(Restored Version) I wonder if some of the scenes in this movie might have had as much of an impact on contemporary audiences as Star Wars did on us? Or if, lacking the background in thinking of the future that we have, if it was all merely baffling? I recall that audiences in 1936 laughed in Things to Come at the scene where airplanes fly from Europe to drop bombs on London … something that would be happening in only four years. Whatever, the incredible sets and gigantic models on display here still have the power to awe. There is scene after scene of things no one had ever imagined before, except in very primitive covers for the earliest SF magazines.
The story? Considerably less awesome. The acting is broad even for silent movies, with our hero dashing about, flailing his arms like a drowning man, his face a twisting mass of horror. It is grand opera at its most turgid, and is either too frantic or too slow, in alternating rhythm. It can take thirty seconds for a character to raise an eyebrow. Fritz Lang was a great director, as you can see in M and the many films he did after moving to Hollywood, but looking at the credits for the other movies he did in Germany I suspect they were pretty overblown, too. I’m afraid some of it looks comical today, such as the underground proles marching slooooowly to and from work, each foot thudding down funereally, heads hung down to their chests. But wow! Many of the spectacular scenes are still stunning, and the vision of man enslaved to his machines is still haunting.
The movie has a long and interesting history, having been chopped up several times, to the point that no one seems quite sure exactly how long it was supposed to run. And over the years various prints have turned up, with “rediscovered” scenes. This latest version was released in 2010, and incorporates a lot of footage that hadn’t been seen since the 1920s. Some of it is in pretty poor condition, full of streaks that I presume they were unable to digitally remove. I’m still glad it’s there; I’ve looked at worse prints of old movies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few more years, it will be possible to clean it up even more.