In part one of The
Long Road to [The Complete] Metropolis
,
I remarked how watching the film was like experiencing 80 years of
motion picture history in 153 minutes. It’s not really a surprise that
such a groundbreaking film (made in 1927) would influence the filmmakers
that came after, but in this day and age where originality is
celebrated and those who crib from other works are vilified, it’s worth
pointing out that Metropolis, in any form, could be
considered one of the most imitated films ever made – particularly in
the realm of modern science fiction – while keeping in mind that it also drew
from the works that came before it.

Let’s start with theme: 1881
saw the publishing of Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper”, a historical fiction tale of
two boys – one of royal lineage and the other of abject poverty – who
exchange likenesses. Twain’s story is predicated in some part on the
disparity between the ruling and working classes. (The Wikipedia
entry for this story
references an earlier Jewish tale, “The Exchanged Children” and
casts into question Twain’s knowledge of it.) Metropolis
uses this as a thematic foundation, as well as the even older story of
“the One”.

By exchanging personas with worker Georgy 11811, socialite
Freder Frederson fulfills the prophecy of Maria’s “mediator”, a heart
who would bring together the hands of the workers and the head of the
controlling class (symbolized by Freder’s father, the founder of
Metropolis). So now we’ve got one possible source for The
Matrix
, Star Wars: Episode I, Lord
of the Rings
, Harry Potter, Lost
and God knows how many other properties that have fallen back on the
conceit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The point of this
discussion isn’t to prove that Metropolis wasn’t
original – because it was, in its execution – but that there are common
thematic structures that many stories follow. Even genre classics can’t
escape cliché. Freder Frederson is a close relative of Moses, Jesus,
Kevin Flynn, John J. Dunbar (Dances With Wolves), Neo,
Anakin Skywalker and Jake Sully.

Metropolis was released at a time where prestige
filmmakers – such as America’s D.W. Griffith and Russia’s Dziga Vertov –
were given broad license to experiment with the cinematic form. Fritz Lang’s
success with Die Niebelungen afforded him the clout he needed to produce Metropolis,
and his costly and ambitious project would push the boundaries of what
was then considered modern cinema through use of the latest visual
effects technologies (such as the Schüfftan
Process
), and lavish production design. Metropolis
is, at its core, a big-budget effects film. A spectacle for spectacle’s
sake.



The German Expressionist
spectacle of Metropolis would one day inspire the sci-fi
noir aesthetic found in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner
and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (which, in their own
ways also deal with themes of industrial totalitarianism). German
Expressionism is one of the foundations of the film noir genre, and was
established by Lang and other directors like F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu),
Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and even
Alfred Hitchcock, who worked as an art director at Ufa’s Potsdam-based
Neubabelsburg backlot in the 1920s. Metropolis didn’t
directly merge the genres of noir and science-fiction, but in 1927 it
was the closest anyone had come to even suggesting the idea.





Tim
Burton’s early career playbook seems to be entirely based on German
Expressionism, as evidenced in the designs for Beetlejuice
and Edward Scissorhands. With Batman and Batman
Returns
, the direct influence of Metropolis can be
seen in the work of Anton Furst and Bo Welch (Beetlejuice, Edward
Scissorhands
), respectively. Stefan Czapsky’s cinematography for
Ed Wood bears more than a passing resemblance to the
work of Metropolis (and Universal’s Dracula)
cameraman Karl Freund.


Furst’s
Gotham.


The influence of Metropolis’
oppressive art-deco Brutalist architecture can be seen in films like Tron,
Robocop, and The Fifth Element.
(Again, kindred spirits vis á vis the industrial totalitarianism and
“chosen one” themes. Considering Delta City and Alex Murphy’s
transformation, Robocop could almost be considered a
prequel to Metropolis. )









Stanley Kubrick has said that
part of the inspiration for the character of Dr. Strangelove is found in
Metropolis’ Dr. Rotwang. The characters are both German
and even share the trait of a phantom limb they can’t seem to control.




    


Though it’s common geek
knowledge, for the sake of inclusion let’s not forget that George Lucas
(or one of his artists) based the design of C-3PO on Metropolis’
Man Machine.

    




There are scenes that some
filmmakers directly lifted from Lang’s film: The scene in Blade
Runner
where Deckard visits Tyrell in his office visually
mirrors a scene in Metropolis almost exactly, complete
with a wide shot of shades being drawn across a window overlooking a
vast cityscape. Alex Proyas’ The Crow is another
Expressionistic film that – like Metropolis and
Burton’s Batman – culminates with a hero-vs-villain
battle on top of a cathedral. In fact, The Crow pretty
much copies the scene wholesale.







The list goes on and on (please
contribute to it in the comments or on
the message board
). Because Metropolis was our
first truly impacting cinematic glimpse into the future, it’s something we’re inspired to perfect and make our own. For the most part its
ideas, themes and aesthetic aren’t being copied or stolen out of
creative bankruptcy, but rather as part of a retelling process. When
stories and legends were passed down through the oral tradition, each
retelling of the same story reflected that teller’s view of the world.

One
of the things I took away from my experience with The
Complete Metropolis
is that as much as we’d like to think we’ve
evolved past the point of retelling stories, it’s completely
natural that Avatar
reminds us of Dances With Wolves, or that filmmakers
are remaking movies that came out a scant twenty years ago. We’ve been inspired to do it for thousands of years, and will
continue to be inspired long after today’s wildest vision of the future
is far in the past.


[As a bonus for actually
reading this far, here are a couple of additional restoration-related
links I’ve stumbled across. They provide a lot of good information,
including clips of damaged/restored footage.]


ALPHA-OMEGA
DIGITAL

(translated from German)

SCIENTIFIC MEDIA SHOWROOM


RETELL SOME STORIES ON THE MESSAGE BOARD