Metropolis (2001)

Run Time:
104 minutes
Edition Details: Region 2 encoding (Europe, Middle East & Japan only), Box set, Animated, Widescreen, Dubbed, PAL
Number of discs: 2


Not to be confused with the legendary 1920s Black & White movie of the same name, this 2001 movie had "future anime classic" written all over it upon its release. First, much was made of the fact that it is based upon early work by Osamu Tezuka, one of Japan's pioneering manga (comic) artists and boasts a screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo of Akira fame. Rintaro, a veteran in the field who also directed the recent X, directed it.

Second, the extensive use of computer-generated graphics was unprecedented in any Japanese animated movie that went before it.

Metropolis didn't disappoint: it had a feel all of its own, blending traditional anime figures against a spectacular city background. For architectural fetishists who got off on movies like Blade Runner, The Crow, Dark City and the original Metropolis, this movie didn't disappoint. Even though it was extensively released on DVD and video few people actually had the chance to see it on the big screen as it is meant to be seen . . .

Metropolis is simply too big for home theatre. Too many details are simply too diminished and get lost on the smaller TV screen. Though I am seldom in favor of pan 'n' scan releases ? the practice by which edges of the movie's image is cut off at the edges so that it fits your entire TV screen ? Metropolis presents a case for it. Too often characters are simply dwarfed by their surroundings and it lacks intimacy since one would like to take in all the details.

However, beware: do not be fooled by the kiddy look of the characters, this is not a movie for children. When it first appeared at our local video shop, it was first shelved along with the other children's movies. Later on, I however noticed that it had been moved to the main movies section with a sticker pronouncing: "Not Suitable for Children." Who could have thought? Animation for adults? Those wily Orientals I tell ya . . . (I can imagine someone having rented the move for their little sprouts and then noticing all the violence and adult themes in it and complaining to the shop owner.)

THE DISCS: These are the Region 2 DVD discs available in Europe, Middle East & Japan only. And South Africa of course. The first disc contains the movie along with some trailers for Final Fantasy and a straight-to-video movie made out of putting together several episodes of the computer-generated TV series based on Starship Troopers. There's a trailer for Metropolis itself of course.

The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio. Image is terrific and so is sound. After receiving a review copy of Metropolis on VCD, I decided to upgrade to the DVDs when I got the chance. It's an obvious improvement over the VCDs, but it's actually amazing just how resilient VCDs are: the image isn't all that much sharper really.

Here's my main complaint though: it would have been nice if the movie featured a pan 'n' scan version as well ? like the Collector's Edition of Men in Black (Region 1) discs do. Let's face up to it: viewers should be given the choice between widescreen and pan 'n' scan. Lately I find that one has no choice in the matter: I had to endure a bad pan 'n' scan DVD of Enigma recently as well as The Mothman Prophecies presented in the wrong aspect rations. Sure, these are South African-produced discs, but I have a suspicion that pan 'n' scan is going to win the day I'm afraid. Cinematic ignoramuses insist on it and recently I've read that the largest video shop franchise in the United States (Blockbusters) only stock pan 'n' scan DVDs now (e-mail me if this isn't the case) .

This is sad: if I wanted to watch sadly butchered movies I'd rent VHS tapes, and the DVD format would be useless. Come on, all you producers out there: with the artificially inflated prices of DVDs, bringing out double disc DVD sets wouldn't cut that deeply into your profits and ensure the format's goodwill amongst both the general movie public as well as movie geeks.

Why I mention this, is because the second disc is a complete waste of space to be honest. The so-called special features on them are minimal. I am sure that a decent pan 'n' scan version of the movie could have been fitted in as well. Instead all we have is some art work, a half-an-hour Japanese ?documentary? (presented in full-screen mode with English subtitles) of the sort in which the people involved in the film's making tells what a good time they had making it and little else. After a while, this sort of circle wank gets tiring.

Here is a movie that begs for some depth: it is based on a manga (comic book) written shortly after WWII, which in turn is inspired by the 190s Fritz Lang movie. How do the three differ? What is each trying to tell us? Instead, we are told by writer Katsuhiro Otomo that his favorite character is one he especially created for the movie that didn't feature at all in the original comics. Why? He doesn't say. Disappointingly shallow.

At least we were spared a bunch of computer geeks explaining how the computer generated bits were done (one can see how they are blended together in two scenes though). These featurettes especially made for DVD releases can be quite dull. Especially the newer releases - I'm thinking here of ones I saw of The Mummy and Jurassic Park III - where special effects are mostly done with computers usually consists of people showing stuff on, well, computers. I get enough of that at work. Give me the days of when models were extensively used and special effects depended of everyday ingenuity. As example, check out the Superman - The Movie DVD for info on how the exploding planet of Krypton was actually a tennis ball they set afire!

Older movies also free its stars and creative people from constraints. When the movie is being released, saying something slightly negative about your fellow stars or whoever will have that studio's marketing department fall upon you like a ton of bricks. Years later the truth comes out: how Marlon Brando in the first Superman movie didn't bother learning his lines and they scribbled it down instead and stuck notes all over the place for him to read it!

WORTH IT? The movie's great but the extra features are disappointing.

RECOMMENDATION: If you can say ?my DVD anime collection? without blanching, then this is one worth adding to your collection. Otherwise, this is definitely worth a rental then.



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