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Most of us who live in or near modern cities have probably become largely complacent about the technologies and conveniences that are at our fingertips. This superb German series, which made it to English-speaking countries via Australia, is full of fascinating information about cities of yore, and may make you think twice the next time you turn a faucet and automatically expect steaming water to pour out. This 2 DVD set collects seven episodes from the two Metropolis series, the first, which focused on cities of the Golden Age, Athens, Alexandria, Carthage and Rome, and the second, featuring "bright cities from the Dark Ages", Constantinople, Venice and Paris.
The series follows a standardized format, which typically selects one or two historical stories from the city's heyday and then intercuts them with modern archaeological and historical examinations. Athens profiles a woman concubine who had the audacity to have a statue of Aphrodite modeled after her own form, something strictly taboo in ancient times. I won't spoil her "defense" for you; I will only state that it was ingenious and guaranteed that no red-blooded male would have found her guilty after her presentation of her "evidence." Alexandria presents the story of a woman doctor who comes to the city known for its impressive library in order to study medicine further. The only drawback is women weren't allowed to study in those days. She undertakes a disguise which is almost discovered when she stumbles on one of the first autopsies and does react well. Carthage recreates the story of a sailor who is sold into slavery, paraded past his fiancée in shackles as he returns from what he expected to be heroic seafaring exploits. Rome has a dual interlinked story, with an Imperial Guard chasing down a shady merchant who did not render unto Caesar the taxes that were due.
The Dark Ages episodes are unique in that they profile real historical personages, and sometimes in unexpected contexts. Therefore, Venice's profile is actually of the German artist Albrecht Durer, who escaped the plague-ridden city of his birth, Nuremberg, in order to pursue his studies in the artistic capital of the Middle Ages. Similarly, in Paris' episode, we're given a particulary fascinating, if tragic, biography of noted poet Francois Villon, who had both the good fortune to be taken into foster care as a child at a monastery (one of the few places with food in the plague-ridden city), and the misfortune to be involved in both murder and theft later in his life, something that reduced him to near pauper status.
While these "historical" segments give some visceral impact to each episode, there's just as much emphasis on modern day excavations and restoration work. Watching the disassembly of massive columns that once supported the roof of the Parthenon is nothing short of astonishing, especially when one considers the modern technologies brought to bear on the process. You're left to ponder in awe as to how these ancient peoples were able to erect such massive structures. The sheer size of the Hagia Sophia, covered in the Constantinople episode, is probably the best example of this amazing proclivity of ancient engineers and builders. The massive dome is supported by flexible columns that have withstood scores of earthquakes in the intervening centuries, and whose technology is still being studied today.
The visual sweep of the series is uniformly excellent, usually with one green-screened main set providing the environment for the historical segments. The Dark Ages episodes probably fare best in this regard, as more still-existing historical buildings are utilized, minimizing the need for a lot of computer animation. There are some very cool CGI effects used in the series, where modern day ruins are magically transformed back into their ancient modes of grandeur. The narration is also uniformly excellent and informative, with both broad epic generalities and more intimate personal details imparted in each episode.
The enhanced 1.78:1 image is exceedingly sharp and full of excellent detail, with great color and saturation. There were occasional aliasing issues on a couple of the episodes.
The standard stereo English soundtrack is fine, if not spectacular. Narration is front and center. This English language version evidently had the actors in the historical segments re-looped, and there are noticable lip-synching issues at these moments. No subtitles are available.
None are offered.
Metropolis is an unerringly interesting series with a fine visual sense and some fascinating personal stories interspersed with more traditional historical information. Any history buff is sure to like this one. Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet