Review: The Complete METROPOLIS
Silent film fans rejoice. The 1927 classic METROPOLIS has gotten even better! One of the most ambitious movies of the silent era, METROPOLIS, which has often been called the first great science fiction film was last released theatrically in 2001 in a newly restored version but since then, 25 more minutes have been excavated, bringing the running time up to 148 minutes and now they’re calling it THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS. The sets, cinematography, art design, and special effects of METROPOLIS have influenced countless subsequent movies, and are still most impressive today. Metropolis is a futuristic city run by industrialist Fredersen (Alfred Abel), whose pampered son Freder (Gustav Frohlich) becomes interested in the welfare of workers after he becomes smitten with Maria (Brigitte Helm), a mysterious quasi-religious figure, and follows her into Metropolis’ subterranean depths where he discovers the army of slaves that really make Metropolis run. Meanwhile, Fredersen is plotting with deranged scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who has invented a robot version of Maria (also played by Helm) to lead a workers’ rebellion
The most costly film made in Germany upon its release, METROPOLIS originally ran 153 minutes for its 1927 Berlin premiere. It was not a financial success so entire subplots were removed to make it more accessible. The movie was hacked up and rewritten by its U.S. distributor, Paramount, in order to appeal to restless Americans, and the 90 minute U.S. edition became the version viewers were familiar with for decades. The movie always seemed way ahead of its time with its themes of science and robots and a society destroyed by it’s own uprisings. I first saw METROPOLIS in the early 1970’s when I would check out, from the local library, a 8mm version on five 400 foot reels that ran about 80 minutes. It was a miserably scratchy print, looking like it was shot in a rainstorm, but it was all I had and I remember projecting it in my basement accompanied by movie soundtrack LPs. In 1984 I went to the Varsity theatre in University City and saw what was called GIORGIO MORODER’S METROPOLIS. Moroder was a music producer best known for working with Donna Summer and on the 1983 hit film FLASHDANCE. METROPOLIS had fallen into the public domain and Moroder took the film, , tinted scenes with bright colors, and added a rock song soundtrack featuring, among others, Freddy Mercury, Adam Ant and Pat Benatar. This version was aimed at attracting a new teen/stoner audience for the film (in a similar way FANTASIA was marketed in its early 70’s reissue) and a few previously missing scenes were restored but it was actually shorter because the intertitles were replaced with subtitles. ( It’s this unique rock version that is now difficult to find). A masterful restoration was completed in 2001 that combined the best footage from four archives and this ran 124 minutes. Missing scenes were represented with still photos and descriptive title cards and it played theatres and was released on the Kino DVD label. It looked stunning and I assumed until now that it was the last word in ‘complete’ versions of METROPOLIS.
Jump to 2008 and the surprise discovery of a 16 mm print of METROPOLIS in Argentina that contained over 1,200 long-unseen shots (around 25 minutes) thought lost. A new restoration was in order and these shots have been added to the 2001 version resulting in the THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS which runs 148 minutes, just five minutes shy of the film that premiered in Berlin 83 years ago. The extended version provides more of the startling and sexy performance by Helm and expands the roles of Georgi (Erwin Biswanger), who visits Metropolis’ underground after Freder takes his place at a power-regulating machine, and the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp), a sinister agent of Fredersen who mistakes Georgi for Freder, whom he has been assigned to follow. There is also much footage added to the film’s exciting climax, as the workers’ revolt leads to a flood in the underground city that traps some children who are led to safety by Maria and Freder. The newly added footage is easy to spot because the quality degrades substantially during these scenes (and it’s not unlike the 8mm print I grew up watching), but it’s startling to see it added where just descriptive intertitles had existed. THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS will be released on Blu-Ray in November but will enjoy a theatrical run (it opens in St. Louis today at the Tivoli Theatre) before then. I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen as it may be your only opportunity….at least until those final five minutes are discovered one day and we’re treated to THE COMPLETELY COMPLETE METROPOLIS!