Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of five): ** if you’ve not seen the original /*** 1/2 if you have
Giorgio Moroder’s “restoration” of Metropolis probably began with noble enough intentions. Inspired by the music video’s ascendancy, Moroder decided to resurrect Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi masterpiece for a new generation. His rehabilitation included cutting out most of the intertitles (replacing a few with subtitles), retinting and colorizing the images, and – most significantly – juicing the film with a contemporary soundtrack, replacing the crusty old score with far out offerings from Freddy Mercury, Billy Squier, Loverboy, Adam Ant, Pat Benetar, and Bonnie “Total Eclipse of the Heart” Tyler.
The result is a textbook study in irony. By attempting to inject relevance into a (perceived) antique, Moroder consigned his vision of Lang’s film to the realm of embarrassing curios, a place inhabited by Charles Jarrott’s Lost Horizon and Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.
In 1927, Metropolis represented a quantum leap in production design, special effects, and blockbuster filmmaking. Lang’s film envisioned a dystopian society sharply divided between captains of industry and the workers that created and maintained those industries. Metropolis’s view of society was literally stratified, with the worker drones living in the nether roots of the skyscrapers while their moneyed overlords smirk from the penthouses.
In the film, the son of the one of the skyscraper smirkers (the improbably named Freder Frederson, portrayed by Gustav Fröhlich) falls for a female member of the worker class (Bridgette Helm) who also happens to lead a peaceful underground resistance. Freder’s father, Jon Frederson (Alfred Abel) ,understandably disapproves of this romance and his son’s newfound empathy for the workers. Complicating things even more is the evil wizard Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a rival of Frederson Sr. who has created a robot so human it can be used to supplant the workers or – at the very least – pose as their leader and incite them to self-destructive rebellion.
“All it is missing,” Rotwang remarks about his creation, “is a soul.”
Which brings us back to Moroder’s vision for Lang’s film. By now, the synth-and-drum machine laser music he employed is laughably out of vogue. (I say this as a huge fan of Tangerine Dream’s similarly synthetic ‘80s-era scores, which I still find invigorating if a little aged.) The songs are mercifully short but are rife with horrible lyrics, both on-the-nose (“well you say this situation/has gotten out of hand” Loverboy sing as a worker’s rally gets noticeably out of hand) and reaching for “whoa-man-that’s-heavy” profundity (“Is there a mask/behind the face?” “Cage of freedom/that’s our prison”). The music is so self-important and bloated, you can almost hear the cocaine being snow-shoveled into the recording studio.
However, there’s no detracting from the bold imagery created by Lang, cinematographer Karl Freund, and their team of production designers. Even at its most ludicrous, as when the underground factory sequence is edited so as to transmorgrify the industrialization nightmare turned into some sort of coked-up Studio 54 robot dance – the visual silver rises above the musical dross.
I have to admit, for those already familiar with Metropolis, Moroder’s excess is kind of a lark. Again, I’m sure the project began with its heart in the right place. But Lang’s film has more edge and contemporaneous counter-culture savvy than the “au courant” score. Metropolis remains rock-n-roll, even if Moroder’s music does not.
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