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Info:

  • Audio Rating: A+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • MSRP: 27.98
  • Running time: 106
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Metropolis

Metropolis

By Chris Beveridge     April 13, 2002
Release Date: April 23, 2002


Metropolis
© Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


What They Say
Set in the future, Metropolis is a grand city-state populated by humans and robots, the cohabitants of a strictly segmented society. Amidst the chaos created by anti-robot factions, detective Shunsaku Ban and his sidekick Ken-ichi are searching for rebel scientist Dr. Laughton. But when they locate him, his secret laboratory is destroyed by fire under sinister circumstances, and instead Ken-ichi finds Tima, a beautiful young girl bereft of memory and speech, seemingly helpless at the site. Little does he know that Tima is a new top-of the-line android created to take over Metropolis, and that behind her creation lie the ambitions of a powerful man and his fierce desire to reclaim a tragic figure from his past.

The Review!
Metropolis is the first big offering of anime from Columbia in the U.S., and if this release (both theatrical and with this DVD) are any indication, there’s a whole lot to look forward to.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese and opted to go with the DTS track. A Dolby track is also provided as well as an English and French track. The level of immersion with this soundtrack is excellent, with the entire soundstage being used to maximum advantage in service of the story and not for tricks and “listen to this” effects. The way it’s managed is perfect, with sounds coming from the forward soundstage and transitioning smoothly to the back and around again. Directionality is spot on with the rear speakers being used quite aggressively in many scenes and serving well with the music and other ambient effects. Dialogue is crisp and clear and the overall warm feeling presented by the track is gorgeous.

Video:
Having been getting Columbia DVDs since they first entered the marketplace in test cities back in 1997, this is one of those companies I’ve never had to worry about a transfer. Metropolis was made with such a vivid beauty to it that it practically pulsates with life on the screen. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen sets like mine, so we got the best of both worlds and the result is simply luscious. The movie features a very rich texture of colors and depth that it comes across beautifully here without being over saturated. Blacks are particularly solid and there are plenty of scenes with them and the level of detail is amazing. This is a movie where you go back just to watch the backgrounds and be amazed at what you can see.

Packaging:
This is surely to be divisive among fans, but the foldout digipack-like packaging for this release is very slick. The package folds out to reveal a number of images from the movie and eventually a four pane segment with two plastic disc holders in the middle two. Each of the images looks great and the way the colors look, it really feels like something that you just couldn’t get on the usual kind of paper you get with a keepcase. It just feels very different. The artwork used throughout is great, particularly the front cover. The back cover gives a brief rundown of the show and a good listing of the discs features. One of the interior flaps lists the various chapters for the movie as well.

Menus:
The menu layout for the two discs are pretty similar, with the main disc featuring a “celebration” version of one of the aircraft floating by the buildings and the extras disc showing a daylight version of it. The menus are pretty decent with good access times and a straightforward layout that works well. Compared to some other recent anime menus we’ve seen though, these fall a little short of what they could have been though.

Extras:
Columbia went and tried something different with this release by putting all of the extras outside of general trailers onto the second disc, and using one of the small “pocket” discs for it. These smaller discs naturally hold less, but it’ll hold all the extras here nicely and without any problems. And we get some really nice extras with it.

One extra I wasn’t sure we’d get that is a staple of anime releases is the production images gallery, but we get a couple of them here featuring character designs and more. There’s also a featurette that runs about nine minutes that talks to Rintaro and Otomo about their involvement in the movie and what they wanted to accomplish. There’s a few text selections as well, such as one that goes into the origins of Metropolis and a couple of biographies on Rintaro and Tezuka.

What really steals the show is the Animax special that runs just over 30 minutes and has a variety of interviews with the creators and the voice actors and those involved. What really sets it apart and starts it off right is in the beginning, the first thing they focus on is showing you the manga of Metropolis that Tezuka did and showing you pages from it. If you see this after the movie, it’s very interesting to see how the characters designs were reinterpreted for the movie yet how easy it was to identify them. This is a great special and definitely worth checking out. I hadn’t realized how old Rintaro was getting! Or Otomo for that matter.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When you go and do a movie on something that’s been out for a long time, especially something as far back as fifty years, you run the risk of either casting away huge chunks of what made that story what it was and offending those who remember it, or you end up too faithful and the story and designs don’t resonate with today’s pickier fans. Metropolis, under the careful hand of Katsuhiro Otomo and Rintaro, manage to avoid both of these pitfalls.

The story takes place in no specific time other than some alternate present or some future date. The city of Metropolis is the main character of the story, where it’s a massive sprawling piece of architectural magnificence filled with color and design. Or at least on the top levels where normal society is allowed to exist. There are other zones to Metropolis, buried deep underneath. Zone 1, where people who are so marked aren’t allowed to go any higher, is where most of the working poor and undesirables live. A level below that is the power sections where few people have any reason to be. And finally, there’s the sewer zone at the bottom where nobody wants to be at all.

We’re introduced to this layered society through a celebration for the completion of the Ziggurat, something that nobody is really sure what it is. But it’s time for a party on the top social level, so party they must. It’s a dazzling display of extravagance played against music from the 20’s. It’s also from here we learn of some discontent within the city, as someone from the Malduk’s set up something to surprise people, using a robot to relay their message. It doesn’t really matter much in the end, but it does set up the opening seeds of discontent for the viewer.

The cast is soon expanded into human characters as we’re introduced to Shunsaku Ban, a police detective from Japan whose arrived to find and bring back Dr. Laughton, a ‘mad’ scientist whose wanted to performing all kinds of illegal research and experiments. Being his first time in Metropolis, he’s also brought his nephew Kenichi. Due to the large week long celebration, no local police are turned over to help, but they do get a robot detective who will help out in at least making sure they don’t get lost. The robot, who only has a number and not a name, serves as our guide to the city as well and instructs on how interactions between everyone occurs and the various levels.

In the end, those three really make up what’s the good guys of the movie. On the Metropolis side of the characters, those who’ve lived in the city and manipulated it, things are much more complex. You’ve got President Boone who is trying to manipulate things to keep himself in power and get rid of certain threats against him. He’s aided by his Secretary of State, Skunk, who has particular ambitions of his own. And probably the most powerful of the group is Duke Red, a very influential citizen with huge riches. It’s his plotting and planning that things end up centering around. It’s his funding of the Ziggurat that is central to his plans.

And even his plans end up seeming to be for the betterment of the people than one would think, though in the end if gets filed as evil. Using Dr. Laughton’s skills, he has him create a truly advanced humanoid robot that is unaware of what it is so it can take over the Throne of Ziggurat. This is where we begin to learn of how this machine will end up taking over for humanity and guiding it to a more enlightened age free of many responsibilities. But all the trouble starts when Duke Red’s adopted son, Rock, sees this as the wrong route and goes after Dr. Laughton and causes the unaware robot to escape with Kenichi, as they had gotten close to discovering where they were.

The movie progresses well as a chase film with Kenichi and the feminine robot named Tima. The pursuit does the job of showing off the even darker sides to the Zone’s as well as Rock’s determined pursuit of Tima and what he sees as a threat to his father. The flip side is watching all the political machinations going on topside between the current power holders and the Malduk group who wants to regain its true political power. There’s many layers throughout this moving interweaving with each other, and the end result is a fascinating tapestry. With this being based on a rather old manga, though updated, it retains a lot of what there were for feelings and politics at the time. Just the single mention of certain members of Metropolis looking like fascists brings that into play. The other aspect is the continued similarities to the long surviving aspects of robots and science fiction from those days, mostly popularized by Isaac Asimov. I can easily visualize Tezuka’s style fitting in with a lot of his early works.

Metropolis is definitely a visual masterpiece, made more so when you take in some of the comparisons on the extras discs. Anime theatrical films always seem to have this look and feel that takes it so far beyond other mediums that it always makes me just stare in awe. The complexity of the backgrounds and the teeming amount of life going through them. Rintaro goes on talking about how he used the digital technology to assist him in the analog world instead of the other way around, and it definitely pays off. There’s also a feeling of more Disney-ish animation showing up here, most noticeable in the scenes where we see Tima looking up at what meager light makes it down into the murk. One close-up where we see her angling up and her blonde curls blowing in the breeze is gorgeous, but almost completely non-traditional anime style. That’s the kind of animation we saw forty years ago from Disney, and it fits perfectly here.

After seeing this, I really regret not having taken the time or opportunity to see this on the big screen when it was in the area. Knowing I had the DVD coming in the next month and the amount of time and effort it takes to go into the city, I opted to wait. While this DVD is definitely top of the line in its production values, I can just feel that I missed something by not seeing it projected on a larger venue. But now, at the end of writing this review, I’ve watched and listened to the movie four times and only continue to notice new things about it. This is a real keeper and highly recommended.

Features
Japanese DD 5.1 language,Japanese DTS 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,French Language,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles,"Pocket DVD" featuring added value elements,Special packaging - new fold-out packaging with outer sleeve,Widescreen and Full Screen presentations,Animax Special: The Making of Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis,Exclusive Featurette: Interview with Rintaro Katsushiro,Two Animation Comparisons,History of the "Metropolis" Comic Book,Theatrical Trailers,Biography of Osamu Tezuka,Production Notes

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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