Metropolis – a classic movie review

Back around 2011 and 2012, my long-time friend Rodney Brazeau asked me to review some classic movies for his Moviesnitch website. Well, the site seems to be gone. So I figured it might not be inappropriate to repost my reviews here. They were short and sweet, to fit Rodney’s format. I might expand on them in the future, after I sit and watch the films in their entirety again. ~LMc.

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Classic Matinée Review: Metropolis

Continuing our Classic Matinée Review series, Lee in Limbo brings us the protean classic science fiction movie of the silent era, which was near-fully restored to its original form using newly-discovered footage from uncut prints in 2010. German expressionist cinema made in the famed UFA film studios of Germany was visually arresting and conceptually unmatched by anything being made in Hollywood, and perhaps none more so than director Fritz Lang’s and scenarist Thea von Harbou’s vision of a utopian future with a hidden dark side. Modern films have tried to match its scale and dark beauty, sometimes to brilliant effect, but it set the benchmark high enough that few have lived up to its primitive, unrestrained brilliance, even as its sentiments—perhaps too dated to ring true today—have been largely forgotten in our rush to become the world they feared would come to pass.
Dim the lights, and come with us to Metropolis.

Genre: Science Fiction/German Expressionism
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Staring: Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Released: January 10, 1927

It’s the year 2000, and while labourers toil day and night to feed the machines that power the city of the future, high above, young playboy dandy Freder is enjoying his pampered world until Maria sneaks a flock of poor children in to see how the other half live. Freder falls for Maria’s down to Earth charms straight away, only to lose her before they’ve spoken. He becomes obsessed with finding her, while his father, who runs the topside world they live in, tries to tear him away from her, putting his best man, Rotwang (a villain’s name if ever there was one), to deal with her. They concoct a scheme to replace Maria with an amoral android, who would destroy her good reputation amongst the peoples of the working classes, and also break Freder’s heart, forcing him to get over it. Naturally, he figures out something is up, but can he stop the villains and save his true love in time, or will civilisation collapse in a night of debauchery and rebellion instead?

There’s a hot chick who is the leader of a rebellion. Also, a saucy female android, made up to look like a tarted up version of the the rebel leader. There are big machines and a huge underground city and an enormous metropolitan paradise. It’s a silent movie with music and title/dialogue cards, but it’s an absolute masterpiece of the form, with a vision that has scarcely been touched in modern times. The closest to it in look and feel are Blade Runner, Brazil and Dark City, but it’s more like a Philip K. Dick story without the drug references.

It’s a silent movie in black and white. The plot might seem a little hokey in these times, and more than a little overplayed, but it was filmed in 1927, so you can’t fault it for being the first to say what it says, even if there have been more eloquent restatements since then. Also, the characterisations and performances are pretty broad and theatrical by modern standards, but that’s more a product of the times and the state of the medium than anything else. Thea von Harbou’s novelisation stands as a brilliant piece of sociopolitical science fiction with romance and action thrown in for good measure. If they remade the book into a movie today, I truly believe it would still be a masterpiece.

This films is one of my all time favourites, so I’m more than a little biased. However, if you set aside any prejudices you might have about B&W silent movies, and keep in mind that this film was made in 1927 and is the great grandfather of all true science fiction movies, you’ll have experienced one of the most important films ever made, by one of the greatest directors who ever lived.
I give Metropolis a score of 10 out of 10. I told you I was biased.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.


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