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One of the greatest artistic and technical achievements of the German silent cinema, Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen is a passionate retelling of Nordic legend, invested with all the resources of the colossal Ufa Studios.
For more about Die Nibelungen and the Die Nibelungen Blu-ray release, see Die Nibelungen Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on November 7, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Gertrud Arnold, Margarete Schön, Theodor Loos, Hans Carl Mueller, Erwin Biswanger, Bernhard Goetzke
Director: Fritz Lang
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Die Nibelungen Blu-ray Review
Here be dragons...and dwarves...and magic...and proto-fantasy filmmaking of the highest order.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, November 7, 2012
Three years before director Fritz Lang delivered a hypothetical sci-fi view of Germany's future in his iconic Metropolis, he looked back on the teutonic nation's mythic past with Die Nibelungen, a fantastical five-hour epic split into two parts. Made during the middle of the Weimar Republic—that unstable political period between the end of WWI and the rise of the Nazi Party—the film was at least partially intended to bolster national spirits by celebrating traditional German lore. Co-written by Lang's then-wife Thea von Harbou—later, a Nazi sympathizer who remained in Germany when Lang fled to America—the story draws from Das Nibelungenlied, a 2,400-stanza poem of the 12th or 13th century that had been previously adapted numerous times, most famously by Richard Wagner for his operatic Ring Cycle.
The tale was familiar to German audiences, and the Ufa production company—hoping to compete with the large-scale motion pictures coming out of Hollywood at the time—set out to make the grandest retelling yet, giving Lang an enormous budget and full use of its massive studio at Neu- Babelsberg. The result is one of the silent era's most impressive spectacles, laying the groundwork for future cinematic fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings—J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by the original norse versions of the germanic legends—and even Star Wars. The large-scale battles, the special effects wizardry, the archetypal characters—all are here in Die Nibelungen, which the has been recently restored in high definition by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation.
The first part, Siegfried, is concerned with the adventures of the titular character (Paul Richter), an Aryan posterchild with long, wavy blond hair and a ripped physique. (We'll get to the Nazi Party's appropriation of the film in a second.) Son of King Siegmund of Xanten, Siegfried has been sent to apprentice with the master swordsmith Mime, an apish teacher who's envious that his student's abilities have surpassed his own. When Siegfried asks directions to the Kingdom of Burgandy—he intends to wed Princess Kriemhild (Margarete Schön)—Mime sends him on a dangerous path through the Wood of Woden, where he runs afoul of a smoke-fuming dragon. The leviathan looks a bit goofy now, but in its day it was a feat of engineering, requiring seventeen puppeteers to operate. Siegfried slays the beast and—at the urging of a bird our hero can somehow understand— bathes in its blood, affording him invincibility. There's only one problem; while taking this sanguinary shower, a lime leaf lands on Siegfried's back, keeping the blood from doing its magical work on this one particular, still-vulnerable spot. Like Achilles' heel, Siegfried's shoulder will be his undoing.
En route to Burgundy, our teutonic hero also defeats Alberich, King of the Nibelung Dwarves, gaining a hoard of gold and an invisibility cloak in the process. Both come in handy, the gold as a dowry for Kriemhild's hand, and the cloak in a quest that Siegfried must complete before taking the princess as his bride. The weakling King Gunther (Theodor Loos) is in unrequited love the with the unmarried warrior queen of Iceland, Brunhild (Hanna Ralph), who demands that any suitor must best in her three battle challenges. Gunther's advisor Hagan von Tronje (Hans Adalbert Schlettow)—the primary villain of the epic—demands that Siegfried take Gunther's place and pass Brunhild's tests, using trickery and mistaken identity. It works—Siegfried and Gunther each marry their respective love interests—but Brunhild's suspicions lead to series of lies and jealousies, ending in Siegfried's fated, no-spoiler- alert-required demise at the end of Hagan's spear.
Though tragic, the first film is all magic and fantasy and wonder—gnomes turning into stone, a sleeping dragon, an animated dream sequence with crows attacking a dove—while the second movie, Kriemhild's Revenge, skews comparatively darker and more grimly realistic, a tale of vengeful bloodlust and longwinded medieval politicking. (Think Game of Thrones instead of Lord of the Rings.) When loyalty prevents Gunther from killing Hagan—who has also stolen the princess' dowry of Nibelung gold—Kriemhild marries none other than asiatic warlord Attila the Hun (Rudolph Klein-Rogge), whose vassal Ruediger (Rudolph Rittner) has sworn to help her get retribution for Siegfried's death. Kriemhild invites Gunther and the wary Hagan to celebrate the winter solstice in Hun territory—they arrive with their armies—and of course war breaks out between the Huns and the Burgundians. Short on the graceful mythicism of Siegfried, Kriemhild's Revenge goes for all-out martial bombast, staging one huge-scaled battle sequence after another, complete with hundreds of extras and horses. The narrative climax is a raging palace fire that traps Gunther and his nefarious aide, a sequence that's as terrifying and violent as it is visually arresting.
As in Metropolis, Lang's refined sense of mise-en-scene dominates the viewing experience; the story pales next to the cinematography and stately compositions, impressive both for the scale of the sets and the meticulousness of the arrangements. Lang's shadow looms large over "genre" cinema; he's the granddaddy of noir, the progenitor of high-concept science fiction, and here, a proto-Peter Jackson, delivering an epic fantasy story in action-packed installments. If there's a taint to Die Nibelungen's reputation, it's that Siegfried—with its national pride and Aryan heroics—was co-opted by the Nazis in the 1930s, truncated, and reworked into propaganda. This naturally infuriated the half-Jewish Lang, who refused an offer from Joseph Goebbels to lead Ufa Studios and instead fled to Paris and eventually the U.S., where he had a long and prolific Hollywood career. Image—in Lang's films—trumps ideology, and today we can once again see Die Nibelungen for the imaginative and ambitious work of fantasy filmmaking that it is.
Die Nibelungen Blu-ray, Video Quality
Before either film begins, a disclaimer appears onscreen, detailing the restoration process:
"Despite its rich history and reputation, no complete, German version of Die Nibelungen exists today, neither in the form of original distribution prints nor camera negatives. This photochemical restoration is derived from incomplete camera negatives. Missing parts were supplemented with various dupe negatives and surviving distribution prints. The tinting follows the color scheme of the original prints and utilizes the authentic photochemical method: the creation of a black and white print, which is then colored in a dye bath. The German intertitles were digitally restored, taken from preserved prints and negatives. Reconstructed titles are indicated with the logo of the Murnau foundation. For the HD mastering, the picture was corrected in some places and severe film damage was digitally repaired."
Considering the fact that this new print was apparently cobbled together from several sources, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of Die Nibelungen looks fairly consistent in clarity and tonality. There are a handful of shots that were obviously taken from lower quality materials—16mm dupes, probably—but these are rare and fleeting and mostly occur in the second part. On the whole, the picture is wonderfully preserved. Print damage is noticeable throughout—specks and vertical scratches and light staining—but never to the extent of becoming a distraction, particularly if you're used to watching silent films. It's clear that the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung put a lot of work into the digital restoration. (Although not quite as much work as they did with the Metropolis remaster.) Grain is still natural-looking, no obvious edge enhancement has been performed, and there are no apparent compression issues. The level of clarity fluctuates somewhat from scene to scene, but fine detail is usually visible, and if you've seen the film(s) before, you'll definitely appreciate the intricate costume/set design even more here. The originally specified orangish/bronzed tinting complements the storybook quality of the epic tale, and contrast is handled well too, although there are some fluctuations due to print age/damage. It's probably no exaggeration to say that this is the best Die Nibelungen has looked since it was appropriated by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Die Nibelungen Blu-ray, Audio Quality
For a large-scale production, an equally large-scale score. Recorded by the HR-Sinfonieorchester and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, this recreation of the long-lost original film music by Metropolis composer Gottfried Huppertz might not have the hard Germanic sturm und drang of Wagner's Ring Cycle—which the Nazi's used when they rereleased Siegfried in the 1930s—but it's much more appropriately cinematic, with twinkling, magical-sounding motifs that recall future fantasy-epic accompaniment, like John Williams work on Star Wars. When called for, the music sounds huge here, spread throughout each channel of the default lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. A Linear PCM 2.0 stereo mix-down is also included, but if you've got a capable home theater setup, stick with the immersive multi- channel track. Note that removable white subtitles are provided for the German gothic-script intertitles.
Die Nibelungen Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Die Nibelungen Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Before The Lord of the Rings, before Game of Thrones, before Star Wars, there was Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, a two- part, five-hour fantasy epic that undeniably helped set the visual and dramatic tone for the genre. Though it isn't as well-known as Lang's following film, Metropolis, it's just as grand in scale, featuring innovative special effects for its time and some remarkably enormous battle sequences. Kino's new Blu-ray set is pretty epic too, featuring a gorgeous new high definition remaster of both films, a recreated mix of the original orchestral music, and an hour-long documentary about the project's production and legacy. Highly recommended!
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Die Nibelungen Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Kino Lorber's November 2012 Blu-ray Slate - August 17, 2012
Independent film distributor Kino Lorber has issued its Blu-ray slate for November 2012. Releases are arranged through Kino's branches Kino Classics and Redemption Films. The November titles include Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, a collection of four films by Pete ...
Die Nibelungen Blu-ray Screenshots
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