Blade Runner, Star Wars & Tezuka: How Metropolis Inspired a Generation
Film, Mar 26, 2022
Fritz Lang's Metropolis is one of the most important films of all time and a pioneer in the sci fi genre. The art direction takes cues from German Expressionism and Art Deco, then pushes the aesthetics even further. With old world European architecture and futuristic structures that reach miles into the sky, Metropolis is a visual spectre and artists are still drawing inspiration from it today.
The film depicts a highly stylized futuristic metropolis in which an educated utopia exists just above a desolate underground populated by exploited workers. When an affluent young man called Freder learns the deplorable situation beneath the city, he becomes determined to assist the laborers. He meets Maria, a renegade teacher, and this puts him at odds with his capitalist father. Meanwhile, a prototype for a mechanical worker is developed to replace human labor.
The Message of Metropolis
is interested in broad cultural and political themes that are emblematic of their era, as well as timeless experiences to which future generations can still connect. Social concerns serve as a reflection on Germany's political environment at the time, as well as a warning of where the country was headed in the future. In only five years time, Hitler would become chancellor of Germany and the Nazi reign of terror would engulf Europe for the next decade.
Timeless themes of the human condition and labor are explored. Metropolis
tackles the age-old question of what it means to be human. With the development of the mechanical worker, the audience wonders how humans differ from robots as well as how they relate. Automation is meant to relieve people of their labor, but with only a handful of individuals reaping the wealth, it is robbing people of even more.
Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, released in 1982. Miniatures and matte paintings were used to create the film's visuals. Critics praised Blade Runner for its extraordinary aesthetic appeal. Set in 2019 Los Angeles, the film imagines a world where media is at the heart of everything and ads rule society-- and it doesn't look very different from the present day.
Thematically, both films address the value of human labor and what it means to be human. Set in a futuristic environment, both films feature a female robot as the core of the plot. They were also created in reaction to current events of their time. Visually, Blade Runner also takes many cues from its predecessor.
According to the author of The Making of Blade Runner, visual effects supervisor David Dryer used stills from Metropolis when lining up shots of Blade Runner's miniatures. When comparing the images above, the inspirtation becomes obvious.
Had it not been for Metropolis
's Maschinenmensch, CP30 might not have existed at all. Star Wars, with its extensive use of miniature sets and special effects, may not have existed without its forerunner. And if it did, it would very certainly look quite different.
Tezuka's original manga features an artificial humanoid Mitchi being hunted by antagonists Duke Red and his Red Party. Mitchi, who has the ability to fly and change sex, is a powerful force which the team seeks to exploit. Shunsaku Ban and his nephew Kenichi locate Mitchi after her inventor is assassinated. When writing, Tezuka states that the only inspiration he took from the film was a still shot depicting the birth of the female robot.
More aspects from Fritz Lang's Metropolis appear in the 2001 anime adaptation. In addition to using the original film's set designs, the anime emphasizes the class conflict in a dystopian, plutocratic society and explores the connection of robots with their human masters. Tima, the robot in the anime, yearns to be human and this is explored through her relationship with Kenichi. Tima has a fixed gender and cannot fly, appearing far more human than Mitchi who possesses a destructive rage.
Metropolis continues to impact the sci fi genre, both visually and in its storytelling style. With its elaborate sets and futuristic vision, Metropolis transformed the realm of cinematic design.