METROPOLIS 



Metropolis
(VCD)

Movie:
* * *  
Disc:
* * * 

Massively hyped on its release outside Japan, Metropolis is one of the few Japanese animated movies (or anime) that got a mainstream release outside Japan (by Columbia/TriStar in this case). Let's hope it does well and will lead to some mainstream distribution deals for more anime movies. I am not always that keen on buying badly encoded pirate VCDs of the likes of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Jin-Roh - The Wolf Brigade on flea markets all the time. Also, I am sure that anime can get a bigger slice of the Western mainstream market since I have met the most unlikely anime fans lately. People must just be willing to give it a chance.

Metropolis seems to be case of either love it or hate it as the movie is rather unconventional in the way it melds 2-D characters on a largely CGI background. Some anime fans I spoke to didn't like the very retro "kiddies" type character designs of the movie. It seems to be a throwback to pre-Akira days I suppose which is unsurprising since Metropolis is based on a famous comic book published in Japan shortly after WWII. To be fair, the people who complained about this aspect merely commented on the poster and promotional artwork they have seen and have never seen the movie itself.

Personally I think that it is one of the best looking and stylish animated movies I have seen in quite a while. Add a great jazz score to the movie's highly original look (although inspired by its 1927 namesake, the 1927 Metropolis) and you have a case of style over substance sure, but what style. Metropolis makes a great case for why we shouldn't allow Hollywood to highjack our imaginations and give "foreign" (i.e., non-American) movies a chance. Fans of animation and science fiction won't regret giving this action-packed genre entry a shot.

THE DISCS: This is the official VCD supplied by Malaysian outfit CoolVCD.com. Therefor the cover art is glossy and high quality. The two discs come in a standard double CD jewel case. All very neat - unlike those pirated discs one buys on flea markets.

(For the newbie: VCDs - or video compact discs - are hugely popular in Asian countries and is usually a movie presented on two CD-type discs. They can be played on most DVD players as well as a lot of PCs with a standard CD-ROM drive - you don't need to have a DVD drive installed.)

There are two trailers on the disc: namely for Final Fantasy and Stuart Little 2. It would seem that Columbia/TriStar is unsure as to who exactly their audiences are for this movie. Take my word for it: this oft-violent Blade Runner-inspired movie is more suited to those of you who are more interested in having Final Fantasy on VCD than Stuart Little 2. This is not a movie for small children!

VCDs use MPEG compression and this becomes very obvious during the movie's title credits. I groaned inwardly, but things improved dramatically afterwards. The discs are quite brilliant at times, especially the image quality on the second disc. During some of the more spectacular CGI sequences it achieves a startling clarity that you won't find on VHS and is almost of DVD quality.

A few scenes illustrate the inadequacies of the MPEG compression used in VCDs, but on the whole this disc comes out on top. Also, the digital sound is quite good. The movie is dubbed in English and has no subtitles.

Unlike many VCDs, Metropolis is presented in letterbox format. (That means that there are black strips at the top and bottom of your TV screen. This ensures that the sides of the picture aren't chopped off at the sides, as is usually the case in full-screen presentations.) This may delight purists (such as myself), but in a few scenes everything is just too cluttered, but the problem is that one is watching the movie on a television and not on a cinema screen. One will probably complain about this on any medium - VHS or DVD. Metropolis is ultimately a movie that should be seen on the big screen!

WORTH IT? Despite getting a mainstream release the chances of you seeing Metropolis in the cinemas are practically zero. Fortunately this disc retails for a mere US$8.88 at CoolVCD.com. In comparison the DVD will set you back $27.95 and the VHS tape $14.95 (all prices quoted exclude shipping and are Amazon.com list prices.) Delivery via Fedex from Malaysia to South Africa took about a week. Fedex does a good job and the discs came through undamaged.

RECOMMENDATION: Metropolis is an excellent movie that you might want to have on DVD. However, if you're unsure about the movie itself, then you can check it out on the much cheaper VCD first. If you're new to anime then check out Akira and Ghost of the Shell first - both of which are also available from CoolVCD. At a mere US$8.88 this VCD is a bargain that science fiction and animation fans shouldn't pass on . . .

 



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