copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

When you have a silent movie from the 1927, it is tempting for a reviewer to lower the bar. The effects were not as good back then; there was no color; the actors seem to still be adjusting to the studio; the directors and producers did not yet have a century of experience to draw from. However, for the first time, watching Metropolis, I feel like lowering the bar is not necessary…well, most of the time.


The story has its good and its bad moments. It is very sci-fi adventure and has many modern elements like a person's evil double or the final physical fight between the villain and the protagonist. Watching this film, a bunch of other movies flashed before my eyes, from Blade Runner to Matrix to Judge Dredd.


The setting is a dystopian future, with extreme difference between the ruling and working classes. It is a theme that countless other movies would later pick and which eventually developed into an artistic style called "cyberpunk". As the center for the story this is not particularly exciting because it is the most simplistic and worn-out theme for a sci-fi movie today, except…back in 1927 it may have been closer to reality than it is today and not nearly as worn out yet, at least not on film.


Either way, the film does interesting stuff with its story, sending the main character on an adventure through the futuristic city. The movie introduces strong Christian themes, but they are modified to fit the story and the futuristic setting and work really well.


In the second half of the film the story takes a few unpleasant turns. At one point, the film decided to skip a whole scene and instead give the viewer a title card explaining what had happened – a choice that comes out of nowhere and does not repeat itself. Furthermore, believability issues arise, like when the enraged masses suddenly forget about their children being in danger. The ending also feels rushed and not very plausible. These strange story points come across much better if you take the film as an abstract piece and its events as symbolic, but the movie does not play it like that. Its characters are straight with real motivations.


The acting is interesting. The leader of the city is played by Alfred Abel and this guy is phenomenal. He does so much with just his eyes alone.


But sometimes the characters overact, especially the character who plays the crazy scientist. Arms are swinging around and fingers are inventing more extreme ways to bend at the joints, which feels unnecessary though it was quite normal for the time of silent movies.


The best thing about Metropolis is probably the way it looks and it looks great even by today's standards. It is hard to take your eyes off the art. The sense of scale is stunning. The sets are huge and the makers took full advantage of the available room, making them look even bigger than they are. The movie has special effects, half a century before the first computer effect.


The fact that the film is in black and white does not even seem like a limitation. If Metropolis was released today, it would probably also be in black and white because it suits this film and its themes very well.


The scale, the architecture, the way the lights reflect in the irises of the actors. This movie is must-see even if you do not care for the story. It is amazing that this was made in the Weimar Republic that had only recently come out of an economic black hole.


Do some of the things look a bit artificial? Well, yes. Propeller bi-planes show up and obviously feel a bit outdated. The robot design is archaic. But even the things that look dated still fit perfectly with the artistic style of the film.


As for the music, the Germans have not lost touch with their roots. Heavy tubas and big drums give an epic and heavy feel to the machine city. Sometimes there is a distinct melody, other times the tune can get a bit generic, but it remains effective.


Metropolis is a film that is ahead of its time. Replace some of the older props, add voices and you have yourself a modern sci-fi film. There may be some issues with the effectiveness of its story, especially in the 2nd half, but overall it was is a very interesting watch.

Metropolis