Cinematic Revival: Leave ‘Metropolis’ Alone


Last week Variety made the announcement that producer Thomas Schuehly was partnering up with Mario Kassar to make an “updated version” of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent-film Metropolis. I didn’t write an article about it because I barely knew anything about the film other than the fact that it was 1) old, 2) silent and 3) highly influential in the world of sci-fi filmmaking. That would have probably been enough to post a generic article, but it is far from enough to conjure up a valid opinion worth your time reading.

Considering I have this “Cinematic Revival” section I am trying to grow on the site in an effort to increase my awareness of the history of film (and your’s too hopefully) I thought it would be a good film to quickly watch, form an opinion on and pass said opinion onto you. Of course, probably 10 of you are going to read this, but hey, it makes me feel good.

First off, while the Variety article says there are “a number of top directors to helm the pic” I have a hard time believing that. After all, I think Variety would consider Brett Ratner a “top” director. On top of that there isn’t even a script available and if you are just going to try and do a simple rehash of the film no top director is going to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

After finally watching Metropolis twice over the weekend (once with the very odd commentary with the fella that read the book and obviously studied the hell out of the film and its history) I can tell you that it is fantastic!

Metropolis is a different beast on so many levels you could watch it a hundred times and find something new with each viewing. Hopefully some of you fanboys are sticking around to read this, because if you liked The Matrix and everything that was cool about it (not referring to special effects) then you would love diving into Metropolis. Variety lists several films as being influenced by this film, but I think The Matrix trilogy can pretty much lay claim to ripping off just about every element, simply putting a different religious/philosophical twist on it.

The film is set in 2026 and there are two classes, an upper and a lower, and that is exactly how they live their lives. The upper class zooms around the city by plane, train and automobile while the lower class lives underground working 10 hour shifts each day, keeping the life blood of the city alive… the machines. If you are thinking Matrix right now I just introduced Zion and the growth fields to you, it is simply an interpretation of Lang’s vision, but there is more.

As the folks slave away underground amongst metal and machine they are watched over by Joh Fredersen, who you could basically refer to as a dictator. He owns the city and the workers work for him as he sits in his room with his switchboard and controls. Enter our hero, Joh’s son Freder.

Early in the film, Freder is frolicking in the garden with a bunch of tasty wenches (my word) when from below comes a woman surrounded by several children. She emerges from the underground city and tells the children, “Look. These are your brothers!” She is quickly ushered back to the depths, but this encounter has a profound effect on Freder as it as if he finally realized the city didn’t run on its own. He realizes there are people below the Earth toiling away so he can live free and comfortable above ground. This causes him to sneak below, which is when the film takes a dramatic change from being a political or sci-fi film of any sort… this is a biblical film through and through.

Joh’s Office Building, literally called the Tower of Babel.

Freder confronts his father with what he has seen and is disappointed in his father’s reaction and oppression of the people below. He returns below ground and soon takes up a position working one of the machines, in a seeming effort to clear his conscience as well as learn more about the people. This is when he meets up with Maria, the woman he saw earlier, a woman he has now become infatuated with. In an effort to keep with my Matrix comparison she is something of an Oracle. During shift changes she leads a gathering in which she tells stories of the Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis, and of a Mediator that will come and solve the problems of the poor. The Mediator is obviously realized to be Freder and instead of being a reference to Jesus as Neo is in The Matrix, Freder is more of a Moses ready to lead these people to freedom.

If you know anything at all about Metropolis, you know about the robot, a.k.a. the only reason this film is really considered a science fiction story. Well, without ruining much, Joh is acquaintances with a scientist named Rotwang, a creepy looking fella that has made quite the breakthrough. Rotwang has created a robot that is on the brink of being able to mimic a human all the way down to the epidermis. Learning of Maria’s intentions to lead the working class to freedom and fearing this will cause major problems for his city he commissions Rotwang to develop a robot in the likeness of Maria so she can descend among the workers and further strengthen his control over them. Rotwang, not being a fan of Joh accepts the assignment with ulterior motives as he knows of the relationship forming between Freder and Maria and seeks to not only destroy Joh’s city, but his son as well.

Are you excited? Are you interested? You have to be. With everything I have described you have been introduced to Zion, the architect, Neo, the machine city, the Oracle, Agent Smith and the Matrix as a whole. The only difference being the roles a few of them play such as Neo’s love interest resulted in being Trinity and the Oracle was relegated to only being a fortune teller, but it is all there. The Wachowski’s had a vision, and they already “remade” Metropolis, but in a way that it was fresh and offered up new ideas based on new theories and philosophies and it was an epic undertaking, one that ultimately churned out two sequels that not a lot of people loved. I still enjoy all three, but of course, as with most, the first one is still my favorite.

So, I have to wonder, just what kind of “update” does producer Thomas Schuehly aim to create? Well, he tells Variety, “With the overwhelming role technology plays in our daily lives, the growing gap between rich and poor, including the gradual elimination of the middle class, the story of Metropolis is a frightening reflection of our society that takes place in an all too possible not too distant future.”

The robot transformation process of making it look exactly like a specific human. More on this in the pictures to follow.

Sounds to me like his only intention is to make the same movie, but this time just make sure it has talking. The problem is that Metropolis, like The Matrix, is highly imaginative. It is a film dependent on story, whereas I can only imagine producers and B-level directors will search out to make it a special effects extravaganza devoid of everything that makes films like Blade Runner, 2001, Dr. Strangelove and The Matrix special. These are the films Metropolis is compared to, but I fear an update would be turned into The Day After Tomorrow meets I, Robot. All bang and no substance. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind either of those films (I tolerate Day After Tomorrow), but I highly doubt Schuehly will have any references to the Tower of Babel or the book of Revelations in his film, and those are the elements that make Metropolis so special, on top of the ground-breaking effects that are amazing considering the film was made in the 1920s. Hell, War of the Worlds was using glass jars and UFOs on strings in 1953, Metropolis puts the effects in that film to shame.

If you think you are up to it, I urge you to give this film a shot. After all, the main reason these films get remade is because Hollywood types don’t think their target audience knows enough about films to think an epic such as this needs substance. They think that if they give you explosions and robots you will foam at the mouth and accept it. The only way we are going to get better films is to not be so easily satisfied by effects and demand more story.

Now, check out a batch of screen captures from the film on the next page. I have included descriptions for each. Hopefully it will get you a little bit interested to add this one to your NetFlix queue. Give it a chance, that’s all I ask.

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