When composer Giorgio Moroder rereleased Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis in 1984, it was the best the film had looked in years. At Moroder’s instigation, the film had undergone a three-year restoration process that restored whole sequences not seen in years. How it sounded was another matter. In addition to adding color tinting and replacing intertitles with subtitles, Moroder gave Metropolis a soundtrack that mixed his own synth-driven score with songs by Bonnie Tyler, Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, and others. If anyone had the right, or at least the power, to do such a thing in 1984 it was Moroder, who’d revolutionized dance music by supplying the mechanical pulse to disco classics by Donna Summer and others and helped redefine film music via his scores to Midnight Express, Scarface, and other films. If you associate the sound of early ’80s movies with warm, expressive, synth chords and chugging beats, Moroder’s the reason why.
But do those sounds have any business pairing up with Metropolis? Not really. From the beginning, the combination of Lang and Moroder feels off, because each of the elements belong to its own distinct era. Moroder’s film work, particularly Midnight Express, finds rich veins of human emotion in the midst of electronic sounds, and his work here is no exception. Taken on its own, it’s among Moroder’s best scores. Pair it with Lang’s terrifying and beautiful images of a near-future dystopia, however, and the visuals threaten to drown out the music. Where Lang’s film still looks timeless, Moroder’s music remains grounded in the time of Reagan and early MTV. (That’s doubly true of the songs, which sound like castoffs even by the standards of, say, Loverboy.) The film feels quaint in a way other incarnations of Metropolis don’t.
In the years since Moroder’s Metropolis played theaters and became a VHS-era staple in video stores not much interested in stocking silent films, it quietly disappeared. In the meantime, Metropolis underwent two more purist-friendly restorations as the Moroder cut threatened to become a footnote. The release of a DVD and Blu-ray edition after a brief theatrical revival may not change that, but it at least preserves an odd experiment with good intentions, if less-than-stirring results. For those who have already seen Lang’s film in its proper form, Moroder’s Metropolis remains worth a look, if only because there’s nothing else quite like it. A cinematic remix, ’80s style, its proper format isn’t DVD or Blu-ray but a 12-inch single.
Key features: The Fading Image, a 1984 documentary on Moroder’s Metropolis and film preservation in general.