Sunday, February 5, 2012

Movie Review: Metropolis

A professor at my school, don't know him or even what department he's in, seems to have organized a film festival of sorts where the school's movie theater (an actual theater, not the auditorum where they normally show movies) shows a different, classic German film every two weeks or so and the first film up was Metropolis which is basically the granddaddy of modern science fiction. I don't know if the version I saw was the most complete one out there (it was missing two scenes), poking around it seems like this is the most complete one that is missing only about five minutes out of it's 2+ hour run time, and the professor talked a bit too much during the film (some of his points were interesting, like large objects representing authority, others not so much) but none of those are the film's fault, even if the talking really got on my nerves at times.


Summary: In the future there is the great city of Metropolis where the rich live in every comfort and the workers toil beneath the city to keep it running. Freder is a youth living in the upper part of the city who is distraught to find what kinds of lives the workers live and feels called upon to be the foretold mediator between the two groups. But his father, the creator of Metropolis, doesn't wish to see the workers gain that kind of power and conspires with the inventor Rotwang to use his newly created robot to infiltrate the workers and destroy them from the inside.

The Good: I was really not expecting Metropolis to have such a complex plot with deep themes so the movie really blew me away. Part of the reason I had been holding off watching it for years was that I was worried that I would be disappointed but it didn't disappoint here at all. It balanced several points of view well, looked great for the time, had a strong plot, and had some real concepts that were interesting to think about later on. It's not surprising that so much of this movie has been an inspiration for later stories (it's considered by some to be the first disaster movie, has the first transformation sequence in a film, etc) and I was rather in awe. And while a lot of the acting seems a bit over the top one place where I felt it was well done was for Maria and Fake!Maria, the same actress did both roles in the exact same costume, I don't think even her make-up was changed, and obviously without sound, but she was able to create such different personalities with just her movements alone that there was never any doubt which character she was supposed to be at the time, that takes an amazing amount of skill and I can't remember the last time I saw someone pull off something like that so well without using other visual or audio cues. 

The Bad: As I mentioned above, the physical acting is done a bit differently from today's films, the actors' movements are much more stylized and, in some cases, over the top which takes some getting used to and I think will probably bother a lot of modern day viewers. Another thing that modern day viewers have to be prepared for is that the movie is quite long, two and a half hours and it's pacing is on the slow side. I think that it could've worked a little better if parts had been sped up (I've heard that there is a shorter version out there, not sure if it's just missing scenes or if it's been deliberately cut to fix this problem, but apparently it really didn't work).  The movie just takes it's time setting up atmosphere and laying out the groundwork for the plot but there were still a few scenes where I just wanted to yell at the movie to get on with it.  

The Audio: The film is a silent film which doesn't mean there's not any sound at all, it just means that there's no talking. Back in the day it would have most likely been accompanied by a piano player in the theater improvising but here there is an actual soundtrack, I believe it's supposed to be a reconstruction of the original score. There were a few points where the music didn't seem to quite match up with the scenes but by and large it worked well and it didn't feel like anything was lost by not being able to hear the actors.

The Visuals: The film was shot back in 1927 so it's in black and white and some parts of the film are remarkably well preserved. I'll admit that I'm fond of black and white photography, I've had to spend three semesters shooting it so it grew on me, so that aspect didn't bother me, although there are some parts which have been very badly preserved. The film also had a huge budget for it's time, I'm not sure how to adjust for inflation but it was around 5 million Reichsmarks and the movie used it well in building multiple elaborate sets, some of which were built in miniature and then filmed through a mirror which I never would have guessed, and having some rather advanced special effects for the time. The costumes were rather plain, although for costumes you really need color, but overall I was very impressed at the sets.

All in all I was really impressed with this movie and can see why it's still so well remembered even 80 years later. I'd completely recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction or movies in general. I feel like you HAVE to see this just to see where things didn't exactly start but where a lot of things got moving. Doubt I'll ever see the animated version of Metropolis however, apparently Tezuka hated his own work, vowed to never make it into a movie and then the director of the movie waited until he died in order to do it and the movie wasn't that great, think I'll stick with the good version then.