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Die Nibelungen [Masters of Cinema] [UK] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p/24 (24Hz)
  • Audio Codec: German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/16-bit), DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/16-bit)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles Color: White
  • Region: B (Region-Locked)
  • Certification: PG
  • Run Time: 281 Mins.
  • Discs: 2 (2 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: BFI
  • Blu-ray Release Date: October 29, 2012
  • RRP: £20.42

Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Film

[Rating:4.5/5]


From the epic poem Nibelungenlied, best known in its operatic incarnation as Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen, a two-part, five-hour long cinematic epic breaks from the shadows of Wagner to create its own sweeping rendition of the classic fantasy. Written in part by Lang’s then wife Thea von Harbou, the film’s two parts Siegfried and Kriemhilds Rache (Kriemhild’s Revenge) are filled with heroics, action, avarice, intrigue, romance, jealously, and stunning visuals the scope of which would influence fantasy in cinema as far forward as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and The Dark Crystal.

More a direct retelling rather than a variation on Wagner’s work, Die Nibelungen begins with the tale of Siegfried (Paul Richter) who masters the art of sword forgery on the workshop of the smith Mime (George John). Learning of the beautiful princess Kriemhild (Margarete Schoen), Siegfried sets out for Burgund to win her hand, but along the way he encounters the mighty dragon Fafner that he slays, giving him the ability to understand birdsong. From the birds he learns that bathing in the dragon blood will make him invulnerable and strong, so he bathes in the blood of Fafner, but a leaf falls onto his shoulder blade leaving one spot vulnerable. Finally back on his way to Burgund Siegfried has a run in with a Nibelungen whom he swindles out of a vast treasure and kills. Meeting Kriemhild and taken with her beauty, Siegfried is convinced to help the King of Burgund Gunther (Theodor Loos) win the hand of the mighty Virgin Queen Brunhild (Hanna Ralph) and the two orchestrate a great deception to defeat her three times in battle. Still not convinced, Brunhild refuses to consummate the marriage, so Gunther convinces Siegfried to pose as him and force Brunhild into submission again. But later an altercation between Kriemhild and Brunhild draws out a confession about the deception from Kriemhild and Brunhild demands that Siegfried be killed to atone for forcing himself upon her and stealing her purity. It is a lie, but with Gunther shamed, he breaks his promise with Siegfried, coaxing the secret of his weak spot from Kriemhild, and a conspiracy is launched to kill him. Overcome by guilt, Brunhild kills herself at Siegfried’s feet while Kriemhild demands the heads of those responsible for her husband’s death.

Part two shifts focus becoming less majestic and far more horrific as Kriemhild launches a scheme to avenge her husband’s death. Traveling into the dark lands of the Huns to marry the conqueror Attila and gain his help in killing the men who killed Siegfried. The second part is a series of epic battles, grand effects, and a magnificently tragic finale.

Even despite its departure from Wagner, one can’t help but find this epic film operatic in scope, from the lavish romantic score to the cutting edge visual effects that are so much a part of Lang’s work, Die Nibelungen can so easily be a “voiceless opera,” of you will, or a tone poem. It’s mythic proportions, especially in Siegfried, were so easily co-opted, rather unfortunately, by the Nazi regime, despite the feelings of Lang himself. They took the character of Siegfried as the paragon of Germanic heroism, despite, even in Lang’s film, the fact that Siegfried is a fatally flawed man, doomed from the start, full of greed, lust, and weakness. Never mind that they overlooked the entire second part of the film that is set off by rather despicable events — a near rape of Brunhild, the inability to keep secrets, Gunther’s inability to keep an oath with Siegfried, and finally Kriemhild, in part two, eventually descending into the “darkness” of the world of the Huns to kill her own family. It really doesn’t get much more operatic and less fit for Nazi propaganda than this.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

This restoration is licensed from Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (FWMS)/Transit Film by Eureka Entertainment for this Masters of Cinema series release. It appears on Blu-ray in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio in an AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement and for the very first time has been restored to something very close to its originally intended length. It does still have an orange tint applied to its black and white image and the booklet has an interesting write up on the argument on black and white versus color tinting concerning Lang’s work. Restored from original camera negative nitrites with missing frames replaced with duplicate prints and other sources, there are vast portions of this restoration that look splendid given the film’s age and provenance. Poor frames with heavy damage like scratching, bad contrast, and awful detail are unavoidable in a restoration such as this, but it hardly hampers the overall effect of having this film in its entirety.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The new recording of the original score from Gottfried Huppertz is offered in stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz/16-bit). The 5.1 track is lavash and dynamically recorded with natural sounding instrumentation, excellent separation, and strong amounts of ambience in the surround channels. It is truly the best way to immerse yourself in this fantastical adventure. The stereo mix sounds good as well, but isn’t anywhere near as involving as the 5.1 version.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:4/5]

The hour-long documentary and in-depth booklet are filled with fascinating details on the film.

The supplements:

  • The Heritage of Die Nibelungen – New one-hour documentary on the production and restoration of the film
  • Booklet: 56-page booklet with new and vintage writing, rare archival stills, and more!

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:4/5]

If there are any readers out there thinking that silent films cannot be rousing, then Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen will most definitely change your mind. Every frame is majestic, every intertitle card poetic, and every note of the lush, romantic score from Huppertz evocative. This one is every bit as necessary as Metropolis.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
[Rating:4/5]
The Film
[Rating:4.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:4/5]


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