Silent movie 'Metropolis' mixed with new wave music is strange, but successful

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Metropolis” is one of those movies that any cineast should see before he or she dies. It’s a remarkable piece of work, released at the tail end of the silent period of cinema and featuring nonstop awe-inspiring visuals, though the coherency of the story depends on which version of the movie you watch.

Though it’s considered a classic, “Metropolis” hasn’t been well cared for, and until very recently, the home video releases have left much to be desired. Last year, Kino video released what will likely be the most complete version of the movie possible, fully restored and looking as good as it possibly could.

However, for many viewers, that’s not the movie they remember. Back in 1984, music producer Giorgio Moroder helped restore an 80-minute version of “Metropolis,” supplementing it with color-tinting, subtitles to replace intertitles and a new soundtrack featuring Pat Benatar, Freddie Mercury and Bonnie Tyler among others.

Kino has now released that version on Blu-ray, and while it’s not a substitute for their “Complete Metropolis” release, it’s not quite the heresy that devoted fans of the movie might claim it is. For whatever reason, the very ’80s soundtrack works for the movie. Some of the specific songs may not match up perfectly, but on the whole, they provide an interesting and unique experience. To put it another way, most people won’t watch “The Wizard of Oz” queued up with “Dark Side of the Moon” every time, but it’s worth doing at least once.

The Moroder version of “Metropolis” is more than an hour shorter than the “Complete Metropolis” and doesn’t look as good on Blu-ray. It’s not as detailed a transfer, and the original film elements aren’t in pristine shape, either, resulting in a picture with quite a bit of dirt and debris on it. Still, for a 25-year-old restoration of an 80-year-old movie, it looks pretty good.

The soundtrack, for those who appreciate the genre, comes through loud and clear on the included DTS HD 5.1 track. Purists may opt for the lossless 2.0 track that is also included, though true purists will probably avoid this release altogether.

The release also features extras in the form of a documentary on the restoration of the movie, trailers for both the Moroder and Complete versions of “Metropolis” and a brief gallery of promotional images.

This is something of a tough sell. Fans of silent movies are probably best off sticking to the “Complete Metropolis” release, unless they’re also fans of ’80s era music. For those who fall into that niche, though, this is a very good release of an odd moment in cinema history. Strange as it may be, “Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis” works, and it’s wonderful to have it available in a high-definition format. 

Printed on Thursday, November 17, 2011 as: Silent movie remastered, released on Blu-ray