Studio:Kino Year: 1924-1925 Cast: Paul Richter, Margarete Schon, Theodor Loos, Hans Adelbert Schlettow, Hanna Ralph, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Georg John, Gertrud Arnold, Rudolf Rittner Director: Fritz Lang Release Date: November 06, 2012 Rating: Not Rated for (violence, brief nudity) Run Time: 04h:41m:54s Genre(s): silent
"The dragonslayer, son of Siegmund, entered the realm of the Nibelungen." - title card narration
This is an epic release in every sense of the word, from the history of the films to the scope of the storytelling to the elaborate restoration process.
Highly recommended, and a surefire addition to my 2012 "Best Of" list
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A+
The oft-told source material may be centuries old, but the silent 1924/1925 Fritz Lang double-bill has become the stuff of film legend all its own. Released in as many different forms as you can imagine (edited, re-edited, with sound, without sound, single orange tint, multiple color tints, original Gottfried Huppertz score, a Richard Wagner score, commandeered by the Nazis, etc) this two-disc Kino release carries what is the finest and most completely authentic version available. Prior to this set no complete German version existed, and the painstaking restoration has now given film audiences an exceedingly rare opportunity to see the complete Nibelungen saga as envisioned by Lang, crammed to the rafters with massive sets, elaborate costumes and inventive cinematography. The degree of influence both the story and especially Lang's film version had on future filmmakers and authors is seemingly evident, and it is impossible not to see elements (visual, narrative and otherwise) that could be seen in The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and Star Wars to name but a few.
Spread across nearly five hours Lang weaves a complex story of love, death, adventure, action and revenge:
Part One: Siegfried
The first film in Die Nibelungen is much more fantasy-based than the second. Not only does sword-forging golden boy Siegfried (Paul Richter) battle a dragon, but he encounters magic - including becoming invincible (almost), a "helmet" (more of a net, really) that makes the wearer invisible and a journey across a fiery lake. His arrival at the Burgundy Kingdom, ruled by the wishy-washy Gunther (Theodor Loos) is where Siegfried is eternally smitten by massively braided Kriemhild (Margarete Schon), who just happens to be the king's sister. Seeking approval, Siegfried follows Gunther demands to set forth to a neighboring land to bring back the man-hating Brunhild (Hanna Ralph) to be the new queen of Burgundy.
The first quarter of Siegfried has a dreamy Maxfield Parrish feel to it, and Lang stages some remarkable sequences - including animation - that are appropriately fantastic. The pivotal dragon battle - while obviously dated - represents a technical/mechanical achievement that many crappy films made decades later could never match or achieve. But it is the journey into the deep troll caves of the Nibelungen where Siegfried encounters a magical stone window and a ring of chained prisoners supporting a massive tray of treasure that elevate this first film into something truly special. The remainder of the film - with the exception of Siegfried's convenient invisibility - play along more traditional storytelling boundaries that setup the action for the second film, building on the actions of scene-stealing Hagen Tronje (Hans Adelbert Schlettow), King Gunther's grizzled black-clad/winged-helmed/one-eyed enforcer.
Part Two: Kriemhild's Revenge
Less fantasy-based but exponentially more action-packed, Kriemhild's Revenge picks up where Siegfried left off. Betrothed to the "Lord of the Earth" (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) emotionally devastated Kriemhild leaves the comfort of the Burgundy kingdom to travel to the savagery of the land of the Huns. It's a culture shock, but Kriemhild is driven solely by thoughts of vengeful redemption, and her transformation into a stoic Maleficent-eque presence is certainly one of the film's greatest visual elements. The entirety of Kriemhild's Revenge is based on - surprise - revenge and with her sights set on murder that would be more than enough to propel the narrative. But there's much more here, including frequent cast-of-thousand battle sequences, a roaring temple fire and enough death and destruction for ten films.
This is much darker in tone than Siegfried, and though the eventual confrontation between Tronje and Kriemhild appears to be destined, the way it occurs is almost unconventional. Lang expertly fills each frame with carefully constructed shots designed to showcase the elaborate sets, utilizing shadows and angles to great effect. Even for a film with no spoken dialogue Schon's performance here is superb, considering in much of Siegfried she was left with little to do to give her character any substance. Here she is the emotional focal point with a purpose, which she carries without effort, balanced only by the necessary villainy of Schlettow's Tronje. Where Siegfried could be enjoyed as a standalone, Kriemhild's Revenge requires having seen the first film to be fully invested in the epic carnage on display.
From a strictly technical standpoint this Kino release represents an amazing achievement in restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, and the ability to enjoy Lang's Die Nibelungen saga as it was originally intended is something no film geek should miss.
As no complete German version exists, the orange-tinted 1.33:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfers were assembled and restored from a number of different sources by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. To be fair, this wasn't as much a "simple" restoration as it was a complete revival/reconstruction. Restoration was done from incomplete camera negatives, and missing parts were supplemented with duplicate negatives and surviving international distribution prints. To help with the authenticity any black-and-white prints used in the restoration were colored in photochemical dye baths, a technique that was used in the 1920s. The result is a truly impressive, and though there are some understandable minor inconsistencies in image quality and some age-related print damage the overall experience is a first rate. Considering that Die Nibelungen - as presented here - literally no longer existed is certainly reason enough to be technically wowed by the quality of image on this release. As a plus, no evidence of compression or edge enhancement to be found, either.
Two audio choices - available in either DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 or PCM 2.0 stereo - deliver the original 1924 Gottfried Huppertz score reconstructed by Marco Jovic and Frank Strobel, and performed by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. While the PCM will certainly suffice it is recommended to opt for the DTS track if at all possible, which presents the grandeur of the Huppertz score with all of its groundbreaking cinematic bravado and intensity intact. This is not just a simple accompaniment to the onscreen story, this score is vitally essential; it's big, commanding and demands to be played loudly. I can't imagine what the Nazi party was thinking when they "repurposed" Siegfried in the 1930s and substituted Wagner's Ring Cycle for the one by Huppertz.
Kino has packaged this special edition with a side-open slipcase, with identical artwork to the inner case, where the two discs are housed one per panel. Supplements are found on disc two, and consist of a documentary, some behind-the-scenes footage and a BD-ROM essay. The Legacy of Die Nibelungen (01h:08m:36s) is the centerpiece, a detailed exploration of the film's history, its various incarnations, the restoration and the reconstruction of the original score. This is probably one of the finer docs I have encountered on a disc in awhile, and the level of coverage is a wonderful mixture of historical, scholarly and technical. Consider this doc required viewing once you have watched the two Lang films. The brief Fritz Lang On Set (01m:43s) is a excerpt from a German film entitled Film on Film, and it features newsreel footage of the director on the set. A BD-ROM essay on Die Nibelungen by film scholar Jan-Christopher Herak is also provided.