Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The film is historically interesting for its social politics as well as its craft, and it's also well worth watching as entertainment."

Few films have had such a striking impact on the history of cinema as Metropolis. An extraordinary undertaking in its time, with spectacular sets, hundreds of extras and the use of cutting edge techniques, it remains surprisingly watchable today. At its core are stories of love, deception and the search for justice which have lost none of their relevance, and it is still breathtaking to look at.

It's impossible to think of Metropolis without thinking of Otto Hunte's magnificent set design. Taking the Art Deco aesthetic and applying it to architecture, he gave us the first and most brilliant vision of a utopian city with soaring skyscrapers, hanging gardens, statues and pillars blending seamlessly with clean modern lines, blimps hovering overhead. This future paradise is the home to an advantaged class known as the Planners, whose vision has led to the city's success yet who have no idea how any of their marvellous machines actually work. Meanwhile, down in the subterranean depths, amid a maze of pipes and cogs where soot and oil taint everything, live the Workers, performing the actual labour that keeps it all going yet with no apparent ability to think beyond the moment.

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Out of these depths comes Maria (Brigitte Helm), a beautiful young woman with a fiery spirit, to prophesy the coming of a saviour who can unite the two groups. By an accident she is noticed by Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), son of the city's ruler, who falls in love with her and, in following her, discovers the underworld for the first time. But his father is concerned that Maria's work may cause civil unrest, so enlists the scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to imprison her and replace her with an android. The scientist, in turn, has schemes of his own, and the result places the whole city in jeopardy.

Sadly, no complete version of Metropolis has survived the years intact, but the recent discovery of several lost scenes has led to the creation of a version that comes very close, with strategically placed intertitles filling in the gaps. It works very effectively and the story still grips throughout. The film is historically interesting for its social politics as well as its craft, and it's also well worth watching as entertainment. Certainly no fan of the science fiction genre should fail to see it. When films as we know them are replaced by whatever comes next, Metropolis is one of the treasures that will be preserved and will continue to impress viewers far into the future.

Reviewed on: 09 Feb 2009
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In a future city strictly divided into rulers and ruled, a rich young man falls in love with a revolutionary from the forbidden depths. Reconstructed and restored and back on re-release this autumn.
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Read more Metropolis reviews:

Owen Van Spall *****

Director: Fritz Lang

Writer: Thea von Harbou, based on her own book.

Starring: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Alfred Abel, Heinrich George

Year: 1927

Runtime: 153 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany


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