Ach der lieber! Fans of German Expressionism around the world are saddened that Sam Esmail’s seven-year passion project, a serial adaptation of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” has been shelved. Expiration he confirms.
The series, from Universal Cable Productions (UCP), was preparing for production in Australia and was expected to be the biggest TV series ever filmed there. It was about to be streamed on Apple TV+, which ordered it a full series last year. “The drive costs and uncertainty associated with the ongoing strike have led to this difficult decision,” an UCP told Deadline.
“Metropolis” is just the latest victim of the ongoing WGA strike (and the possible SAG-AFTRA strike, once that union’s deal with the AMPTP ends on July 1): “P-Valley’s third seasons and “Yellowjackets” have been indefinitely delayed, as have the Disney+ show “Daredevil: Born Again” and season two of “Severance.”
Esmail has had a flurry of new shows in recent years: Since 2020 alone there has been US’s ‘Briarpatch’, Starz’s ‘Gaslit’ and Peacock’s ‘Angelyne’ and ‘The Resort’. But it’s undeniable that ‘Metropolis’ had the greatest potential for impact, reflecting the kind of big investment Apple TV+ has made in ‘Foundation’ and the upcoming third part of the ‘Band of Brothers’ trilogy, ‘Masters of the Brothers’ , with Austin Butler, “Masters of the Aria.”
When “Metropolis” premiered in Berlin in 1927, it was something completely original: a science fiction silent film with striking art (the robot Maria is an obvious influence on C-3PO from “Star Wars”), a rich allegory about class oppression and the gap between technological sophistication and human development, and a full symphonic score, with a full orchestra playing live below the screen. It was the most ambitious film its director Fritz Lang had attempted up to that point. Several film genres can be traced to Lang (Indiana Jones-style adventure in “The Spiders”, spy capers in “Sneak”, fantasy epics in “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, procedural thrillers with “M”) but none more clearly than science fiction -fi with “Metropolis”. Its futuristic cityscapes, skyscrapers lined up like canyons with intersecting elevated trains and zigzagging airships seemed to set the stage for the city on the planet Coruscant in the “Star Wars” movies.
“Metropolis” existed in an incomplete form for decades, its complete print thought lost. But around 2010, a complete print was rediscovered and released to the public via a Kino Lorber DVD.
Lang had many big hits after “Metropolis,” including in Hollywood, where he became a leading film noir director after fleeing Germany when the Nazis took over. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels wanted him to take over the German film industry, but, being Jewish and finding it repulsive to the Third Reich, he fled (and made some great anti-Nazi films in Hollywood). His wife, Thea von Harbou, whose 1925 novel was the basis for the film Metropolis, however, remained and served the Nazis after their divorce.
Losing “Metropolis” now is one of the strike’s biggest consequences for future schedules to date. One wonders if it’s a domino.