Friday, 18 November 2011

Film Review: Metropolis

Fig 1

Fritz Lang's Metropolis the great grandfather of the science fiction genre, it's still shocking and amazing audiences over 80 years later with its detailed miniatures, huge sets and political`overtones. Based in a distant future, the son of the city's ruler and creator falls in love with a woman and gets caught up in a workers uprising. The story, in this review, is secondary to the visuals because without the appealing design there is very little else to draw a modern viewer to it except for the slightly racy beginning.

Fig 2

The audience is treated to a couple of long shots of the city of Babel, to the sight of elevated roads filled with moving cars and planes zipping across the cityscape all framed by perfectly futuristic buildings. The centre of the shot is dominated by New Babel, an absolute template for any and all sci-fi set designs. Nev Pierce comments on this "With its immense sets and stark lighting, the workers' city is a credible image of hell, while the overground landscapes were a seminal influence on all subsequent science fiction." (Pierce,2003) and it's a true description, the hellish underground world the workers inhabit if filled with steam, whirring machines and flashing lights all of which demand their human slaves keep feeding them.

Fig 3

The costume and character acting from the workers in the beginning of the film and then Brigitte Helm's role as the angelic Maria and the evil android Hel. The sight of seeing a large mass of burnt out workers marching as one out of and elevator to rest after a 10 hour shift (also noting that a day only lasts 20 hours in this new world) as another block of workers are marching the opposite way to start their shift; the acting and perfectly steady march of the workers against the backdrop of the elevator entrance really sells the hardship that these people undergo every day, more so than any other scene.

Fig 4

Brigette Helm's characters on the other hand show purity and understanding in the shape of Maria who is the workers spiritual leader and strives for a compassionate unity between the rulers and dreamers of the city with the hands that build it for them. Her role as the destructive android Hel is a blast and despite the somewhat quirky acting gives off a lot of creepy robotic-ness when dancing and luring the men of the city to the nightclubs. Film4 put out that " The logic and politics of Metropolis, however, have proved secondary in importance to the incredible visuals of the film... the robot (Brigitte Helm) who is transformed by technology - represented through looped arcs of electricity and neat special effects - into human form" (Film4) although the special effects are obviously outdated the special effects where Maria is cloned onto Hel are spectacular, even more so considering how long ago it was done.

Fig 5

Metropolis is very much seen by modern critics to be the foundation of the entire science fiction genre and that "The film's influence can be felt in practically every science fiction film made since -- if you have any doubts, check out the City of Zion in The Matrix Reloaded or the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. Metropolis has become part of the great mass film unconscious." (Brenner, 2008)


Brenner, Paul. review of Metropolis. Archived online at Published 18/06/08 (Accessed 23/11/11)

Film4, Film4 review of Metropolis. Archived online at
Published date unknown (Accessed 23/11/11)

Pierce, Nev. BBC Film Review of Metropolis. Archived online at Published 07/01/03 (Accessed 23/11/11)


Fig 1. Original poster for Metropolis Digital Image. (Accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 2. Shot of New Babel, Film still from Metropolis (1926). (accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 3. The M Machine, Film still from Metropolis (1926). (Accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 4. Workers changing shifts, Film Still from Metropolis (1926) (Accessed 23/11/11)

Fig 5. Brigitte Helm as Hel, Film still from Metropolis (1926) (accessed 23/11/11)

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