Dark City: Directors Cut (UK - BD RB)
Reviewer Marcus takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the cult sci-fi thriller
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in the bath of a small hotel room with no idea how he got there or what’s going on. He receives a mysterious phone call from a Dr Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) warning him that people are looking for him and he has to get away, so John takes the advice and runs into the city. He soon discovers that he may be implicated in a number of murders, is wanted by a police inspector (William Hurt) and a woman (Jennifer Connelly) claiming to be his wife is desperate to find him. John Murdoch is completely lost in a city that isn’t what it seems and he doesn’t even know the half of it.
You know when you get a new format and you buy loads of fresh out of the cinema movies to enjoy its new fangled loveliness and then when the format really starts taking off, studios start putting some effort into the older catalogue titles and you get that buzz that all of those movies you loved could finally look every bit as good as they deserve. Well Dark City is probably the first Blu-ray catalogue title release that genuinely has me excited. Yes, Blade runner was great, but I’ve never been the biggest of Blade Runner fans. Signs and Unbreakable were a joy, but maybe a little fresh in my mind and they just ported the same features across from the DVD (oh, and after watching The Happening I developed a severe case of the anti-Shyamalans). So when New Line finally announced the long rumoured, long delayed directors cut of Dark City, a movie that had just uncannily achieved my ‘why haven’t I seen that in movie in so long?’ status, I was finally genuinely excited about a back-catalogue title.
After a bit of a delay after New Line didn’t make the US release region free (grrr, can this whole region coding, just stop) I was happy to find that EIV were distributing it in the UK, so the pre-order was straight in. So, how did it fare? Was it as good as I’d remembered? Had the years been unkind to a movie that could very easily have aged for the worse? Well other than the terrible cover, I’m glad to say Dark City lived up to expectations.
Dark City is woefully under-appreciated. It’s classic sci-fi of the highest order that has somehow made it out of the Hollywood system largely untouched. It takes visuals from classics such as Metropolis and Nosferatu, yet still manages to retain its own identity and because of all this, Dark City has a generated a small but loyal fan-base who’ve been clamouring for this Directors Cut from Alex Proyas for ten years. At its release in 1998, it was dealing with many of the same issues that The Matrix would tackle a year later and despite Dark City’s smaller scale, it managed to be more rewarding in one movie than The Matrix did in three.
So, was it worth the wait? There are very little in the way of changes and the changes that there are, are subtle and make the experience a slicker one. The biggest change of all is the one that’s been bugging fans (and Proyas himself) since the original release, the ‘this is what’s happening’ opening voiceover. It’s gone and immediately you notice the difference. You are now, as intended, lured into this tale. You are as lost as Murdoch and every reveal that comes at you, feels like you are stepping into something even more intriguing because of it.
Dark City still remains a visual delight and never more so than on this Blu-ray release. The level of detail in the movie is astonishing, the use of the well-crafted sets and how they are lit is still staggering to look at and the overall look and feel of the movie stands out against a lot of the glossier sci-fi flicks of the 90s. If anything, Dark City feels more modern and current than it did in 1998, despite some minor issues with the special effects of ten years ago.
With a stunning 2.35:1 presentation, Dark City looks astonishing. It was always a good DVD transfer, but Blu-ray obviously has the power to do even better. The lighting is just everything a Dark City fan could ask for and the colours are so much more vibrant than previous releases—everything comes to life. The blacks and shadows even look fantastic, which the original DVD release struggled with, by having that strange greenish-tint.
That said there are still areas of grain that crop up from time to time—nothing that takes away from the presentation, but they are still there and don‘t go unnoticed. All in all though, this is the visual I was after for Dark City and there is nothing that I can really complain about. Skin tones look great, Murdoch’s ‘tuning’ abilities look fantastic, especially the effect in his eyes and in all, there’s little to fault with this transfer.
This is a nicely balanced sound mix, using all of the speaker channels very effectively to immerse you into the mood the film. Audio sometimes suffers when going from comfortably loud to a little over the edge in the bigger moments of score, but when countered with the fine use of smaller sounds, such as the retractable syringes and the noises that some of the bad-guys make, this is all much of a much-ness and probably more of a personal gripe than an actual issue. This is a solid mix for a movie that uses music to help tell its story. In fact I don’t think I’d ever been as aware of the almost constant sound of wind or air in the first half of the movie before, but I really felt it on this viewing and in many ways it felt as if it wove itself into the ‘big reveal’ as the sound effects there seemed to echo it. Obviously this is open to interpretation, but see what you think.
What we have here is exactly what we should all expect from a Blu-ray movie release. Not only do they port most of the original DVD features (thankfully ditching the god awful DVD game of the original release)—including the two fantastic commentaries, the first from Proyas and the key players in his crew and the second from film critic Roger Ebert which in itself is a classic commentary that adds so much more insight into what Dark City is to a fan—they also throw in the text based features from the DVD featuring Neil Gaiman’s review of Dark City and the comparisons to Metropolis.
All of the original features are located within the theatrical cut’s menu selection and the new stuff is in its own director's cut menu (this sounds impressive, but it’s essentially the same menu for both, just with the different selections). What the new stuff includes, however, is what really makes this purchase essential. There’s three commentaries from the same contributors as before on the extended version, a great little fact track that highlights what’s new to the director’s cut as well as some trivia and a production gallery of eighty images.
With the added features so far this might be beginning to sound like every other half-assed upgrade to Blu-ray from DVD but it really isn’t; The documentary (1hr 22 mins) is where it starts to become that ‘Essential Purchase’ I mentioned as it covers pretty much everything to do with Dark City. Split into three sections (Introduction, Memories of Shell Beach and Architecture of Dreams) this provides a fantastic insight into the movie. I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown pretty tired of most features of late, they are always out to sell the movie and rarely go into any real detail beyond how many layers of CGI work goes into making a shot look real and there’s only so much of that I can take after a while. This documentary is the exact opposite to all of that. This, for me, goes up with the likes of the fantastic Jaws documentary or the recent Blade Runner one (though nowhere near as indulgent as the latter). It’s totally a feature made to talk about the movie, with director, writers, and the main star all involved, though sadly there’s no sign of Kiefer, William or Jennifer. Thankfully, everyone that is involved seems like they don’t have anything to hide about the entire production and still include details about the absentees.
There are stories about how they nearly had Depp and how everything froze when ‘Cruise might want to get involved’ whispers got out. There’s some fantastic insights from one of the screenwriters, Lem Dobb’s about the process of screenwriting as well as how this translates to Dark City. The same goes for David Goyer who obviously loved how Dark City turned out. Proyas is pretty frank about his feeling on the movie and just how much he wanted this to get made and seeing Roger Ebert gush about a movie that I too adore, is just a joy, even if he seems to have a lot more high-brow reasons than me.
Oh and if that wasn’t enough, there’s still a last segment that has discussions with Proyas, Lem Dobbs, a teacher who uses the film in her courses and a few others giving detailed accounts of what specific influences were used to make Dark City and how it reflects modern life. It’s pretty damn sweet.
This set of special feature is one of the best I’ve seen for a while, it has hindsight on its side, which very few features tend to take advantage of. Seeing everyone talk about Dark City as a movie that’s had time to bleed into the movie-watching public’s subconscious (well maybe it’s core audience’s anyway) and treating it with a sense of significance, is just enough to make any Dark City fan happy.
This new Dark City release didn’t let me down. Watching it again just made me wonder why it doesn’t get more love. It’s full of great actors giving great performances in a story that is focused and well realised despite its scale. The features are fantastic, though after the re-watch of the movie I was a little disappointed there was no input from Kiefer, considering how different and memorable this role was for him, but his absence certainly didn’t take away from the overall effect.
Dark City still as great as it’s always been and now it’s finally been backed with an Directors cut as well as some fantastic special features. If you already own the DVD, the extra features alone make this well worth the double-dip, but add to that the great looking and sounding HD transfer and this release can be nothing but highly recommended.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 4th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English
Extras: Theatrical & Directors Cut, Documentaries: Introduction by Alex Proyas, Memories of Shell Beach, Architecture of Dreams, Production Gallery, Text Essays, Neil Gaimen's review of Dark City, Five Audio commentary tracks featuring Director Alex Proyas, Writers Lem Dobbs and David S Goyer, Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski, Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos and Film Critic Roger Ebert
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O'Brian
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Film-Noir, Mystery, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 111 minutes
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