In Defense of Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis

By the time I was first interested in seeing Metropolis, I was lucky that the first print I got to see was the 2002 restoration.  I’d heard that before the 2002 restoration, there were some pretty shoddy prints available, but I never actually sought one out to see for myself.  But a few months later, I unwittingly found out just how bad those bad prints could be.  I was in college at the time and one night I went to my Intro to Film Studies class and the teacher said we would be watching Metropolis that night.  I got all excited and started raving to my friends sitting nearby about what an amazing movie it was.  Plus, this was the last class of an extremely long day, so I liked the idea of topping it off by watching one of my favorite movies.  It didn’t even occur to me that we wouldn’t be watching the lovely Kino DVD that I was used to.  Then the teacher put in the DVD and the first thing we saw were blurry intertitles.  All I could think was, “Oh, boy.  This is going to hurt.”  This version completely unwatchable.  The picture quality was atrocious, whole subplots were deleted and what was left was an incoherent mess.  The musical score was horrible, it was just generic music thrown in with no particular regard for whether or not it was appropriate for what was happening in the movie.  The teacher actually kept leaving the room because she couldn’t stand listening to it.  I was horrified to see one of my favorite movies in such a sorry state.  The only thing that made the experience bearable was the fact that some of my classmates started adding their own MST3K style commentary.

I knew of a version of Metropolis that was put together by Giorgio Moroder, but again, I never actively sought it out.  Actually, I thought the idea of Metropolis with a Pat Benetar soundtrack was pretty laughable.  But when a local theater had a midnight screening of the Giorgio Moroder Metropolis this past weekend, I decided to go, mostly out of morbid curiosity.  After seeing that complete abomination of a print in class, I went in bracing myself for the worst.  So imagine my surprise when I ended up sort of liking it.

It’s really easy to make fun of the Giorgio Moroder Metropolis based solely on the fact that it features music by Loverboy.  But after actually seeing it, I’ve got to give him credit for putting real thought into his version of it, because that’s a lot more than I can say for some of those other old prints.  Obviously, his version is  missing a lot of footage, but the core story is there and it’s told coherently.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of the musical score, there were a few moments of it that were laughably cheesy.  But there were also a few parts of it that I did like and at least he used music that was appropriate for what was going on in the movie.  I didn’t really care for his attempts at using color in a few scenes, but at least the overall picture quality wasn’t too terrible.  Of course, nothing tops the picture quality of that you see in the 2002 version or the complete restoration, but believe me, it could have been much, much worse.

After actually seeing the Moroder version, I finally understand why that version kind of has a cult fan base.  I always assumed that was due to the music, but now it’s occurred that this version was probably the first time a lot of people saw Metropolis in a way that was any good at all.  If I had gotten interested in Metropolis in 1986 rather than 2006 and the Moroder version was the first one I saw, I could picture myself having a sentimental attachment to it.  Especially if I had spent years watching an old VHS tape of it just because it was the best version I could find.  It may not be my personal favorite version of Metropolis, but I can’t knock Moroder for doing his version of it, either.  It introduced Metropolis to a lot of people and it drew attention to how desperately it needed restoration and I fail to see how those are bad outcomes.

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One comment

  1. Yep, you called it. Balanced and insightful perspective. Saw it when it came out (not my first viewing of Metropolis), so it does have that place. Seattle also had a midnight screening this past weekend, which I attended. (I also have a DVD copy and as everyone probably knows by now, Kino has just released an official copy of the Moroder film.) Certainly not the definitive version but enjoyable considering Moroder’s intent. Also considering the time and place when it came out. I could go on but I’ll leave it at that…

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