While I've been consistently impressed and often amazed with Japanese animation, "Metropolis" is one of the stranger and more fascinating examples of the genre that I've run across. The film is old-fashioned in tone, but offers a futuristic landscape that dazzles the eyes. Based on a 1949 graphic novel by Osamu Tezuka and scripted by Katsuhiro Otomo, this animated epic isn't to be confused with the silent-era classic.
As with most of the Japanese animation (or anime) pictures, every frame seems to be overflowing with details. The animators have created a marvelous universe from the top down, as the skyscrapers are examples of stunning architecture, while even smaller details like street and store signs are clearly visible. The film's mixture of traditional hand-drawn animation and computer work is excellent, as the two styles seem to merge pretty seamlessly. Special mention also must go to the film's sound designers, who have created an audio landscape that immerses the audience even further into the visual one.
The film's plot revolves around Shunsaku Ban (voiced by Kousei Tomita) and Kenichi (voiced by Kei Kobay Yashi), who have been hired to track down a scientist Dr. Laughton and take his project, Tima, a young girl robot who looks convincingly like a real girl. Built at the request of Duke Red, the leader of the city, the girl is no mere robot, but a weapon that could allow the Duke to rule the world. The Duke's son is greatly displeased at his father's new interest and attempts to destory Tima who escapes with Kinichi. The two attempt to run deeper into the city to escape and end up falling for one another. Meanwhile, the world's robots, previously second-class to humans, have begun to riot.
The film's visuals are pretty clearly the most remarkable element of the picture. The city itself practically becomes a character, while my attention occasionally wandered to observe the details in the backgrounds. The story itself is interesting (if occasionally simple and familiar), but characters don't have a great amount of depth to them. For example, I thought the Japanese animated film "Princess Mononoke" told a more compelling tale. The mixture of old-fashioned jazz tunes on the soundtrack and the futuristic visuals was a bit too much of a clash for me at first, but I eventually became more used to this odd mixture.
Concerns about the story aside, I really enjoyed "Metropolis". The amount of imagination on display is often jaw-dropping, while the visuals were often unlike anything I'd seen in an animated film prior. For fans of Japanese animation or animation in general, "Metropolis" is well-worth checking out, especially with Columbia/Tristar's very nice new DVD edition.
VIDEO: "Metropolis" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The studio realized that this film's incredible animation needed a solid effort and they have certainly supplied one. Viewers who watch this film once through may want to give the DVD another spin simply to appreciate the amount of detail in every single frame. Sharpness and detail were terrific, as the picture remained well-defined and crisp throughout the entirity.
Flaws were extremely minor and barely noticable; only a tiny trace or two of edge enhancement was seen. Other than that, no pixelation, print flaws or grain was apparent. This remained a marvelously clear and clean image that looked smooth and rich. The film's stunning color palette was also beautifully rendered, as colors appeared vivid, bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other flaws. This is definitely superb work from the studio. Subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish, Korean, Thai, Chinese and Portuguese. Note: there are two versions of the English subtitles - "Original Japanese Translation" and "US Theatrical".
SOUND: "Metropolis" is presented by Columbia/Tristar with a few different audio options; the original Japanese language soundtrack is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, while there is also a French 2.0 and English dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While the Japanese DTS track is the clear leader, both of the other 5.1 presentations are also very remarkable. The film's sound design is highly agressive and clearly an exceptional piece of work.
The amount of envelopment displayed by the soundtrack throughout the film is remarkable. Given the fact that this is a film whose every frame is filled to the brim with detail, the soundtrack is similarly busy. Futuristic sounds, little touches of ambience, music and some louder action-oriented effects are all put into play by the surrounds. What I found very pleasing was how the sound effects really never became very "speaker-specific"; rather, sounds filled the room. The film didn't provide a consistently intense sound experience, either - just as satisfying were several sequences that provided layers of smaller audio details.
Audio quality was terrific; the picture's soundtrack provided sequences that offered distinct smaller details and sequences that boasted immense bass. The score remained warm, while dialogue sounded crisp and clear.
The Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was quite enjoyable on its own terms, but the DTS soundtrack provided stronger clarity and mildly fuller bass. The DTS track also provided a more immense feeling of envelopment. The English dubbed track isn't the optimal way to experience this film, but I didn't think the dubbing was that terrible - the performances were pretty energetic.
MENUS: Beautifully animated main menus are provided for both discs; sub-menus aren't animated, but still use film-themed images nicely. The two discs are housed in a cardboard fold-out that is attractively designed, but rather flimsy.
EXTRAS: "Metropolis" is the first release to provide a second, "mini" supplemental disc. The smaller DVD doesn't work any differently than the larger DVDs, but it's still a neat little gimmick. A trailer for "Metropolis" and 3 other Columbia/Tristar titles are paired with the feature on disc one, while disc two provides: a 30-minute "making of", animator interviews, filmographies; animation progression demonstration with no less than 9 angles for each of the two different clips;
Final Thoughts: "Metropolis" is an imaginative and visually stellar animated feature that doesn't suffer much from some minor concerns with story and characters. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers a fantastic presentation of the film in regards to both audio and video; I would have liked to have seen more in the way of supplements, but I still found what was included fairly informative. Recommended.