in 1984 which discusses the importance of film preservation and how he and his team went about restoring Metropolis and scoring the film using modern music. Moroder is interviewed fairly extensively in this piece and it succeeds in offering up some welcome insight into this variation on Lang's classic.
Aside from that, there's a trailer for the feature, a still gallery, and an insert containing a note from Giorgio Moroder about what his intentions were with this project and how he feels about it more than twenty five years later. Menus and chapter stops are also included and the extras are presented in high definition. A foil slipcase is included with this disc, though according to Kino's press release it will only be included with the first pressing - so don't expect it'll be around forever.
It'll never replace Lang's original masterpiece but Moroder's take on the masterpiece that is Metropolis is an interesting one and a movie worth seeing. Kino have done their typically solid job on the transfer and in the audio department and thrown in a few decent supplements to match. A pretty interesting release, all in all, and one that comes recommended as a nifty companion piece to the original.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.