Metropolis Blu-Ray

There’s so much good to say about Kino International’s forthcoming Metropolis Blu-ray disc (to be released November 23) that I may as well start with the disappointment:

Despite what we were told at this summer’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Kino bd_metropolishas not included the Alloy Orchestra’s powerful and unique score as an alternate soundtrack. That’s a real loss. As I pointed out back in July, "the Alloy Orchestra’s score brings out the film’s overall weirdness and the third act’s excitement better than any other Metropolis score I’ve heard." Besides, the more scores you can put on a silent film disc, the better.

But this disc contains only the original Gottfried Huppertz score, performed by the Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra. It’s an excellent score in its own right, and the one that director Fritz Lang presumably approved, but it’s rather conventional for such an unconventional movie. Kino does give you two options: You can listen to the score in 5.1 lossless surround or  2.0 stereo. But a second score would have been nice.

But enough about what might have been. Let’s look at the disc that Kino is calling The Complete Metropolis (although there’s still one missing scene).

You don’t have to break the shrink-wrap to be impressed with this package. The slip cover contains a hologram that takes two of Metropolis’ most famous images and turns them to 3D. (And no, the image above is not that cover, which cannot be reproduced online.)

As for the movie itself, here’s what I’ve been saying lately when it turns up at a local theater:

A The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch,and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report.

That longer report discusses both the movie itself, and the restoration.

You can’t separate how this new restoration looks on Blu-ray from how it looks in theaters. It has not been transferred back onto film, and can only be projected digitally. In fact, although I didn’t know it at the time, the presentation I saw at the Castro was off a Blu-ray disc. As far as I know, the Film Forum presentation may have been projected that way, as well.

Four fifths of Metropolis looks incredible. This may not be the best silent film I’ve ever seen, but it’s close, and certainly the best I’ve seen in my own home. Everything is crisp and immediate, with a rich gray scale. You see the weave of people’s clothes and the small details on the giant sets.

The restored scenes in Metropolis look horrible.The other fifth, the newly-restored footage, looks horrible. It’s badly scratched, with the top and left side of the frame missing entirely. On the other hand, it’s a miracle it exists at all.

The best extra on the disc is "Voyage to Metropolis," a 50-minute documentary on the film’s production, release, and multiple restorations. Oddly, it barely mentions the 2001 restoration that contains everything that looks good in this one.

I agree with Roger Ebert: This Metropolis restoration is the classic film event of 2010. It just might be the restoration of the decade. You can now have it in your home, looking as good as it has in a very long time.

Too bad about the Alloy Orchestra, though.

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