Saturday, December 29, 2007

Metropolis - The Moroder Version (1927/1984)

This post will be a little bit different from some previous ones. I'm going to discuss the soundtrack to a movie. (I apologize for the lack of posts as of late; I've had finals and holidays and whatnot. Now I have no responsibilities for a few weeks... expect more posts.)

You may remember Metropolis, one of the most expensive movies at for its time (1927). Metropolis was directed by Fritz Lang and released as a 153-minute futuristic epic in Germany, only to be severely edited for release in America. All further releases have been edits of some form (usually around 90 minutes), and when a team tried to reassemble the best possible version for a new restored release in 2001, they only managed to restore the film to 124 minutes. Before that, and unlike any other previous release, there is one special version that deserves special note, most especially in this music-themed blog of mine. I speak of the Moroder version, an 80-minute semi-colorized edit released in 1984 with an 80s-tastic rock soundtrack coordinated and composed by Giorgio Moroder, an Italian disco producer-king.

I noticed that my college library happened to have five copies of Metropolis, one of which being this unique edit. So, this is a brief review of this particular edit (not of the movie as a whole, which I really, really like) and the accompanying soundtrack. The edit was done acceptably; it's quite short but most of plot essentials remain. It makes sense, although it is clear that there is plenty of backstory missing and events just plain left untold. That eerie feeling that something is missing is bothersome, and the end seems to come almost too fast. On the whole, it does work. The colorization is unnecessary but an interesting touch; all it is is just tints over the print itself to add some mood to different scenes. It works well enough, I'd say.

As might be predictable, my main interest in this version was the soundtrack. Moroder's touch is clear. The sound is really more pop than rock, and when I mean pop, I mean really cheesy, big-synthy over-the-top production value pop. While watching the film, I had a really hard time picking out which pieces were which (as in, what audio corresponded to which song title and artist). Moroder did a few instrumental pieces on his own, but Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar, Loverboy, Adam Ant, and a few others appear as co-composers of their own pieces. I had only passing familiarity with each of these people except Adam Ant, and even his song wasn't memorable to any degree. Since I don't have the soundtrack or my own copy of the film, I haven't had the chance to re-listen to the songs, and I can only go off of what I remember from memory.

What I remember isn't particularly positive. It's pretty bad, and way too 80s. (As should be obvious, I love a lot of 80s music, but there was also a lot of excess and mediocrity in those years. Those adjectives apply here appropriately.) These soaring ballads with horribly typical guitar solos and synth washes could be applied to any movie. Something like Metropolis deserves more, and a lot more at that. Something unique, and something that fits with a futuristic movie made in black and white 80 years ago and that somehow balances a contemporary sound with the historical/futuristic setting. The songs and production style sound awfully dated and completely inappropriate for a 20s movie or a futuristic movie. I admit that a few songs (mostly the Moroder solo bits) fit into the movie well enough, but the sounds just didn't work so hot.

Much as I would want to, I just plain can't recommend this version. I just can't. It isn't good. Watch the restored 2001 version and buy a different Moroder album. (He's done some perfectly fine disco in other outlets.)

Metropolis, as a movie in general: A
The "Moroder version" in general: C
Moroder's soundtrack: D

[Edit 2008.12.13: If you haven't heard, an uncut copy of the film has been found and is currently undergoing restoration work. I assume a DVD release is inevitable.]

[Edit 2010.03.01: Again, if you haven't heard, the almost-entirely-restored version premiered in Frankfurt and Berlin two weeks ago. I failed to attend, but screenings appear to be continuing and a DVD release is apparently planned for April.]

[Edit 2010.11.22: I caught the 2010 restoration at Webster University in St. Louis a month or two ago. It's awesome and big step over the previous restoration. Go find it.]

[Edit 2019.02.24: I can't stop thinking and writing about this movie, apparently. I saw the 2010 version again, but this time with live musical accompaniment. It was great.]