Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang
German

“There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”

 

Metropolis

When cinema was in its infancy during the teens and the twenties, many pioneers sought to provide it a definite shape and even assemble various tools and benchmarks for the decades of filmmakers to come. This led to the formation of various cinematic and narrative techniques, characteristic to their country of origin, which were later used by tens of directors from that country. One such trait, expressionism, was extensively used by the filmmakers of Germany such as F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. The latter’s magnum opus, Metropolis (1927), is a grand marriage of the expressionist method and unimaginably high ambitions for its time.

Joh Fredersen is a huge industrialist and the owner of the high-tech city of Metropolis. The workers of Metropolis are overworked and are exploited in exchange for small amounts of wages. This pains Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of Fredersen who seeks to get justice for the workers from his father. The workers are on the verge of a revolution, but are held back by the hopes given by Maria (Brigitte Helm). Knowing this, Fredersen plans to use the evil genius of the city, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), and build a humanoid that resembles Maria in order to disorient the workers. However, Rotwang has his own plans and decides to double-cross Fredersen , in the process endangering everyone’s life.

To get an idea of the film’s influence on cinema it is enough to consider that it was the pioneer of the Sci-Fi genre – the one that Hollywood has never grown tired of. Its ideas of science and future have tricked down to every science fiction film made after it – both great and disastrous. Right from the struggle to create a whole new world (Minority Report, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow etc.) to the debate of humanity versus artificiality (Blade Runner, A. I. etc.), the impact of the film is omnipresent in the genre. The film’s special effects, needless to mention, were groundbreaking for their time (The Tower of Babel sequence retains its potency to amaze).

Going hand in hand with expressionism, the film is full of black and white characters and only aids the film’s heightened take on fantasy. Its consistent message of compassion for the working class may be a tad tasteless for viewers of today who do not expect any propaganda from the medium. However, this was, perhaps, required for Lang to drive home the point of the film which would otherwise have been deemed meaningless. Faith in the face of apocalypse becomes a joint theme, along with importance of humanity over science, which is supported well by biblical references.

Special mention must be made for the 2002 restoration of the epic which happens to coincide with its 75th anniversary of release. With over 25 percent of the film’s footage lost, the techies at the F. W. Murnau Foundation have done a staggering job of gathering the remaining material, removing the blemishes from each and every frame and providing intertitles summarizing the missing sections. The conventional score by Gottfried Huppertz for the version majestically supports the grandeur of the film.

Metropolis invariably takes the second place when the works of Fritz Lang are discussed and is overpowered by the dynamism and adrenaline of M (1931), immensely influential by itself and unbound by time. When watched today, Metropolis may look very amateurish in the execution of its themes and dated in its techniques, but placing oneself in its age and assessing its influence on future of the medium and the massiveness of its strides, it is ineluctable to call it a classic.

Question: “What kind of film do you want to see?”
American 1: “I want a Superhero movie”
American 2: “I want an Iraqi war movie”
American 3: “I want to things go BOOM, BANG and CLANK, with lotsa cool special FX”

Thus, Iron Man was born (Sounds like the perfect specimen for dubbing into all languages, from Bhojpuri to Tamil, doesn’t it?).

Summer is here and as usual, it has brought along with it a string of action flicks. This time around we get to see 3 comic book adaptations. Jon Favreau’s Iron Man is the first of the three and has made it big at the box office. With a series of duds by Marvel after Spider-Man 2 and a title as lame as this, one cannot hope for much.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has got everything one wants – the style, the brains, the bucks and a lovely assistant Virginia Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He builds WMDs for the American soldiers fighting all over the world. On a trip to Afghanistan, he is kidnapped and forced to build a super-powerful missile from scratch in a cave. Instead, with the help of a faithful assistant (who obviously can speak English and is obviously going to die), Stark builds a metallic suit and manages to escape. On return, he ponders how his own inventions have been used against him and decides to end it all. But his business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) has other plans. Thus ensues a battle between technologies and (naturally but unavoidably) the good guy beats up the baddie and all’s well.

This could have been another run-of-the-mill superhero movie if not for the character and performance of Robert Downey Jr. The alter egos of all the superheroes hitherto have been wimps whereas Tony Stark is charismatic, brilliant, provides most of the clever lines in the film and can-​survive-​without-​superhero-​costume. Robert Downey Jr. does a great job with his looks and actions that reflect the don’t-care attitude of Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow‘s character as Ms. Pepper does not seem to be well delineated. She means business in some scenes whereas in others, she is a bumbling young girl. Jeff Bridges (The Dude) is good but just reminds me of Goldfinger during the last part of the film.

The screenplay moves from predictability, hovers over tautness for sometime and goes back again to immense predictability. Be alert for the best moment in the film which I will not spoil by mentioning. Special effects galore, one has to admit the film does not lack action at all. A lot of effort has gone into the detail of the armor and flight scenes. The sets of the Stark’s laboratory do not give the complete feel of a superhero movie but are good nevertheless. The film has underplayed the War on terrorism and the politics behind it even though blatant caricaturing of the Jehadis is done.

Lots of bangs, booms and clashes agreed, the film does not give fresh entertainment and succumbs to become yet another bead in the string of Marvel flops. Save Robert Downey Jr., the film has not much to offer and thoroughly over hyped. But if you want some 2 hours of time to kill, Iron Man may be a decent watch to keep you awake.

Verdict: