Metropolis (review by Doug Smith)
This movie is not for those with short attention spans, which basically rules out about 95% of the population. For the 5% that can watch it, they will be greatly rewarded. Probably the hardest part for modern day people to get past is that it’s a silent film. Most of today’s audiences don’t respond unless the characters on screen use “fuck” for every other word. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. Sometimes that word is the only way to get your point across. But nine times out of ten, there are many more creative ways to say it. No, I don’t really have a point, I’m just rambling.
Anyway, “Metropolis” is one of the biggest technological wonders of 1920s’ silent films. Some of the special effects are extremely impressive, given what the director had to work with. At the very least, it looks a hell of a lot better than anything Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin can spew out. Alfred Abel, who looks like he needs more sleep, plays John Fredersen. Gustav Fröhlich, who holds men like he’s about to passionately make out with them, play John’s son, Freder Fredersen. Rob Robinson, John Johnson, Jens Jensen, Mike Mikelson and Jacob Jacobson all wanted the role. Brigitte Helm darts her head around in dual roles, one as the innocent Maria, the other as an evil robot. Rudolf Klein-Rogge looks like a cross between Gene Wilder and Anthony Perkins as mad scientist C.A. Rotwang. And Fritz Rasp plays Slim.
The movie opens like an intro to a game show before showing big mechanical things pumping and whirring and bumping and grinding, almost like a rave. Then a clock hits ten and the day shift begins and we see a line of workers with their heads down entering on one side and leaving on the other. Kind of looks like any Monday morning at my office building. None of the workers look very happy to be going to work. They apparently hadn’t invented whistling yet.
The workers that are done with their shifts head home, which is deep in the earth, so they ride an elevator for what seems to be about ten minutes (it didn’t take much to fascinate audiences back then). They finally stop and get out and enter their buildings, but not before going through a courtyard which seems to have a giant breast complete with a nipple situated right in the center.
Now we go way up towards the sky, to wear the Masters of Metropolis live and have gardens in which their sons cavort with scantily clad women wearing dangerously sharp hats. That’s where we meet Freder, who’s doing just that. As they’re gadding about, a woman and some children barge in and Freder, whose face is just really odd, looks confused. The woman tells him that the children are his brothers. They stand there and stare at each other for a while (by this time, about fifty other women have magically showed up around Freder) and eventually, Freder’s butler or bodyguard or something shows up and has the ragamuffin group removed.
Freder is touched, and not just by the women around him for a change. He becomes curious as to just what it is the workers are doing and what kind of lives they lead. So he goes down to visit them. He watches a group of workers operating some kind of big machine that looks that looks like something you’d see on “Shining Times Station.” As he’s watching, something goes wrong and the machine starts to explode. Steam comes shooting out of every hole and men gently float to their deaths.
This has a profound effect on Freder, so he goes to his father who, being the good evil overlord that he is, shrugs it off and says, “These things happen.” Freder continues his little tantrum until a foreman comes in to show the big boss some plans that he found in the clothes of some dead workers. Apparently these plans have been turning up quite frequently. Could a rebellion be afoot? Maybe they shouldn’t have switched that insurance carrier to an HMO. Frustrated, John (the big boss) fires a guy.
Freder shows his disapproval, his father ignores him and the guy who was fired nearly blows his brains out but Freder stops him. Freder tells him he needs his help and then we don’t see him again until towards the end of the film. I’m probably typing Freder’s name more than I’d really have to when I could be using pronouns, but it’s just such a fun name to say. Try it. Freder! Freder! Freder, Freder, Freder, Freder, Freder. Freeeeeeeder. Frederrrrrrrrrrr. See? It’s fun!
By the way, did I mention this is a painfully long movie? Well, it is. It pretty much just goes on for a while with Freder becoming a dreaded worker and siding with Maria, a woman who wishes to rally the workers to get them to face the “Masters of Metropolis” in a peaceful way. And Freder’s dad goes to a mad scientist who creates a robot in the image of man to take the place of the workers, but first he creates a robot in the image of Maria to take the real one’s place and create a stir among the workers and cause them to get violent so John has a reason to blow them away. Needless to say, it all eventually works out and everyone, except for the mad scientist, lives happily ever after. It’s always the mad scientists…
As I mentioned before, this movie is really a technological marvel of its time. To do some of the things Fritz Lang did with the limited equipment he had to work with took tremendous ingenuity. While it may not be the best science fiction film ever, it certainly is one of the earliest and was the forefather to science fiction as we know it today. I can see how some people would have a hard time watching it, though. After all, it is 115 minutes and, well, hey, there’s no talking. Just remember this: the original version was 210 minutes long. I think 115 is a nice compromise. In conclusion, do try to give this movie a chance. If nothing else, just watch it for the historical value. I give this one a full five yaks.