Sci-fi Film Of The Century Metropolis Lives Again

A miraculous discovery in Buenos Aires has brought the classic German silent film Metropolis close to the way its producers originally intended before decades of brutal editing.

Metropolis workers live in an underground world below the skyscrapers
Metropolis workers live in an underground world below the skyscrapers
Peter Zander

Back in the 1927, Metropolis was the last German silent movie to be released theaters. Then in 1984, composer Giorgio Moroder made a new version of the film. He bought the rights to the movie, poured pop songs by Madonna and Queen all over it, added color, and let it run at the new standard 24 frames per second instead of the old speed of 18.

The result was a post-modern pop music video where characters and plot jump around illogically. Critics were, rightfully, appalled. Nonetheless, the "abuse" of this classic movie did have some positive side effects: it inspired a new, sincere and thoroughly researched restoration of the original film.

Now, Metropolis is coming back into German movie theaters, more than 84 years after the Berlin world premier on January 10, 1927. It opens with 30 copies nationwide, whereas a regular German movie usually opens with around 50 copies. Such high expectations are especially surprising as Metropolis 2.0 was already screened at the Berlinale festival and the Frankfurt Opera last year, and was broadcast on the German-French culture channel Arte.

But distributors remain confident that Metropolis still appeals to many people, not just the dedicated crowd who shivered in the freezing cold at the Berlinale open-air screening at Brandenburg Gate. Above all, the distributors want to attract young audiences that do not yet know the movie.

Movie brought producers to brink of bankruptcy

Metropolis, as film buffs know well, is a science fiction fairy tale from a distant mega-city, with skyscrapers for the ruling capitalists and an underworld of workers. A real Maria represents the goodness in humanity, while a fake machine-Maria symbolizes a part of the soul that can be easily seduced.

The poor humans are led to believe that both are the same. And the movie itself suffered a similar fate: viewers had to learn to distinguish between the real and the fake parts.

This did not begin with Moroder and the post-modern era, but just after the world premier. Fritz Lang was quick to spend a lot of money on his drama: the budget of 1.8 million Reichsmark swelled to an incredible six million. Lang did not just blow his budget, it took him one and a half years to finish the movie and he used up 380 hours of film, only a fraction of which appeared in the final edit.

While the movie boosted the career of everyone involved and inspired movie making with its visionary images and legendary tricks, it brought its production company, Ufa, close to bankruptcy.

Although it was later praised as a masterpiece and awarded world cultural heritage honors, Metropolis initially flopped at the box-office. Because of this, Americans edited the movie again. Shortened by a quarter, it told a completely different story using title cards. And because the German Ufa made a deal with Paramount to recover from its financial problems, four months later the American version made it back to German theaters.

Ten years ago, when people at the Berlinale celebrated the "world premier" of a restored Metropolis, the opening title card still stated that 25 percent of the movie had been irreversibly lost. Title cards or still images provided the lacking context. This was intended to make the whole piece more accessible to the audience, but instead it made it seem even more truncated.

And then the miracle happened. An un-mutilated copy of Metropolis was discovered by chance at the Buenos Aires film museum. It included 24 previously unseen minutes of film that had been presumed gone for good. But there was some bad news. Because the original nitrate film was easily inflammable, the 35-milimeter copies were transferred directly to a 16-milimeter reduction negative, damages and scratches included.

So the newly rediscovered images could not be restored as immaculately as the others, and the new sequences stand out from the rest.

It's difficult to believe how randomly the scenes had been cut. Not only had whole side strands of action been taken out and important supporting actors reduced to extras as a result, even exciting action scenes were missing, depriving the movie of a fair amount of its thrill and plot tension.

The current version is now missing just half a sequence and a few individual still images. Already, people are joking that in ten years, more bits and pieces of Metropolis could be found in old suitcases. But a second miracle will definitely not happen – and if it did, it wouldn't be as sensational as the first one. Now we can see the movie almost as the director originally intended, a version seen by just 15,000 audience members when it opened.

We are witnessing the reincarnation of a movie of the century. Not only have missing images been added, but the whole movie has been thoroughly reexamined. A newly recorded version of the original score by Gottfried Huppertz, indicating more than 1000 points of synchronicity, was used to study original parts of the movie.

The irony of the story is that it is thanks to Warner Studios in Hollywood that the movie is being re-released in Germany. One Hollywood studio was the main culprit for the maiming of Metropolis, and now another is taking part in its belated salvation.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - onelittlefish

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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