Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
I have a confession to make—prior to watching it for this review I had never viewed Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent Sci Fi masterpiece Metropolis. Before you seek to remove my Sci Fi fan card I’ve known about the film for years and I had seen a few clips but never got around to checking it out. And then last year I saw it was turning 95 (whoa!) in 2022 (January 10th to be specific) so I thought that would be the perfect time to review it. And here we are.
The tale of the titular city separated into a decadent upper class on the city surface and the downtrodden worker class in factories beneath the earth is a pioneering film and one of the very first feature length Sci Fi films. With a futuristic city-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s break it all down.
The first thing we have to talk about is the effects work and production design. It is amazing this film was made almost a century ago because the effects look awesome and hold up very well. The city heights feel alive and bustling, and in the industrialised depths you can feel the weight of the monstrous machines and the heat of the steam.
The costuming is also brilliant, contrasting roaring 20s with bleak, all-black proletariat. And the iconic look of the Machine Man (or woman, really) is still quite impactful. In terms of visuals, there were many moments I felt like I was watching a painting come to life, including the worker children in the Eternal Garden and the workers dancing around the destroyed Heart Machine. Calling this German expressionist film a work of art is no overstatement. And it would be remiss not the mention the powerful orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz.
In terms of story, there is the eternal class struggle but at its centre it is about one man seeking his destiny. That man is Freder Fredersen (not the best name, I know), son of the father of Metropolis Joh Fredersen. Like the biblical Moses before him he witnesses the woes of the lower class and seeks to set them free. He also pulls a Prince and the Pauper by switching lives with worker 11811.
Gustav Frölich is decent as Freder but he is outshone by Brigitte Helm, who plays both brave revolutionary worker/love interest Maria and the Machine Man replica. Her acting is a bit melodramatic at times (especially while being chased by vile inventor Rotwang, played with fiendish glee by Rudolf Klein-Rogge) but that is typical for the silent film era. And I enjoyed her the most when she goes full chaotic villain as Machine Maria. “Death to the machines!” indeed. And I wonder what 1920s audiences thought of her provocative club dance. Ooh la la.
Also delivering strong performances was Fritz Rasp as Mr Fredersen’s spy, the vampiric looking Thin Man, and Heinrich George as loyal worker turned mob leader Grot. One theme that came out strongly was the power and the danger of the mob mentality. And I was pleasantly surprised that in the midst of the philosophy the film made time for some thrills, whether it was Rotwang going horror movie baddie, the disaster of the worker city flooding, or the tension of the mob chasing our heroes. Entertaining stuff.
My sole issue with the film is the resolution at the end is a bit too quick and kinda sappy. But otherwise an astonishing and influential film that is definitely required viewing for hardcore Sci Fi film fans.
Editor Jules’s Score: 9 out of 10
So are you a fan of Metropolis? What’s your favourite scene? And you check out more classic Sci Fi reviews below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.