Before Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings trilogy, before Dragonslayer, Conan the Barbarian and Harryhausen's Sinbad movies, there was Die Nibelungen. Crafted by the legendary Fritz Lang, this 1924 silent classic is the father of all epic fantasies, a must-see film for any serious fan of the genre.
Newly released on DVD, Die Nibelungen has been returned to its former glory, with over 100 minutes of additional footage and a new soundtrack based on the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. At five hours, the film is divided into two segments: Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge.
With a script by Lang's wife, actress Thea von Harbou--who collaborated with him on his better known masterpiece--Metropolis, Die Nibelungen is a complicated, meticulous tale of heroism, love, honour, betrayal and revenge, set in medieval Germany.
Siegfried is the son of King Siegmund of the Netherlands (Nibelungen). He sets out with a magic sword to the court of King Gunther (located in the city of Worms) to seek the hand of the princess Kriemhild. On the way he encounters and kills a dragon, bathing himself in the it's blood to render his body invulnerable. However, a leaf lands on his back, preventing the blood from covering that spot, a la Achilles and his heel. Next, he finds a magic cloak that makes him invisible and extraordinarily strong.
When he reaches Worms, King Gunther declares that Siegfried must complete a quest before he can marry Kriemhild. The quest is to help Gunther claim Brunhild, Queen of Iceland, for marriage, by besting her in a series of contests. Using his magic, Siegfried is successful. However, he gains the enmity of Hagan, half-brother to Gunther, and eventually Brunhild when she learns she's been tricked. Ultimately the secret of Siegfried's weak spot is revealed and he is murdered by Hagen.
The title of the second film, Kriemhild's Revenge, sums up the plotline. Siegfried's widow plots vengeance on the men who murdered her husband, resulting in a path of destruction that witnesses the clash and annihilation of entire armies.
The restoration of the film by Kino International is outstanding, given its age and difficult reinsertion of the old, missing footage. The new soundtrack is crisp and powerful. The DVD comes with a slew of extras, once again quite an amazing feat due to the age of the film.
Aside from the extraordinary set design and innovative camera work, I have to mention Siegfried's encounter with the dragon. This is a truly incredible scene, made all the more poignant given the year the film was released. The dragon was manipulated by seventeen people, and rivals anything up until the advent of stop-motion animation and CGI. It's almost worth the cost of the DVD alone.
Die Nibelungen is one of those rare masterpieces that transcends cinema, a truly great film. Do yourself a favour and get it.