Movie Project #49: Metropolis [1927]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Metropolis [1927]

Metropolis [1927]
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel and Gustav Fröhlich
Running Time: 153 minutes (restored version)

It’s hard to believe Metropolis is nearly 90 years old. One of the earliest science fiction films, Metropolis has been wildly influential over the years, and it feels well ahead of its time. Modern dystopian favorites such as Blade Runner and Dark City owe a great deal to Fritz Lang’s film, one of cinema’s most impressive achievements.

Set in the year 2026, Metropolis takes place in a hand-crafted dystopian city that has been divided into two sections. The lower, working class live underground, while the wealthy upper class are rewarded with luxurious skyscrapers and endless entertainment above. The two sides typically have no interaction with each other, but that all changes when a teacher (Brigitte Helm) from the subterranean city brings a group of children to the rich gardens above.

Metropolis [1927]

The woman, Maria, and the children are quickly escorted off the premises, but not before Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) takes notice. Freder, the son of the city’s dictator, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), instantly becomes entranced by both the beauty of the woman and the fact that there is a city of slave-workers down below. He makes it his goal to find this woman and learn about a world he knows nothing about.

Freder quickly becomes empathetic toward the workers’ plight, and he attempts to become a sort of mediator between the two classes. This takes an ugly turn, however, when a mad scientist, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), is contacted by Joh to learn more about the rumblings of a possible mutiny by the workers. Rotwang has developed a man-machine in which he can mold into a clone of any living person. When he chooses to make a robot version of Maria, all hell breaks loose.

Metropolis [1927]

While the struggle between the different classes may feel familiar, what makes Metropolis really stand out are its impressive visuals. Eugene Schuefftan’s special effects are nothing short of remarkable, and the city itself looks absolutely stunning. Inspired by Fritz Lang’s first visit to New York, the skyscrapers are monstrous with an alluring futuristic design. All sorts of transportation are found in the city — long highways rise to great heights while airplanes buzz past — and the underground is a working hell.

There are many versions of Metropolis floating around, but thankfully an almost complete edition of Lang’s original vision resurfaced in 2010. This is the version I saw, and it can be found on Netflix Instant in its proper form. It’s easy to see why certain bits may have been cut, but overall this extended version is a wholly engrossing film that holds up very well today. A must see for any sci-fi fan or film aficionado.


15 thoughts on “Movie Project #49: Metropolis [1927]

  1. The Heretic says:

    Easily my favorite non-comedy, science fiction silent film. I have been trying to get a copy of the uncut version of the movie.

    • Eric says:

      I think the uncut version is floating around online. I found one that is pretty similar to the one I saw, though it has English subtitles for the intertitles:

      Oh, and I have been meaning to tell you about the new Humble Indie Bundle. I remember you were interested in watching Indie Game: the Movie, and they included it as part of the new deal:

      So basically you can get the full movie (plus a bunch of games) for any amount you want to pay. Pretty awesome package.

      • The Heretic says:

        Metropolis (I think!) is public domain, so I have been able to download it from the public domain website. I would just like to own a physical copy of the DVD that was released a little while ago.

        That site is pretty cool, but I might buy Indie Game from the film’s website. Although I have seen a review (from Total Halibut) on Snapshot, it looked pretty cool.

        • Eric says:

          Snapshot does look pretty cool! I bought the latest Humble Indie Bundle but haven’t had a chance to try any of the games out yet. I have been wanting to play The Binding of Isaac for a while now, too…

  2. SDG says:

    If I had a vote for Sight and Sound list, this movie would have made my 10. I completely agree with you that for a 1927 movie the scale, scope and visuals of this movie stunned me. It is very easy to see why this movie was so much influential. Glad you liked it.

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, it’s amazing how well this has held up over the years. It’s still an impressive visual spectacle, and I especially loved the hallucinogenic scenes.

      I read somewhere that the film’s budget today (adjusted for inflation) would be around $200 million. Pretty crazy stuff.

  3. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    This film holds a special place in my heart because it’s immensely interesting not only as a piece of cinema but as a part of architectural history. The visuals are definitely remarkable and they hold up incredibly well. Hell, I’d rather have a movie look like this than a bunch of overdone CGI.
    The story does hold some interesting metaphors about the future of capitalism, but you’re right to say that the visuals are what sets it apart and make it such an influential piece.

    • Eric says:

      This film really does work on so many levels, and I’m right there with you about preferring this over ridiculous CGI. I remember your great piece on Metropolis and its architecture — it made me focus even more on the fantastic buildings and set designs.

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