It would be interesting to ask Fritz Lang whether or not he intended to forever alter the idea of science fiction, and perhaps the entirety of cinema, in 1927 when he made Metropolis. From the opening moments straight on through to the end we are treated to a veritable master’s course in filmmaking.
Metropolis is the story of a wealthy family, Joh Frederson and his son Freder, in control of the labor that makes the city function. The story reeks of fascism and communism, the wealthy maintaining their wealth on the backs of the common people while stifling the religious practices that give any semblance of joy or hope to those workers. In an effort to take the human element out of the function of the city, a scientist creates a mechanical woman. Drama ensues when the mechanical woman is merged with Maria, the apple of Freder’s eye, and she is commanded to insite a riot fueled by the laborers.
The story is not new or particularly strong, but Metropolis is one of the pioneers of special effects and design in film. Every inch of every set is gorgeously and meticulously crafted to transport the audience out of the world that they know into an allegorical Neverland.
In 2008, the life of Metropolis was forever changed when the original cut of the film was found, adding thirty minutes back into the film that was cut and recut by film studios that felt that the nearly three-hour running time was much too long for audiences. The quality of the newly surfaced 16mm negative is questionable at best, and it is fairly clear in the recently released cut of the film that there was not too much they could do to make repairs without alteration. It is very interesting to see the differences in the original story that Lang wanted to present and the drastically cut version, as the framing and quality easily point out the spliced scenes. It is almost a different film.
Metropolis is what I imagine a painting would look like when redefining everything that we knew about the artform, and it deserves its place in history. I would say that they don’t make them like they used to, but in this case, it’s clear that many filmmakers have gone far out of their way to try to emulate the vision of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.