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By KAREN MARTIN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 14, 2012 at 1:53 a.m.

Fritz Lang The Early Works Die Nibelungen Kino Classics

— Fritz Lang didn’t start his career by making 1927’s Metropolis, arguably the most extraordinary silent film ever made. He began developing his style from 1919 to 1921 with three silent films that have seldom been seen in the U.S.

These films, released as a set by Kino Classics, don’t have the elegance or stunning imagery of Metropolis, nor the clarity of narrative. But Lang fans will enjoy ferreting out the filmmaker’s early experiments that evolve into the unique signature stamped on later, more accomplished productions.

Fritz Lang: The Early Works includes tragic romance Harakiri (1919, color tinted, 87 minutes), an adaptation of Madame Butterfly in which a young Japanese woman falls in love with an American Navy officer. Although the film lacks the storytelling coherence of his later work, the sets, costumes and customs are insistently Japanese - although it was filmed outside Berlin using European actors.

The second disc is The Wandering Shadow (1920,color tinted, 67 minutes), the first collaboration of Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou. Glowing with striking imagery, it concerns a woman who, in the aftermath of a sex scandal, seeks solitude - and the chance of redemption - in the Bavarian Alps.

Completing the set is Four Around the Woman (1921, color tinted, 84 minutes), which pits a seemingly ill-equipped socialite against four formidable men in a complicated network of blackmail, criminal and emotional intrigue. The film, showcasing a spectacular opening shot, had been lost for decades before an incomplete print was discovered in Brazil.

Craving more? Lang’s compelling 1924 epic Die Nibelungen, based on a Nordic legend, constructs a magical kingdom of dragons, trolls and heroes which disintegrates into a nightmarish saga of vengeance.

Scripted by Lang and von Harbou (who later collaborated on Metropolis), Die Nibelungen was originally released as two separate features.

The DVD release includes a new restoration, the original 1924 score, a documentary on the making and restoration of the film and newsreel footage of Lang on the set.

Other recent DVD releases:

The Bourne Legacy (PG-13, 135 minutes) presents a new hero in Jeremy Renner as targeted agent Aaron Cross, who doesn’t pack the charismatic punch of three-time predecessor Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. “The Bourne Legacy sends Cross all over the globe, but Damon’s mug shot, which routinely appears in the film, is a sad reminder that all the scenic backdrops in the world can get pretty dull if you don’t have a compelling figure like Bourne to occupy them,” says our critic Dan Lybarger.

Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG, 87 minutes) is the fourth film in the animated Ice Age franchise. It continues Scrat’s relentless pursuit of the elusive acorn, which this time around has world-changing consequences for Scrat (voice of Chris Wedge) as well as Manny (voice of Ray Romano), Diego (voice of Denis Leary) and Sid (voice of John Leguizamo).

Ted (R, 106 minutes) is a live-action/CG-animated comedy in which John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) must cope with a beloved teddy bear that comes to life following a childhood wish and just won’t go away. “Just as he has done for cartoons, Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane has made what could have been a children’s story safe for raunch,” says our critic Dan Lybarger. “Ted the teddy bear [voiced by MacFarlane] may be cute, but his antics are for the adults and the stunted adolescents in the audience. Toddlers might find MacFarlane’s politically incorrect wit a tad too sophomoric.” Karen Martin is a Little Rock based writer and critic. E-mail her at karenmartin18@gmail.com

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 12/14/2012

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