I'd heard it was good, really good. The little ads in the LA Times had James Cameron calling it amazing. The reason I knew I had to see it because it was inspired by the great 1920s silent movie of the same name by the legendary Fritz Lang (a movie my Godfather made me watch numerous times when I was younger). It took me a while, but I finally saw it this evening over at the Mann's Chinese Theater.
From the beginning, from the very opening credit, the movie sets its sights high and on the right target:
"Every great epoch [sic] deserves a sequel."
The opening images invoke the groundbreaking art direction of Lang's film (with an opening shot that's meant to look like the shaky b&w silent film stock). The rest of the movie takes it step further, bringing the early 1900s vision of the future to life with bleak skyscrapers, steel, sky bridges and dirigibles. I've never seen animation this artistic and devoted to its source.
The new, reinvented story was originally created by Osamu Tezuka ("Astro Boy") for his 1949 manga of the same name. The animation of the characters jumps between Tezuka's light-hearted "Astro-Boy" style and a style befitting the darker Lang movie, its noticeable but not a distraction -especially to anyone familiar with the Anime style. I now want to find a copy of the manga, if anything to at least compare the artwork.
The storyline also echoes key elements and themes of Lang's film, with Tezuka's storyline giving it more cogency: In a great, hyper-industrial and scientific future, robots have become integral to the human lifestyle. The bourgeoisie have realized that the efficient, clean and very loyal robots are much better than the emotional, smelly and revolt-prone proletariat. In the passing years, the rich now live at the top of the enormous urban mountain, with the petty workers crammed into the very bowels of the ancient city -bitter and vindictive.
Out of this hierarchy, a rich megalomaniac has created a massive tower (a ziggurat alluding the Tower of Babel) and plots world domination. He has a renegade scientist create the key for this new civilization: a robot-girl that blurs the line of humanity and take the throne of his new world. A similar female robot was pivot to the original silent movie (again, the new movie creates an identical opening shot). Yet it's so much more than a simple rehash.
Even in this age of CG and ILM there are limitations to what can be believably done on screen. Animation breaks those limitations by bringing us into a completely new world. This new Metropolis uses this limitless potential (combined with the cutting edge of animation) to take the story of Lang's film where he could have only dreamed. Other than the main character, there were no robots in the original, but this new version can explore and create a believable society where they are everywhere. It creates a whole new level to the movie and its questions about humanity, consciousness, and playing god. The plot is far more complicated than medium would've allowed Lang, and I'd rather avoid ruining it for you here.
But visuals can only do so much for a movie, and director Rintaro ("Akira") adds a score that includes classic jazz, techno-jazz and just a pinch of dramatic scoring to give the movie a wholly different feel that most dramatic Anime I've seen (the explosive finale, accompanied by the stark contrast of Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You," struck me as moment of true genius). I've heard that there's a badly dubbed version of the movie, but I was fortunate enough to have a subtitled version in the theater I saw it in (a major chain, no less).
The original Metropolis influenced many of the great sci-fi movies of our time ("Blade Runner", "Dark City", "The Fifth Element"). Since many of the Japan's great movies, "Akira", "Princess Mononoke", and even the original "Godzilla" involved the struggle of humanity against cold technology it wasn't surprising to see Fritz Lang's film tapped as source material (the original was a response to the industrialization within Germany). Osamu Tezuka and Rintaro have taken a great cinematic work and reinvented it with a bold, worthy vision.
This is the kind of movie Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" wanted to be: A great, coherent 'reimagining' of a classic movie -standing tall in it's own right. One could only wish Fritz Lang could see it too.
Review by Bobak from the Internet Movie Database.