Metropolis is arguably the first and most important science fiction film ever produced and it sets the standard as the archetype film of this genre or of films with similar generic conventions. The most significant quality of this film is that the special effects used in this sci-fi epic were groundbreaking at the time of the release and still have the power to amaze audiences. The silent film is based upon the futuristic city of metropolis set in 2026 or thereabout and it is based around various themes such as the struggle between the rulers and the working class, the ignorance of the individuals at the summit of the “Metropolis”, human oppression and enslaved working conditions which the workers had to put up with.
The themes are important as it gives us an idea of what the social and political issues were during the making of the film and as we already know Germany and most of the world was going through a stage of fascism and communism. The main fear of the ruling governments was rebellion and uprisings against many factions and from this came the fear of what was in store in the future as is being revealed in Metropolis. As I have already indicated Metropolis was the first science fiction film so in turn, it set the benchmarks for the generic conventions and iconography, which we see amongst us in present-day cinematography. The portrayal of these generic standards is shown through magnificent and smallest of detail in the misc en scene such as the close-up of Rotwang the mad scientist to the effects used to demonstrate the transformation of Maria to the Robot.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $14
Prices start at $12
Many of the images and misc en scene of the film have been fed into the modern films we watch in the present cinema and these images have also been the inspiration of countless films to come. Firstly the main images of the city in the film, which is very similar to the modern science fiction box office hit Minority Report, take its structure as the rulers and masters of the city are situated high up in a tower which insinuates their status. This iconography of a sci-fi city comes from the story of the Tower of Babel in the bible where humans tried to claim to have more power than God, a theme which is used frequently in science fiction films of the modern era and also Metropolis itself. Again the divide in class and wealth is shown when Freder’s son is taking part in sport which was supposed to be for the upper-class segment.
The partition is illustrated through the use of the setting which seems like a grand roman stadium that is enclosed allowing the upper-class people to be hidden away from the rest of Metropolis. At the beginning of the film, we are shown the special effects of the era of film making which Metropolis was produced such as the abstract patterns of machinery and the art deco setting which would have wowed the audience. The audience would also have been amazed at the settings and misc en scenes such as the equipment in the laboratory of Rotwang and the scientific apparatus which had special lighting effects such as the sizzling of an electric current at the time of the transformation of the Robot. Also, another important aspect of the blockbuster is that it was a silent movie and most of the special effects would have been used to give the audience an indication of what was taking place for example the dissolve edit which was used between the transformation of the Robot and Maria would suggest a change in the state of character.
The audience was also stereotypically male as this was the targeted viewer for the genre which is backed by the fact there is only one leading female character in Metropolis but this character is depicted as being of low working class and education. As women had minimal representation in this film it is hard to suggest social issues but they are exposed as vulnerable, helpless and in need of desperate support from the male society. The minor roles of the women such as that of the dancers are shown as them being explicitly sexualized to suit the era in which the film was released as cinema at the time wasn’t concerned about the concept of censorship. The use of facial expressions is also important as in the scene where the entertainers are dancing around the fountain we see the sheer contrast of personalities and character between Maria and the dancers.
The representation of science in this film gives us an idea of what people’s perceptions were at the time the film was produced and demonstrates that the values of the audience were that science, technology and the future were something to be fearful of. The props and set where the scientist operated on Maria demonstrates the generic conventions of a modern gothic horror movie such as Frankenstein. The way Fritz Lang used special lighting effects to his advantage like the small details of Rotwang breathing in before the experiment got underway must have given the audiences a feeling of eeriness. The backdrop of the experiment shows high technological machines with plenty of nuts and bolts with scientific apparatus such as test tubes. Lightning and bubbling effects whilst the experiment is taking place are also used and these for the present audience are conventions and effects which are familiar to our eyes as they are widely being used in horror movies.
Metropolis in its day and age would have been seen as a big-budget blockbuster with special effects and celebrity stars but the audience would likely have been suited for cult followers of this type of genre. Although the film wasn’t very successful in the box office it set out what was to be the generic conventions that have influenced contemporary science fiction cinematography as many of the movie’s iconography and themes are still relevant in modern-day sci-fi. Although the narrative is very unrealistic of Metropolis it still gives us a historical perspective of how the science fiction genre has developed by setting an archetype for science fiction films to follow.