Scenario by: Thea von Harbou
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Starring: Paul Richter, Margarete Schon, Theodor Loos, Hanna Ralph, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Georg John
Die Nibelungen is Fritz Lang's incredible mythological masterpiece, which is based upon the epic Teutonic poem "Die Nibelungenlied" written around 1200 A.D. Modern day audiences will probably be familiar with the storyline of good vs. evil as presented in Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen operatic interpretation, but Lang's work has little in common with Wagner's opera other than using the same myths. Die Nibelungen is made up of two separate films, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge (aka Kriemhild's Rache), which were originally intended to be viewed back-to-back (the films have a combined running time of 186 minutes).
In Siegfried, the titles character (Paul Richter) is a young knight who slays an enormous dragon, Fafnir the Great, and subsequently bathes in the beast's blood. Fafnir's magical blood makes Siegfried invulnerable, except for one small spot on Siegfried's back which was covered by a leaf and fails to get treated. Soon after, the powerful Siegfried encounters and defeats Alberich, King of the Dwarves, and obtains an invisibility cap. Subsequently, Siegfried wins the love of the beautiful princess Kriemhild (Margarete Schon), but cannot marry her until he finds a way to marry Kriemhild's brother, King Gunther, to icy warrior Queen Brunhilde. With Siegfried's help, Gunther beats Brunhilde in a battle of strength, and everyone gets married. But the bitter, man-hating Brunhilde does not like the situation, and her ensuing treachery eventually leads to Siegfried's early demise.
Kriemhild's Revenge immediately picks up the action from the end of Siegfried. The now-widowed Kriemhild is off on a mission of vengeance against her uncle, Hagen Tronje, whom Brunhilde pushed into murdering Siegfried. In order to accomplish her revenge, Kriemhild marries King Attila, invites her family members over to her new home, and then has Attila's men go gleefully on a massacre.
Both films are beautifully shot and feature stunning production values and settings. Siegfried's battle with the giant live-action dragon in the first film is a high point in early cinematic spectacle and effects, and should not be missed (this fully-mechanical and life-size creation is an incredible technical achievement).
Image/Blackhawk have released both films together in a single package as part of Image's "The Silent Classics" collection, with each film appearing on its own platter. As the films are close to 70 years old, the source materials do exhibit a somewhat soft image, scratches, splices, muddy material and other stuff. Both films have also been windowboxed on all four sides to preserve the full image, but the banding is so incredibly slight that most of you won't even notice it.
Many recent silent films have been released on disc with their original color tinting electronically restored. Siegfried is one such film, and while we usually approve of the tinting restoration, it doesn't do much for Siegfried, turning it into a overly dark film with a picture lacking in detail. The CX-encoded digital surround stereo organ score by Gaylord Carter is nice; however, the stereo and surround encoded strangely go almost completely mono for most of side two (starting at 4m44s).
Unlike Siegfried, Kriemhild's Revenge hasn't been color tinted. The material has its flaws, but it is generally bright, strong, and in decent shape. In addition, the film contains title cards in both German and English. Gaylord Carter again supplied the CX-encoded digital surround stereo organ score, and it is fine.
The two-disc set was pressed at Sony and is Table of Contents encoded. Siegfried has 14 chapter markers, Kriemhild's Revenge has 13, and the jacket contains a full chapter index (except for #13, color bars, appearing on Kriemhild's Revenge).
Republic Home Video has also released their version Die Nibelungen saga as two separate discs, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge -- check out these other reviews for some enlightening comparisons between the Republic and Image versions.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Originally Published in "Pond
Original Review: 10/91
Last Updated: 08/07/97