The Lorax and Metropolis

The Lorax and Metropolis

John Carter and Casa de mi Padre

These are the four films I haven’t reviewed yet. Maybe it was seeing all four in close succession, but I started thinking about how those films are all tied together. For a moment, I had it figured out.

In my head the films paired together in an interesting way, but now that I think about it it’s hard for me to pair all four films like that. The Lorax and Metropolis still share that thread I saw, but I had a thought for how to compare John Carter and Casa de mi Padre, and it has escaped me.

You might say, “Well obviously John Carter is supposed to go with Metropolis. Both are science fiction, and they originate from more comparable eras. They’re both pretty epic.” That’s true, and I would say they probably fit together well enough to pair them up. But that’s not as interesting to me as tying Metropolis with The Lorax. What stuck out to me watching the restored cut of Metropolis is the same thing that stuck out when I saw The Lorax. To me, that’s so interesting that I even came up with a way to compare John Carter with Casa de mi Padre. If only I could remember what that comparison was…

Maybe it’ll come to me, so instead I’ll start with The Lorax and Metropolis.

Once-ler holds The Lorax
That's right, both at the same time.

I’d be a poor student of cinema if I didn’t notice the significant influences Metropolis has had on all of science fiction cinema since its release. From Star Wars, to Blade Runner, to The Terminator, also less specifically the influence the German filmmakers in general had on American movies in the 40s and 50s, which would continue to influence movies to this day.

Skyscraper Matte Painting from Metropolis
Let me put it this way, even if you haven't seen this movie, you've seen this movie.

Put it another way, I’m aware of Metropolis. I had even seen it before, in school. I’ve now seen three different versions of Metropolis, and they’re all interesting in their own way. That is one of the things we lost with the coming of sound to motion pictures. Before pre-recorded sound, a movie sounded different every time it was shown. Every time time in every different place it was shown, it was a completely different movie. Depending on the organist, or orchestra, a movie was interpreted differently with every screening. I’m sure this aggravated a lot of filmmakers at the time, and it might have even been a bad experience for film-goers if they went to a theater with poor musicians on staff. As frustrating as I’m sure it was a lot of the time, it’s still interesting to think that you could see the same movie several times, and get something totally different from it each time.

The head and the hands need a heart or something
The head and the hands need a heart or something

That has been my experience with Metropolis. I first saw it in my film history class, as our last look at German expressionism. My professor, Mary Scott, was exceptionally passionate about film, especially silent films. (On an unrelated note, her favorite genre of film is women’s prison movies, and that’s just interesting). This professor showed us a bootleg VHS of a live performance of Metropolis, with a rock-and-roll soundtrack. Sometime later, in another class, I saw it again. This time it was the 1980’s Giorgio Moroder version, which was similar but highly inferior. Then, not a few weeks ago, I saw the ‘official’ restored version that was released last year with material from the Buenos Aires 16mm recovery.

Though it was similar every time, it was an entirely different film every time, because of the music as well as the restored footage found through the years. Will we ever experience a modern film this way? Probably not.

Workers at the Heart Machine
The bootleg version had the best music for this scene.

Music has become such an important part of the story that it tends to go too far. Especially in films for children. The Lorax had an…excessive amount of musical numbers. I don’t want to be prejudiced against musical numbers. Some of my favorite movies have musical numbers. Kids movies tend to be a little heavy on the songs, especially animated movies, but this isn’t automatically a bad thing. Last summer’s Winnie The Pooh was especially good. The Lorax, not so much. It had one truly good musical sequence, ‘How Bad Could I Be’ in the center of the film, which was really good both musically and visually.

The Once-ler gets ready to chop down a truffula tree
How bad could he be?

But never mind all that. I’ve paired these two movies together in this review, does that pairing hold up?

One thing that really stood out in the restored version of Metropolis, more than in any previous version I’d seen, was an inter-title at the beginning of the film. If you haven’t seen the film, it starts out in the upper-class, upper levels of this vast metropolis. We see how the people live at the top, with their fancy clubs–both for sport and pleasure. We meet Freder Fredersen, son of Joh Fredersen. Joh Fredersen is the plutocrat industrialist controller, and designer of this epic city, and naturally, his son gets to do whatever he wants. Shortly after we’re introduced to Freder, we see him enjoying this high class pleasure garden, with a gaggle of pretty ladies.

Freder in the Pleasure Garden
Looks like fun.

They’re interrupted when a young woman, who we learn later is named Maria, brings a bunch of the poor, working-class children from the industrial depths of the city. At least to Freder, this woman is the most attractive person he’s ever seen, and that’s saying something considering he’s in this playhouse full of pretty ladies. She informs the children that these people are their brothers and sisters, which I take to mean that they are all working together, at least in spirit. This inclines me to believe that Maria is not anti-business.

Maria brings kids to the pleasure garden
"How can we make this a win-win situation"

Suffice to say, Freder would probably believe anything this girl said if it meant he got to gaze at her more. Before he gets to introduce himself, however, the pleasure garden management shuns all these kids and Maria back to the elevator, to return to the depths from which they came. It’s too late, however, and Freder is infatuated with this Maria, and ventures down to the industrial levels in an attempt to find her again. But he doesn’t find her. Instead, as the inter-title I mentioned above makes explicit, he finds laborers, who he now considers his brothers, toiling at massive machines. He witnesses a horrific industrial accident, killing dozens of his ‘brothers.’

Moloch claiming the dead
These German expressionist films were subtle.

In other words, this film begins with a man chasing a girl, only to find something else more important. After witnessing this accident, Freder forgets all about Maria until he sees her again. This story element, which has been used countless times in any medium you can think of, is also used in the movie version of The Lorax. As it is put so succinctly on the Wikipedia page, “…what began as Ted’s desire to impress Audrey becomes a personal mission to remind his town of the importance of nature.”

Boy and Girl from The Lorax
Nothing good would ever happen if boys didn't want to schtup pretty girls.

That’s what really links these two movies together in my mind. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I think it’s a really cute idea. I’m attracted to the idea of a boy doing great things because he’s attracted to a girl. It’s a cute idea, and fictional. Emotionally, it’s satisfying. I can understand that kid’s impulse. I think the original teaser trailer for The Lorax was really good, emotionally. On the other hand, if I think about it a little harder, it’s kind of weak. Is it so hard to believe that a person can care about trees all on their own? Do they really need some girl to inspire them to learn more? Speaking of the girl, she was already interested in trees, why couldn’t she have gone to talk to the Once-ler and had an adventure? More so than the boy in The Lorax, Freder at least seems to genuinely care about the workers below once he learns what they go through, and that care is something he mostly came up with on his own, but he still is very much influenced by Maria throughout the film.

Freder at the machine
I think his heart is in the right place. Ultimately, that's his role after all.

Joh Fredersen, as well as Rotwang the inventor, are both driven by a shared love for the late Hel, and they use an image of Maria to corrupt minds throughout the metropolis. Also, the actress who plays Maria and the robot woman has another role, that of the angel of death. What is Metropolis trying to say about women?

Such drama

In The Lorax, interestingly, the boy’s grandmother is very influential, clever and wise. His mother, too, while more in line with the status quo of Thneed-vile, asserts herself adequately during her encounter with the antagonist, O’Hare.

Betty White
Seems like Betty White is in everything

Speaking of O’Hare, I’m not really sure why he’s 2 feet tall. The only other character that’s 2 feet tall is the Lorax. What are they trying to say? I think the ad at the beginning for the canned air is pretty hilarious though. Speaking of short people, this is an animated movie, why do you need to cast Danny DeVito as the Lorax?

Danny DeVito
That guy is seriously type-cast. Can't even play a big guy in a cartoon.

Nothing wrong with DeVito, I like him. I’m impressed to learn he is the voice of the Lorax in not just the American version, but in like 5 different languages. Who knew Danny DeVito was so versatile.

So how do I wrap this up?

Metropolis is a classic film worth everyone’s time. It’s got some anachronistic views on, well, everything, but it’s a pinnacle of silent filmmaking. There are very few things movies can do that this movie doesn’t do.

It's great

Using my iTunes rating system, I have to give it a 4 out of 5 stars. It’s almost too good to get 5/5. The major reasons it doesn’t get a 5 are because of its length (over 3 hours), and the other issues I mention above. I wouldn’t necessarily watch it every time it’s on, but when I’m mentally prepared to watch it, I will enjoy it. As should you.

Metropolis anime
Now I feel like watching the Metropolis anime. Haven't done that yet.

And The Lorax?

The Lorax tries to educate Once-ler
The Lorax is gonna go right up my nose

I’d have to give it a 3 out of 5. It’s not that bad, but it is overly long for a film like this. The musical numbers aren’t the worst I’ve ever heard, but they’re not the best either. This is not a book I even heard of before this movie came out (I was more of a Green Eggs and Ham kid), so there’s not a lot going for it. There are probably a few too many cute animals. It is pretty colorful, and visually interesting, but the character design is a little on the bland side. Still, if you have kids, I don’t see why they wouldn’t like it.







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