Die Nibelungen: DVD, Blu-ray Featured

Monday, 29 October 2012 16:09
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Die Nibelungen on Blu-ray and DVDMade in 1924, “Die Nibelungen” is a set of two silent, black and white films by Austrian director Fritz Lang. The fantasy plot is based on a poem written in 1200 AD, the story of which was also the basis for part of Richard Wagner’s epic, 19th Century Ring Cycle opera. This release heralds the meticulous restoration of the material, piecing together sequences from various sources to produce the most complete and authentic edition possible.

The story tells of Siegfried, a chiselled warrior who slays a dragon and gains near invincibility from its blood. He wishes to marry Kriemheld, the beautiful daughter of King Gunther of Burgundy, but first must impersonate the King and beat the subject of his ardor in three trials of strength. The false act is exposed and one of the King’s vassals, Hagen Tronje, murders Siegfried on the pretence of protecting the kingdom. Kriemheld flees, marries Attila the Hun and manipulates him to seek vengeance against Hagen.

That is a very brief summary of the plot, which includes all the love, hate, war, tragedy, magic and occasional humour that you could wish for, much like a Shakespearian play. As the two films are silent, a rich orchestral soundtrack by Gottfried Huppertz plays throughout, and although sections of it are repeated quite frequently they never become stale. There is minimal dialogue in the sense of subtitles, and the stylised, operatic acting rarely fails to convey the meaning of each silent exchange.

The two parts are each broken down into seven ‘canto’ or chapters, each of which helpfully gives a summary of the action about to take place. They set the scene but never spoil the development of the story, which is fairly predictable anyway. The first half, subtitled ‘Siegfried’ is much more fantastical and like a fairytale, whereas the second half, ‘Kriemheld’s Revenge’, is more concerned with the fallout of Siegfried’s murder, political intrigue and large-scale battles.

I found myself joyfully swept along by this film; I was initially a bit daunted by the combined five-hour running time, but in truth it passes effortlessly thanks to the mastery of the story telling and production. The sets, locations and costumes are all majestic, and the scale of the battle scenes towards the end is very impressive.

My two favourite moments were firstly Siegfried’s action-packed confrontation with the dragon (ingeniously controlled and animated by seven burly men according to the accompanying documentary), and secondly a fierce, exhausting and emotionally-charged castle siege in part two. Fritz Lang’s film may be almost ninety years old now but in many respects it still feels fresh and cutting-edge. It must really have stunned audiences in the 1920s!

Special features include:

  • Long-awaited expert HD restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Germany
  • Immaculately presented in the film's original frame rates and aspect ratio, in 1080p on the Blu-ray
  • Stereo and 5.1 audio options
  • Newly translated optional English subtitles for the original German intertitles
  • “The Heritage of Die Nibelungen” - an hour-long documentary
  • Illustrated booklet featuring the words of Lang, rare archival imagery, and more

 

The documentary covers an array of interesting details about the movie such as the grueling production schedule, the wonderful music by Huppertz, the international distribution and treatment of it (all sorts of edits and modifications were carried out), the appropriation of the movie for Nazi propaganda and the painstaking restoration work done for this release. The HD picture is on a par with that witnessed in “Metropolis”, another Lang classic, which is to say it is impressively sharp and detailed for such an old film. Of course there is still some visible damage and shimmer but it is inconsequential.

“Die Nibelungen” (1924) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray (both two-disc sets), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 281 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £19.99 on DVD, £22.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Monday, 29 October 2012 16:13

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