Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Space Oddities: Metropolis (1927) Review

Fig 1: "Metropolis" film poster

When it comes to appointing the first few early feature length films of impactful cinema, there is no doubt that Fritz Lang's “Metropolis”(1927) is included. For the many audiences who have witnessed it from the release date to our present day, those many may know that “Metropolis” sets in stone the foundation of science fiction movies to come. As described by Mordaunt Hall (1927):“It is a technical marvel with feet of clay, a picture as soulless as the manufactured woman of its story. Its scenes bristle with cinematic imagination, with hordes of men and women and astounding stage settings”(Mordaunt Hall (1927), this feature embarks on a thought provoking, whirlwind plot that shows imagination at its finest. 

Only seven years after the release of Robert Wiene's “Das Cabinet Des Dr.Caligari” (1920), it is sure that the cinematics have progressed and envelop you into a whole new world. The dynamic camera angles and rapid shots and the loud, dramatic and visionary music have definitely evolved to produce a compelling film.

"Metropolis" transports the viewer into a vision of the future. Rich with innovative design representing what modern life would be like, this German expressionist feautre hosts a complex miniature city - with clever camera tricks to display it's people walking across the heightened walkways (using mirros and shooting the perspective) and an exciting storyline that steps out of the boundaries of "normal" cinema.

Fig 2: The city of "Metropolis"

 As seen in Fig 2, with soaring skyscrapers, elevated highways and train transport; lit-up signs and bustling human activity, the city of “Metropolis” presents a luxurious and satisfying way of life for the spoilt and rich. In a monstrous contrast, and here described by Roger Ebert (2010):“Below the surface is a workers' city where the clocks show 10 hours to squeeze out more work time, the workers live in tenement housing and work consists of unrelenting service to a machine”(Roger Ebert (2010) , the city’s workers that keep the city running endure long hours and exhausting jobs just to get by. The extent of the unseen employees work underground that goes unnoticed can be seen in Fig 3: with the drained and depressed body language. Ebert continues: “Consider the first glimpse of the underground power plant, with workers straining to move heavy dial hands back and forth. What they're doing makes no logical sense, but visually the connection is obvious: They are controlled like hands on a clock”(Roger Ebert (2010) , it seems as though the humanity in these workers are lost as, in a way, they become machines themselves: repetitive, lifeless, emotionless and endlessly working until they’re commanded not to.

Fig 3: The workers

The son of the ruthless Jon Fredersen, Freder (seen in Fig 4), weans away from the luscious lifestyle in order to pursue Maria (also seen in Fig 4): a poor worker who shows children the life of the upper class. A madman inventor, Rotwang, creates a robotic version of his former love, named "Hel" (Fig 5), kidnaps Maria and creates a human like double with the robot dwelling within. As stated by Mordaunt Hall (1927) "The sequence in which Rotwang, the inventor, manufactures a double of Maria is put forth in a startling fashion, Rotwang first gives chase to the real Maria, and then puts her in a glass cylinder, arounf which appear circles of radium lights. To add to the impression, there are boiling liquids in glass globes, and finally Maria without a soul is produced with the help of an iron Robot like woman Rotwang has made previously"(Mordaunt Hall (1927) , Lang clearly and cleverly portrays the intense transformation of the sweet, kind hearted Maria that is tainted and copied to create an obscene version that shows no mercy. The cinematic features of the bubbling flasks, intense electrical currents, hula-hoop rays of light that rise and fall over the sitting machine, all show a technological advance for a film of its age. Supporting this, Ebert explains: "Without all of the digital tricks of today, "Metropolis" fills the imagination. Today, the effects look like effects, but that's their appeal." (Robert Ebert, 2010)

Fig 4: Maria and Freder

The distorted Maria causes chaos and persuades men to destroy the very machines they slaved away for, and in the process completely forgot about their own kin. In the destruction if the city, Freder and the real Maria save the children, and eventually Freder fights Rotwang until he falls to his death. After a roller coaster of complex plot, scenes, high tension, anxiety, suspense, joy, fear and adoration, the film concludes with a peace making between the bitter Fredersen and worker Grot with a shake of hands encouraged by Freder. 

Fig 5: The robot

 Especially energetic scenes include Maria being chased in the dark catacombs: the spotlight that only shines on her to find her, and Maria's utter despair along with the suspicious music gets the viewers hearts pumping. Another scene is the destruction of the city. A "perfect" city flushed and succumbed by it's own failure of machinery; the ground shaken by the buildings turning into rubble, chaos forming everywhere and causing panic - the "Metropolis" has become run down and completely destroyed.

When filming for a year, trying to accomplish perfection and completely immersing himself in creating an influential classic, there is no doubt that Fritz Lang has done his job. To simply put it, without the existence of “Metropolis” it is believed that modern science fiction cinema would just not be as it is today. 


Hall, M. (1927) Metropolis (1927) A Technical Marvel, Ny Times, (Accessed on 29/09/2015)
Ebert, R. (2010) Metropolis, Rogerebert.com (Accessed on 29/09/2015) 

Illustration List: 

Fig 1: "Metropolis" film poster (Accessed on 29/09/2015) http://www.borrowingtape.com/uploads/3/1/8/4/31845303/2470626_orig.jpg
Fig 2: The city of "Metropolis" (Accessed on 29/09/2015) https://niels85.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/metropolis.jpg
Fig 4: Maria and Freder (Accessed on 29/09/2015) http://www.index-dvd.com/coversbd/screenshots/metropolis-bd-ss-2.jpg
Fig 5: The Robot (Accessed on 29/09/2015) http://i.ytimg.com/vi/Q0NzALRJifI/maxresdefault.jpg


  1. Fantastic review Manisha, well thought through and well-written. :)

  2. Hey Manisha - another sincere and thoughtful review; just look again at your referencing - while you are indeed giving both the source and the date of the source, you're not including the citation at the end of the quote - so, like this;
    "Without all of the digital tricks of today, "Metropolis" fills the imagination. Today, the effects look like effects, but that's their appeal." (Ebert, 2010)

    1. Cheers, Phil! And thank you for the pointers!