Complete Metropolis, The (Blu-ray Review)11 Nov, 2010 By: John Latchem
DVD Street 11/16/10; Blu-ray Street 11/23/10
$29.95 two-DVD set, $39.95 Blu-ray
Perhaps a more precise title would be The As-Complete-As-Possible Metropolis. Not that this restoration of one of the most influential films in history isn’t one of the most important film preservation projects to come down the pipe since the dawn of the digital age.
The backstory: German expressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang delivered Metropolis, a dystopian epic about the rift between management and labor in an industrial capitalist society, to his distributor at 153 minutes. This version screened once, during its premiere in Germany. To prepare the film for American audiences, Paramount cut nearly an hour of footage, providing a template for other distributors. Since Metropolis was the most expensive silent film ever made, but a box office flop in its day, protecting Lang’s vision wasn’t much of a concern.
The cut footage was subsequently destroyed and was widely assumed to be lost when the first restoration efforts began in the 1970s. The most notable re-release was a 1980s version that added color and a modern pop-music soundtrack. A 2001 restoration came in at 124 minutes, adding stills and title cards to describe still-missing action, and was considered the most definitive re-release to that point.
However, rumors of a complete version in Argentina persisted until 2008, when the Museo del Cine found a 16mm copy of the original cut that contained 20 minutes of previously lost footage. Though this copy was badly damaged, preservationists were able to salvage enough footage to bring the 2010 restoration up to 148 minutes.
The drop in quality of the restored footage is obvious but not surprising. That any footage at all was found is something of a minor miracle. According to Museo del Cine curator Paula Felix-Didier in an interview included with this new edition, only 10% of all silent films still exist (and to show just how low a priority movie preservation was back in the early days, about 50% of all talkies ever made have been lost).
Perhaps the biggest impact the restored footage has on the film is the return of a subplot involving a character called “The Thin Man,” a corporate spy sent to prevent the son of Metropolis’ ruler from causing too much trouble.
This isn’t the ultimate Metropolis release, since there aren’t multiple versions in the set to cross-compare, and the extras from earlier discs aren’t included here. But there is an informative new hour-long documentary about the history of the film and the restoration process that will be of interest to anyone fascinated by film history. In all, The Complete Metropolis is an essential addition to any cinephile’s collection.