'Metropolis' a lost treasure that has been foundFeb. 28, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
Again, two movies are in this week's DVD review column one that you can find at a Red Box, while the other is undoubtedly on Netflix.
The Complete Metropolis
The newest at long last and complete version of director Fritz Lang's science fiction masterpiece has been out on DVD for a little while and I've been meaning to write about the new it. Lang's film is one of my favorite movies and one I first discovered in the form of a well-meaning restoration back in the 1980s that combined it with rock 'n' roll.
Lang premiered his vision of the future one in which technology has freed the rich but enslaved the poor in 1927. After running a short time at one theater in Berlin, Germany, Lang's distributor, UFA, made severe cuts to the film in an effort to make the two-hour production more palatable to theater owners.
UFA's deal with Paramount in the United States allowed that company not to just distribute the shortened version, but to radically re-work the narrative of the film.
Lang, who went on to a highly acclaimed career in Hollywood, essentially washed his hands of the truncated film.
For film fans, "Metropolis" ascended into the realm of a "lost" film and was part of the trinity of most highly desired such movies along with "London After Midnight" and the complete "Greed."
There are plenty of "lost" movies films that are no longer easy to see because all prints have been destroyed or literally been lost.
Most silent movies are gone the prints decomposed through the use of the unstable nitrate film stock or they were actively destroyed to make room in vaults for more contemporary films with a value for re-release.
Film fans who are younger than 50 or so don't realize that, especially in the era before television, studios re-released popular films to new audiences. A movie such as "King Kong" or "Gone With the Wind" had multiple releases. There was an earning potential with these films.
Over the years, film historians have sought to put "Metropolis" back together guided by scripts, music cues and an extensive collection of still photos of scenes. Still much of it was guess work, until there was an astonishing discovery of a 16mm print of the complete film in 2008.
With this film, archivists could restore Lang's version and allow viewers to see what he had intended for the film. Footage from the 16mm print literally filled in the gaps and made the narrative whole again.
For me, this is true cinematic magic. Lang's presentation of the future cities with towering skyscrapers and multi-lane highways is still impressive. The film's story of conflict is also appropriate for today.
The acting might be hard to take at times. Silent film acting was much different and modern audiences find some of the histrionics humorous.
The two-disc set has a great documentary on the re-discovery of the film.
People often ask me to list my favorite films. I usually draw a blank as there are so many, but it's easy to say "Metropolis."
There seems to be a trend in Hollywood not to necessarily look at popular novels as the source for new movies, but instead graphic novels the acceptable words to use to describe "comic books" these days.
There have been hits, like this film and there have been misses, such as "Wanted" and "Watchmen."
I never read the original graphic novel, so I have little idea if the adaptation was well done. I only know that the movie "Red" is one of the most satisfying action comedies I've seen in a very long time.
Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA operative whose biggest thrill is flirting over the telephone with a customer service representative he's never met. When a squad of government assassins comes a'knocking, Moses reverts to his years of training.
He has to not just stay alive, but try to figure out why he is on someone's hit list. To do so, he enlists the aid of some of colleagues, including characters played by Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich.
There is a rule of thumb in the movie world that casting the right actor is a huge factor of a film's success. Director Robert Schwentke certainly assembled a cast that is not only likable, but clearly dig into their roles with relish.
In a genre where the cliches are piled on thick and heavy, "Red" is refreshing. The film has some true surprises that elevate far above most other action films.
If you've not seen "Red" already, put it on your list.