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Glittering 'Metropolis' lands at the Senator

Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" stunningly portrays warring forces in a glittering skyscraper city. It arrives at the Senator on Friday, just in time to restore moviegoers' faith in epic movies.

This "complete" version of Lang's silent sci-fi extravaganza restores all of its subplots and nearly all of its surging imagery. With Gottfried Huppertz's soaring romantic score heard in full for the first time, "Metropolis" offers an engulfing audiovisual experience. It leaves you shaking your head in wonder and disbelief.

Those new to the film can sit back and be overwhelmed. Those who've seen it have the additional pleasure of watching a puzzle solved before your eyes. Roughly 25 minutes longer than the 2002 version, this print of "Metropolis" uses footage from a 16-millimeter dupe negative found in Buenos Aires to fill in some major bits and pieces — and some minor ones.

You can tell the 16-mm footage from the drop in picture quality. But the effect is thrilling, not jarring. This print combines the ecstasy of seeing a peak accomplishment in pristine form with the frisson movie-lovers get from viewing films as artifacts of their time, aging the way gardens or buildings do.

"Metropolis" isn't a "perfect" movie anyway: Its imperfections help make it great. This film expresses all the strengths and eccentricities of a single visionary filmmaker. Lang isn't afraid to be silly or bombastic in his pursuit of enthralling cinema. As a result, he suffuses every sequence with his inventive genius.

"Metropolis" contains more visual intelligence and excitement in its current two-hour and 28-minute running time than everything now playing at all the area megaplexes put together. The film is so capacious it contains elements of every would-be blockbuster from the past two years in a dystopian form all its own.

You want a vision of the future, like "Avatar"? "Metropolis" offers one just as pertinent to the way we live now. Think of it as a visual prophesy of the disastrous gap between CEOs and workers reaching Tower-of-Babel proportions. In "Metropolis," the men who design and provide order to a perfect city live among the clouds, while the men who keep it running labor underground.

Do you love tales of metallic humans wreaking havoc with the new world order? "Metropolis" delivers not an " Iron Man," but an Iron Woman. This film's Machine Human is the most alluring mechanical creature ever devised for a movie – think of it as a sexy female version of C3PO ( George Lucas certainly did). When a mad scientist puts fake flesh on it, it becomes a bizarre robot facsimile of a pacifistic prophet named Maria.

The real Maria offers workers hope that a "mediator" will arrive to provide the "heart" that will negotiate between their "hands" and their ruler's "head." But the architect and ruler of Metropolis, Fredersen, wants his inventor, Rotwang, to program the mechanical Maria to foment violent protest. Fredersen thinks the resulting anarchy will give him an excuse to crack down on labor. He doesn't realize that Rotwang is still loony with rage at him over a long-ago romantic rivalry. Rotwang will use the robot Maria to throw the upper class, too, into turmoil.

Did "Robin Hood" leave you hungry for a satisfying fable of a black-sheep aristocrat stealing from the rich to give to the poor? This film's Robin Hood, Fredersen's son Freder, wears silky vanilla threads or drab worker's garb instead of Russell Crowe leather and Sherwood Forest green. But he rises to a pinnacle of derring-do when he scales the trestles of the underground world to free the workers' children from otherwise certain death because of a rampaging flood.

You'll never think of the phrase "Sex and the City" in quite the same way after seeing the robot Maria gyrate in front of the elite and drive them to murder and suicide. With her exotic-erotic dance the film reaches its peak of nuttiness. Lang uses the hilarious overheated choreography and the tuxedoed men's popeyed reactions to lubricate the story's headlong descent to near-apocalypse.

And "Sherlock Holmes" fans should get a kick out of the now-complete narrative of Fredersen sending his private detective, The Thin Man, to shadow Freder. The Thin Man seizes on clues like a worker's cap to connect Freder to his secret love, the prophet Maria.

When Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, saw "Metropolis," he said, "I enjoyed it beyond my wildest dreams."

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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