Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos, Erwin Biswanger, Heinrich George
Written by: Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang, based on a novel by Thea von Harbou
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 82
Date: 18/03/2013

Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis (1984)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cage of Freedom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

By 1984, Giorgio Moroder was fairly famous, having provided the music for films like American Gigolo, Foxes (both 1980), Cat People (1982), and Scarface (1983), and winning two Oscars, for Midnight Express (1978) and Flashdance (1983).

Fritz Lang's sci-fi epic Metropolis (1927) was not so famous. If I'm not mistaken, it was in the public domain by then, and available on muddy VHS tapes, transferred at a very slow projection speed, making this classic feel like a serious slog.

1984 is when they came together, and Moroder released a new version of Metropolis in theaters. This version is laughed at in some circles. Given that MTV was in its first few years, and music videos were exploding, it was probably viewed as an effort to create some kind of long-form music video. Or at the very least, perhaps it was an attempt to make a midnight movie cult classic, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Moroder chose a soundtrack that, sadly, quickly dated. Musicians include Jon Anderson (from Yes), Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, Cycle V, Loverboy, Billy Squier, Freddie Mercury, and Bonnie Tyler. Perhaps if he had written a hit song here, the movie would have caught on, but that was not the case. (Though, upon a second listen, Tyler's "Here She Comes" is a solid pop tune.) In essence, many came to see the movie as a bastardization of art and history and a cheap cash-in on then-current trends.

But Moroder actually put a good deal more effort into it than that. His version runs only 82 minutes, which is shorter than the 124-minute restored version from 2002, and much, much shorter than the "complete," 148-minute restored version from last year. But these were not straight cuts. The fact is that Moroder removed the intertitles and replaced them with subtitles, which generally moves the action along much more quickly, and he was also responsible for re-inserting footage that had been previously excised from American release. The most important factor is that, like it or not, Moroder re-introduced the movie to audiences. It has stayed there for 27 years, and will likely stay there forever more.

Now Kino, the company that released both the 2002 and 2010 restorations, has released the Moroder version for the first time on DVD and Blu-Ray; before it was an out-of-print collector's item. Seeing it today, after having seen the exquisite 2010 version, is a mixed experience. With Moroder's color tints, snappier pace, and sometimes silly music, the movie is often a great deal more fun, and certainly something more along the lines of a cult classic than a masterpiece of world cinema. But the story in this version is still a bit herky-jerky and doesn't quite click as satisfyingly as the 2010 version.

However, it was the movie's striking images, both awe-inspiring and troubling, that probably inspired Moroder, and that's what he works with here, more so than the movie's overcooked plot. The same year, Mercury -- whose band Queen recorded a new album -- released a video for "Radio Ga Ga" that also included images from Lang's film. So the idea was there: those images, plus powerful music, could achieve wonders.

And thus, the problem: the music could have been better, and the movie could have been better as well. Reviewing the 2002 version, I wrote that, while the images are indeed amazing, the plot is frankly ridiculous. It wasn't until the 2010 restoration that I understood the epic greatness of it all. Moroder's version was not privy to that depth. And yet we owe Moroder so much, for rescuing this film, and for loving it as much as he did. It's very much worth seeing his version, if not for the would-be cult status, then at least for this magnificent love.

The DVD and Blu-Ray comes with a behind-the-scenes documentary about Moroder's restoration of the film, as well as a new, personal message from Moroder and a trailer.

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