An ambitious, audacious & astounding example of science-fiction and one of the most influential & essential works of the silent era of filmmaking, Metropolis is widely recognised as a masterpiece of imagination, creativity & cinematic art today, for its vision of the future & the depicted relation between man & machine was far ahead of its time, and although its groundbreaking technical craftsmanship is still capable of dazzling everyone, its narrative isn’t as compelling.
A silent feature film with a runtime exceeding 150 minutes was never going to be a comfortable sit but given the film’s reputation, it was a must-see by default. And Metropolis does manage to transfix in the earlier moments with its dystopian setting & unsettling illustration of what a human is reduced to. The countless innovations in cinematography & practical effects do make you wonder how any of it was accomplished back then but after a while, its runtime is severely felt.
Set in a dystopian future, the story of Metropolis takes place in the titular city which is home to an utopian society where a sharp divide lies between the working class & city planners, as the former work incessantly to keep the machines running to power the city while the latter enjoy a carefree life. The plot follows the son of the city’s mastermind who falls in love with a working class prophet who has predicted the coming of a mediator who will solve all their differences.
Co-written & directed by Fritz Lang, Metropolis is jam-packed with pioneering effects & inventive camerawork and begins with a captivating sequence that firmly establishes the difference between the two classes that reside there. Lang’s vision of the future is undoubtedly praiseworthy and he leaves no stone unturned to provide a sense of grandeur to it. The characters, however, aren’t as richly defined and fail to leave a lasting mark unlike its futuristic cityscape.
From the technical standpoint, Metropolis is nothing short of a marvel. Its meticulously detailed set pieces & elaborate miniatures play a key role in bringing the titular city to life. Cinematography is a major highlight, for it keeps experimenting with different techniques & lighting elements to give the whole picture a surreal touch & mechanical feel, and works in tandem with its revolutionary effects. Lastly, music is ever-present throughout its runtime and is in sync with the unfolding events.
But Metropolis isn’t without its shortcomings, even though it isn’t responsible for most of them. Its chaotic moments, often depicted in fast-forward mode, appears unintentionally funny at times and undermines the seriousness of the given moment. Editing is an issue, for its pace isn’t streamlined and the film as a whole feels quite overlong in the end. It is often the case when you already know the direction it will take but the wait for those turns are often frustrating as few of its moments are overly stretched.
Coming to the acting department, the cast consists of Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm & Rudolph Klein-Rogge, with only Helm managing to make a strong impression. Fröhlich is no show-stealer and often oversteps the line, Abel is in firm control of his character and plays his part really well, Klein-Rogge’s performance only gets more lunatic as plot progresses, while Helm delivers an act that finds her emotions & expressions on both sides of the extreme but it’s in accordance with her character’s requirements.
On an overall scale, Metropolis is a cleverly envisioned, smartly directed & expertly rendered sci-fi that was unlike anything at its time of release and can still surprise some newcomers despite being 90 years old. I’ve got nothing but admiration for the level of inventiveness that’s present in virtually every frame of this picture but sitting through its overlong & soulless narrative wasn’t as rewarding or memorable as I expected. Immortal for its contribution to cinema, pop culture & architecture yet nothing more than just another tick mark on my checklist, Metropolis is timeless, but only in bits n pieces.