News on a Fully Restored 'Metropolis'!

By Eric Snider

It was around this time last year that the film world got an astonishing bit of news: A huge chunk of footage that was missing from Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis -- and presumed lost forever -- was FOUND in a museum's archives in Argentina. The film, a futuristic sci-fi thriller that has influenced everything from Blade Runner to Tim Burton's Batman, was 153 minutes long when it premiered in Berlin, where it was a huge flop with critics and audiences. It was subsequently chopped down to about 90 minutes, and once the American copyright expired, in 1953, various people started releasing "restored" versions, none of them complete. And that missing footage just sort of disappeared.

The copyright was re-established by the F. W. Murnau Foundation in 1998, and in 2002 a 127-minute version was released on DVD, all the footage cleaned up as much as possible and the original musical score re-recorded. Intertitles were used to explain the content of the 26 minutes' worth of scenes that were still missing.

The footage discovered last year is said to represent about 85 percent of those missing scenes, and the plan was to release a newly restored version on DVD and Blu-ray sometime this year that would incorporate all this newly found material. It would be very nearly the same film that Lang released in 1927, and certainly much, much closer to it than anyone thought we'd ever see.

But that DVD/Blu-ray edition will have to wait a little longer. The latest word is that the footage has just now been put in the hands of the F.W. Murnau Foundation in Germany, and that now the restoration process on the badly damaged footage can begin.

EuroNews (via Just Press Play) quotes the head of the Murnau group: "When you follow the whole story from August 2008 until today, we're overjoyed to have it in our hands. There were a couple of occasions when we thought we were going get it, but we didn't. So it's great it's here, and we can finally start the restoration work." What is not explained in this or any other article I can find is why it has taken a year for the footage to get from the Museo del Cine in Argentina to the Murnau Foundation in Germany, and why the delay was unforeseen. If there is a tale of intrigue there, it's not public yet.

Whatever the case, the footage is now where it belongs, and the long, complicated restoration process can begin. Look for Kino International (which distributes the film for F. W. Murnau in the United States) to release that DVD and Blu-ray sometime in 2010 at the earliest.

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