Masters Of Cinema #16 - Metropolis - Blu-ray Review

'It's hard not to watch Lang's film in total awe of the considerable indelible imprint it has left on cinema'.

When a film is as important to the development of cinema in the decades following its release as Metropolis continues to be, writing a review feels almost like a redundant exercise. No matter whether you fall in love with Fritz Lang's politically-fuelled dystopian science-fiction epic, or whether you find little in what it offers with which to make a connection as it edges towards its ninetieth anniversary, the film's influence is utterly undeniable. Metropolis was one of the very first feature length sci-fi films, and features the first robot - the "Maschinenmensch" ("Machine Man") - ever seen on the big screen. It's hard therefore not to watch Lang's film in total awe of the considerable indelible imprint it has left on cinema.

That said, there are moments within Metropolis that are undeniably jaw-dropping. A sequence in which Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) hallucinates the explosion of an immense machine transforming into a colossal ancient god-like creature and devouring the men working around it is captivating, and an early indicator of the expressionist and at times surreal style Lang regularly adopts. Lang's depiction of the Machine Man's transformation, taking on the appearance of the film's heroine Maria (Brigitte Helm, who also plays the Machine Man's robotic form), is iconic and a sequence that has clearly influenced later big screen adaptations of the likes of Frankenstein. Undoubtedly, however, the highlight of Metropolis comes at its centre, as the robotic version of Maria dances at the decadent Yoshiwara Nightclub. Lang reaches his surrealistic zenith, plastering the screen with a kaleidoscope of eyes, mouths and faces as the club's patrons are brought under the Machine Man's mesmeric influence, the director having much the same effect on his audience.

Lang's assembled cast are consistently strong, with Helm's dual role particularly well crafted, her performance as the robotic Maria especially an absolute treat to watch. Rudolf Klein-Rogge also creates yet another memorable performance in collaboration with Lang through crazed inventor Rotwang, clearly an influence on a great many big screen mad scientists in the years to come - Back To The Future's Doc Brown regularly springs to mind.

The plot takes in myriad concepts, from political agendas and suppressed proletariat to the positive and negative influence of religion and the danger of technology encroaching upon humanity. Lang has a fair amount to say about each area into which he delves, although the complex and multifaceted thematic tapestry the director weaves occasionally feels a bit too weighty for its own good. Lang also paints some of the issues he tackles as a little too black and white here and there; his presentation of the workers of Metropolis as a group who essentially cannot think for themselves, for example, essentially moving from one questionable leader to another throughout the story, begins to feel a little too oversimplified as the film heads into its final act.

Metropolis' cinematic legacy pretty much makes it compulsory viewing for the discerning sci-fi fan, but leaving that aside (if that's even possible) and taking it purely as an engaging and artistic piece of cinema, Lang's film consistently delivers. Whilst most of the audience will almost certainly have arrived at the film due to its iconic status, it's undeniably satisfying that Lang's film also holds up well as an experience that both entertains and impresses.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Metropolis is released in the UK as a Limited Edition 2-Disc Blu-ray Steelbook on Monday 19th January 2015

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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