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Essential Cinema: Metropolis

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 1, 2010 6:20PM

One look at that trailer and, if you didn't already know it, you can see echoes of Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, and pretty much every other sci-fi movie (whether good or bad) that's been made in the last 75 years. Metropolis even contains the early seeds of what would become the disaster movie. It's been amazingly influential. In 2002, the "definitive" restoration of Metropolis was released, a 127-minute version compiling footage from no less than four separate prints. Historians assumed that this was the closest we'd ever get to seeing the movie as it must have looked at its 1927 premiere in Berlin. They were wrong. A few years ago, a nearly complete 16mm negative was discovered in a Buenos Aires archive (!) and after extensive cleanup work, 25 minutes of footage from this negative has been added to create the new version of Metropolis which opens Friday at the Music Box.

So how's it different? Well, frankly, the newly added footage looks terrible. The 16mm negative was in sorry shape, and even after scads of high-tech scrubbing it's a bit like watching a film through the side of a wicker basket. Nevertheless, it's priceless, because thanks to the existence of this "complete" print it was possible to match exactly the editing rhythm of the original movie. What a difference: the story flows smoothly and coherently now, with crosscutting between the various threads which feels perfectly modern. (A full rundown of the changes can be found here.) Another big plus: a full-blooded orchestral rendering of the Gottfried Huppertz's original score. Seeing it on a big screen in all its epic glory, the scratches and splotches can be forgiven (and except for the "new" footage, the image quality is gorgeous.) This a movie that can still thrill you.