Metropolis Review

Metropolis

Okay… here we go. Now, I’m going to put my hand up right away and say I’m not the biggest fan of silent films, or indeed much that was released in early cinema in general, but at least this film I felt I needed to see (where as the next two in the marathon are pretty much just so I can have 10 decades and 10 films…). I also have to say that while I found it visually impressive and amazing to think of that fact that it was created before even World War II, in general I also found it to be far too long. Now, it’s such an influential film that, as big of a fan of the Sci-Fi genre that I am, I’m glad I’ve watched it but some things said in this review might make certain film student types go crazy… All that being said, let’s have a look!

Synopsis:

In the future, in the city of Metropolis, wealthy industrialists, business magnates and their top employees reign from high-rise towers, while underground-dwelling workers toil to operate the great machines that power the city. Freder, the son of the city’s Master Joh Fredersen, idles away his time at sports and in a pleasure garden, but is interrupted by the arrival of a young woman named Maria, who has brought a group of workers’ children to witness the lifestyle of their rich “brothers”. Maria and the children are ushered away, but Freder, fascinated, goes to the lower levels to find her…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

Metropolis 3

Freder and Maria.. well, Maria and Freder from left to right, just in case you somehow couldn’t tell!

Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) – Freder is the son the Metropolis’ Master, who has wasted his life in splendor and riches. His view on everything will soon change when he meets Maria and learns of the treatment of the people below the city…

Maria (Brigitte Helm) – Maria is a leader of sorts, wishing to unite the struggling people of the under city with those who live above. Her goal won’t be easy, mind you…

Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) – Joh is the Master of Metropolis, and sees no reason to disrupt the status quo of things, even if his son has come to think otherwise…

Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) – A scientist driven mad by the loss of his love Hel. He has created a robot, or machine man, in her image, wishing to bring her back to life… in a manor of speaking.

Grot (Heinrich George) – The “guardian of the Heart Machine”, or the foreman of the lower-levels where everyone is struggling to keep the machines that drive the very city up and running, despite getting nothing in return…

The Machine-Man (Brigitte Helm) – A robot designed in the image of Rotwang’s lost love Hel (who was also the mother of Freder…) That purpose may not be what it’s destined to be, however…

Plus more!

The Good:

Metropolis 1

Look at that cityscape! Such great imagination for the 20s…

Beyond the fact that it’s obviously a silent film, I had to keep reminding myself that it was made in 1927. 91 years ago, and yet it still holds up as a good sci-fi story, with some of the visuals and predictions of the future turning out to be bang on the money (for better or worse…) or just a great idea that you’ve seen reused in a dozen other films, shows and games.  Now, yes, the story itself is a very simple one, but it’s still fun to see what is among the first ever uses of futuristic mega cities, human looking robots, robot duplicates and mad scientists.

The story of a class war of those who are rich are up above, and those who are poor and toiling below is the heart of the movie, and it’s a fair enough story to tell. Freder, son of rich and powerful Frederson, has had the easy life but soon sees how people are suffering after following the attractive girl down to the slums. There he sides with them and fights against their treatment despite his father being the head of it all. This leads to Frederson forcing mad scientist Rotwang to stop his robot that looks like Hel and turn it into a robot that looks like Maria, the poster girl for the struggling lower classes and girl whom Freder met and loves, and instructs him to make it ruin their rebellion from within. It does so, to a certain degree, before its found out, leading to a final fight between Freder and Rotwang on a roof, that ends with the later plunging to his death.

The final scenes are of Freder getting his father and lower-level leader / foreman Grot to shake hands, setting a course for a brighter future. Plenty of little twists there, but that’s the jist of the 2 hour-ish runtime (baring in mind the original film was two and a half hours, but there still remains footage lost…) and it’s good, when it’s moving forward…

Can I mention the visuals again? Not only the now iconic design of the Machine-Man, but the cityscape! I believe in my review of Blade Runner I said that it was the basis of “every future cityscape you know of”, or something to that effect. Well, this was decades before that, and almost  certainly served as the inspiration for the Blade Runner city! In general, I may give it some bad points down below, but you can’t knock the film for its sheer imagination for the time period, and how influential it is. Modern sci-fi, hell, sci-fi in general owes a lot to Metropolis, which is extremely obvious to those with passing knowledge, but after having finally seen it I now appreciate how true that is.

There were also some scenes with a creepy thin man known mostly as … The Thin Man. He is pretty much Frederson’s eyes on the street and doesn’t appear much, but he was properly creepy, it’s one of those performances that benefited by appearing with only a creepy soundtrack in the background.

The Bad:

Metropolis 2

It’s C3P0’s mum! Say hi everyone!

The movie is really just too long. I’m sure plenty will be angry with me saying that, but I’m sorry, that’s how I felt. There were lots of scenes of delusions, dreams and fantasies that just extended the runtime for the sake of making a reference to the bible, or really ramming home some of the characters inner struggles. It’s a good thing there were descriptive text popping up all the time, otherwise my attention undoubtedly would have drifted elsewhere several times during the film…

Overall Thoughts:

Metropolis 4

Rotwang makes sure people don’t think he’s mad by… acting crazy! That’ll fool ’em!

Metropolis is something I feel all sci-fi fans should try and sit through. You may find it boring in long stretches, I know I did, but in the end you feel you’ve watched something that truly innovated and properly influenced so much of what you enjoy about the genre. It’s hard to rate, because due to its significance and how light-years ahead it was for its time it deserves a 5, but I’m reviewing it as a viewing experience in 2018, in which case it often struggles to hold my attention due to being over-padded, and if I’m honest with myself, I’ll never watch it again.

I guess I’ll have to use that as a basis, but I will reiterate that I appreciate what it accomplished for the time and how influential it is. It’s a classic, but one that maybe doesn’t hold up to modern viewing (in my opinion, which is of course what all reviews are, the writer’s opinion, but I just want to make sure people don’t think I’m speaking for everyone’s tastes!)

3 Star Watch

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