Die Nibelungen

(Germany, 1924, 300 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
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Screening in two parts with an extended intermission.

The two-part, five-hour Die Nibelungen is a courageous and hallucinatory work, a film in which every single shot might alone endure as an exemplar of visual art. Its extraordinary set-pieces, archetypal themes, and unrestrained ambition have proven an inspiration for nearly every fantasy cycle that has emerged on-screen since – from Star Wars to The Lord of the Rings.

In Part One, Siegfried, the film’s eponymous hero acquires the power of invincibility after slaying a dragon and bathing in the creature’s blood. Later, an alliance through marriage between the hero and the royal clan of the Nibelungen turns treacherous, with Siegfried’s sole weakness exploited. In Part Two, Kriemhild’s Revenge Siegfried’s widow travels to the remote land of the Huns to wed the monstrous Attila, and thereby enlist his forces in an act of vengeance that culminates in massacre, conflagration, and, under the auspices of Lang, one of the most exhilarating and terrifying end-sequences in all of cinema.

Adapted from the myth that served as the basis for Wagner’s Ring cycle (though not an adaptation of the operas themselves), Lang’s picture employs its own counterpoint through a systematic, viral series of deranged geometrical patterns and the arresting, kabuki-like quality of the actors’ performances. The result is a film of startling expressionistic power, and a summit of Fritz Lang’s artistry to rank beside Metropolis.

This edition is mastered in HD from the extensive 35mm restoration conducted by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, completed in 2012, and featuring a recent recording of the original 1924 score. Screening in two parts with a 40 minute intermission.

"It’s too-faint praise to claim thatDie Nibelungen is The Lord of the Rings of its time (J.R.R. Tolkien was apparently inspired by the Nibelungenlied, too), but that gives you some sense of all the scope, innovation, rousing razzle-dazzle, human emotion writ large, and cinematic virtuosity on proud display here. It’s a huge, action-packed spectacle to rival those concocted by DeMille and Griffith, but with access to the bold, harsh, glacially-gleaming, tragically doomed finality of Northern-European myth. Once it’s over, you’ll be exhausted, emotionally drained, and already looking forward to the time you can experience the whole intensely involving, transporting, and devastating dream/nightmare once more." Christopher McQuain, DVD Talk