The Best Way to Experience “Metropolis”
The landmark sci-fi classic Metropolis was quite literally butchered by investors and censors after its 1927 premiere and for decades was only seen in various bastardized versions. The 2010 restoration is the closest we’ve come to experiencing the film the way audiences did at the time of its release. Boasting the best possible picture quality, most complete footage available (properly sequenced and paced), and an authentic score recorded in 5.1 surround, this is inarguably the best way to appreciate the film’s epic grandeur.
My journey into Metropolis fandom began when I was just out of college working in New York at Sony’s PR agency, where my responsibilities included writing articles for the company’s trade newsletters. One of my assignments was to research and write a story about Giorgio Moroder’s then new restoration of Metropolis, the rock-audio soundtrack for which was recorded
on a Sony digital multitrack recorder.
I was invited to attend the restored film’s NY debut. (I still have the promo poster framed on my wall.) After that experience, I got deeper into the film, buying any available versions I found on VHS and then DVD. Along the way, I realized that what Mr. Moroder had presented wasn’t the definitive version of the film. There were significantly longer versions available, yet the movie’s story was never completely clear. But Moroder’s Metropolis did serve an important role, since it ultimately reignited public interest in restoring the film to its original glory.
There were significant discoveries over the years, the latest being the most complete version found since the 1927 debut. Discovered in 2008 in Argentina, the 16mm print included some 25 minutes of lost plot line and character development.
Gottfried Huppertz’ original orchestral score for the film, which had been found at his estate, was key to the 2010 restoration since it contained cues that allowed the film to be properly sequenced and paced. The score was then recorded with a full
The new soundtrack, coupled with the expanded/restored sequences, changes the entire viewing experience. Right from the opening slates, the music brings you into the movie as never before, often right in time with the visual rhythm of the film.
The restoration does periodically rely on scratchy 16mm footage from the Argentine print, but it now tells a more complete story. Key characters who
only appeared sporadically in earlier versions—Josaphat, the Thin Man, and Worker #11811, aka Georgy—now appear throughout the film.
The restored character Hel had been removed for silliest of the reasons—fear that American audiences would not like a perceived association with the word “Hell.” The significance of this cut is not to be underplayed. Hel was the crucial love interest between two of the key characters and a primary motivation for the mad scientist Rotwang to create the iconic robot that is central to the film.
If you’ve become accustomed to one of the earlier versions of Metropolis, you have not really seen the film. Consider this: The original movie ran about 153 minutes while the Moroder version is a mere 83 minutes long. The current restoration runs
about 148 minutes, adding back approximately one-fifth of the film. That is a lot of missing movie!
Most of Metropolis has an incredible look and feel. Movies and series ranging from the original Blade Runner to Altered Carbon owe a significant debt to Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. Most every subsequent robot to appear on the silver screen owes something to the robot Maria here (especially C-3PO).
The detailing revealed by this restored version is at times shocking. For example, the white brick walls lining
the walkway to the worker’s elevator shaft that descends to the Man Machine look especially vibrant and realistic.
The restoration of classic films to a producer/director’s original version is important both historically and cinematographically. Hopefully, someday researchers will locate a better version of the missing footage for an even greater restoration of Metropolis using the latest technology. Until then, this incarnation looks incredible, the occasional 16mm footage only adding a sense of mystery and eerie wonder to the viewing experience.
Most importantly, the restoration goes a long way toward presenting Metropolis’s original story. That alone makes it the near-definitive version people should be watching.
Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound & Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?