Version Watched: Metropolis Restored on Netflix (148 minutes)
Synopsis: In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.
Review: Fire up your keyboards everyone because I am pretty sure I am going to piss off a few people here. But let’s remember that I am merely a traveler on the road to Geekdom who desires guidance, gentle correction or even confirmation when appropriate.
This SciFi movie, the first SciFi movie ever, has the same issue that a lot of SciFi movies have, cool special effects but by the end you are scratching your head trying to figure out the story.
First let me mention that I was weary about the run time, 148 minutes. I was convinced it was a typo or, since this version was a restoration, it would have both the original and revised version played back to back. I wasn’t sure if this child of the TV generation, raised on 30 minute sitcoms and fueled by YouTube videos, could last a 2 hour plus silent film from the 1920s. If you have the same concerns, let me give you a tip. The version of the movie I watched has three acts: Prelude, Intermezzo, and Furioso. There is literally a screen which will tell you when one act is over and allows for sensible stopping points. So feel free to jump into the movie knowing that after 50 minutes, you can give it a rest and check out more later.
The Special Effects: Yes, the special effects were really good. When I think of old films I automatically think that I can probably recreate most of the scenes in my backyard with my friends. I was banking on aliens with paper plates taped to their heads but from the very start I was like, “Holy crap, how did they do that.” The opening scenes of the city, the machines and the workers were amazing. No, not 2015 amazing, but I would put some of that work against any 1960s movie. And to think, they were only a few decades removed from the first movie ever to be made. (Side note: I discovered that the first moving picture was created in 1878 and “was made to scientifically answer a popularly debated question during (that) era: Are all four of a horse’s hooves ever off the ground at the same time while the horse is galloping?” http://headsup.boyslife.org/what-was-the-first-movie-ever-made/). I’m not sure if I am just completely misjudging the capabilities of early 20th century or if Metropolis is that much of an extraordinary piece of artwork uncommon for its day. As I read more about how the special effects were done, I started to see how someone can really geek out on movies and the techniques used to make them. To think, creating a 2 hour movie with no computers, just tricks with film and camera. Roger Ebert commented that “(m)uch of what we see in “Metropolis” doesn’t exist except in visual trickery. The special effects were the work of Eugene Schuefftan, who later worked in Hollywood as the cinematographer of “Lilith” and “The Hustler.” According to Magill’s Survey of Cinema, his photographic system “allowed people and miniature sets to be combined in a single shot, through the use of mirrors, rather than laboratory work.” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-metropolis-1927)
The scene which the movie cover is taken was probably the most fascinating to me. Glowing rings traveling up and down over the robots body. I wondered how amazed people from the 1920s would be at these images, having never seen a Death Star blow up or an alien fly a bicycle as he tries to phone home. Again, I may have some improper prejudice against those living in the early 1900s, but let’s remember that movies were still new and people did not have televisions yet, so any form of effect done on a screen would be completely new and possibly mind blowing. (This movie was released in 1927 and the “electronic television was first successfully demonstrated in San Francisco on Sept. 7, 1927.” https://www.nyu.edu/classes/stephens/History%20of%20Television%20page.htm)/)
The Story: The story itself is intriguing.
Rich Boy meets girl. Girl runs off. Rich Boy chases after girl and discovers that poor people exist and they slave away at machines that make the city run. Rich Boy goes off to his father, who runs the city, to tell him of the plight of the poor and asks him to help them. Daddy Money Pants rebuffs him and tells him that the workers are where they are meant to be. Rich Boy goes back to become one of the workers and meets the girl again as she is preaching to the workers and telling them that they need patience and that someday a “mediator” will come to help them in their plight. At the end of the sermon, as the crowd disperses, Rich Boy goes up to the girl and offers to become the mediator (*cough* Jesus *cough*…sorry, I’m fighting a cold.) Daddy Money Pants takes steps to discredit the Preacher Girl, in turn putting his own son, Rich Boy, in mortal danger. In the end everyone survives and Rich Boy fulfills his role as the Mediator between Daddy Money Pants and the workers. Oh and there is a mad scientist and a robot involved.
Let’s talk about the mad scientist, aka 1920s Doc Brown. Turns out that Daddy Money Pants and 1920’s Doc Brown used to be friends but they both fell in love with the same woman. She chooses Daddy Money Pants, because the other option was crazy scientist guy who may or may not have a dungeon, and the two friends became enemies. The woman dies while giving birth to the Rich Boy. 1920s Doc Brown is still in love with her but Daddy Money Pants has the whole, been there done that attitude. This is when we discover that 1920s Doc Brown has created a robot that he can make to look like anyone and his intent is to bring back the love of his life. SERIOUSLY….1920s Doc Brown creates the first robot and the FIRST thing he wants to do is make it into his sex-bot? Ewww! Granted, that does seem very realistic, but come on. Let’s not be so on the nose with this one, okay?
That isn’t the only issue with the story line. For one thing, at the end of the movie, there is no indication that anything has changed. The workers work and Daddy Money Pants and the rich upper class are still living the high life. And here’s the thing, the workers have no choice. If they stop working, everyone dies. The machine breaks down and the city floods and all are lost. It almost seemed like a bad propaganda film, but I am not sure for whom. Again, the story was intriguing and I enjoyed it while watching the film but when I finally sat down to think about it, I had the “And then what?” feeling.
Score: 4 sex-bots out of 5
Definitely a movie that I think should be on everyone’s list. It is a piece of history and could also possibly be the greatest drinking game ever. If you have ideas for rules please post them in the comments. I still couldn’t get over some of the generational differences. For example, there is a scene in a gentlemen’s club where someone is dancing so provocatively that all of the men in attendance go nuts and fall into complete blood lust, fighting and even killing each other. I can only imagine how oppressed people were back then that a girl doing dance moves that are pretty similar to those of a 60 year old woman in my yoga class could cause men to gnash their teeth and follow her around town doing her will. But, I am totally willing to admit that I am at fault and I need to be less ethnocentric. So I say, if you haven’t already, take a chance but keep an open mind. Remember, this was created only decades after movies were invented and in a time before TV existed, so the visual medium was very new. And with that, the end result is very, very impressive.
Cool Stuff I found out: So there was a lot of info about how this movie was the first ever SciFi film and it influenced many movies to come after, such as Tim Burton’s Batman, Blade Runner, The Matrix. However, there were two pieces of film lore that made me smile.
First: One of my favorite SciFi characters of all times was influenced by this movie. Mr. C3PO himself.
For C3PO, McQuarrie had pretty clear direction from George as to his design: “Back when I was doing the initial concept artwork for Star Wars, George had photographs of the Metropolis robot, which he said he’d like C-3P0 to look like, except that I should make it a boy.” http://www.inafarawaygalaxy.com/2014/06/the-ten-best-pieces-of-ralph-mcquarrie.html
Second: The most notable city in all comic books was influenced by the very title of this film.
In an interview called “Superman Through the Ages: The Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Interview”, it was mentioned that “…Metropolis, the city in which Superman operated, came from the Fritz Lang film Metropolis, which we both loved.”
As a final bonus, I will share one thought I constantly had throughout the film. Gustav Fröhlich, who played the Rich Boy in the film, missed his calling. If only Batman was around in the 1920s, because I think Gustav could have been a perfect Crown Prince of Crime.
So, what do you think? What am I missing, what do you agree with, what should I look at again?
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Until next time, go out and have some fun and be sure to come back next week when we review the classic monster film Godzilla King of the Monsters.
And as a reminder, tomorrow is Bookworm Tuesday where we will tackle the first three chapters of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New world.