Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
"Dark City" is a darkly attractive and ingenious piece of cinematic history that unfortunately made very little impact at the Box Office.  I have to admit missing its release and hadn’t even heard of the movie until purchasing it a few weeks ago.  Alex Proyas (director of "The Crow") and a whole bunch of other expert movie makers, attempt - using a script that was nearly eight years old - to combine the best elements of the film noir and science fiction genres into one amazing movie.

Dark City
Movie
In classic film noir style, the story focuses around one man called John Murdoch who wakes up at the beginning of the movie in unfamiliar circumstances.  He is totally naked and partially submerged in a bath. He is within a room decorated with green coloured tiles.  With apparently no knowledge of who he is or even where he is, but does notice a minor scratch on his forehead and finds some clothing close to hand.  In a nearby wardrobe there’s a coat, some keys and a case; the case contains various items of interest including a postcard for some sort of holiday resort called "Shell Beach" – this initiates a quick flashback.

A stranger calls via the telephone and tries to explain the situation to Murdoch whilst suggesting that he can help since he is a doctor.  Apparently some sort of experiment has gone wrong that has resulted in his memory loss and that people are on their way to find him.  On further investigation of the apartment, Murdoch discovers the half-naked dead body of a young woman aside a bed with a bloody knife in the locality.  Strange spiral-like markings are apparent on her body and it appears (from his viewpoint) that he killed her, or did he?  He suddenly runs down the stairs in an attempt to escape those intent on finding him, and eventually escapes into the subdued street lamp lit city that is "Dark City".

"Dark City" has so many original elements throughout and if I were to describe the plot of this movie any further then it would only spoil those pleasant surprises.  These original elements are within both the story and the amazing - but not overdone - visual effects, and combine to make this movie into an remarkable experience that shouldn’t be missed.  Combining some of the best elements from films like: "Blade Runner", "Metropolis" and "Strange Days", with a feeling that is similar to those Manga-like animations, such as Akira; the way the Batman movies should have really felt like, if you prefer.

The acting within this movie was intentionally subdued, this was because of the nature of the characters' existences and I don't really want to say much more than that in fear of giving away too much.  All the major actors were perfect for their roles, William Hurt especially suited his detective character, police Inspector Bumstead, given his past experience with film noir movies.  Jennifer Connelly plays a beautiful singer by name of Emma who is somehow related to Murdoch, and Kiefer Sutherland offers one of his strongest performances yet, as the scientist Dr. Schreber.  Richard O'Brien (of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" fame) makes an excellent contribution. Although I couldn't help but imagine him prancing around four different zones, clutching a mass of crystals.  If you have no idea what I am on about then you haven’t seen "The Crystal Maze" on Channel 4 in the UK!

If there were one feature of this movie that I disliked, then it would have to be the narration at the beginning.  It simply gives away way too much of the story, if you were to watch this movie without the narration then I’m sure the events that occurred throughout the movie would be much more involving and interesting.  The narration basically tells you all about the world in which the movie is based, describing what will become apparent in the next twenty or thirty minutes of the movie.  This was an unfortunate last minute addition made by the movie studio to dumb down the movie for its target teenage audience.

Dark City
Video
This movie is presented in two different versions, one on either side of the disc.  The preferred version given the splendid visuals is its original 2.35:1 theatrical print, presented here in an Anamorphic format for widescreen televisions that support it.  The other version is a 4:3 (or 1.33:1 to be more consistent) pan and scan presentation.  Why people would choose to select a pan and scan over the Anamorphic version of the movie is beyond me, but apparently this format has had an increase in demand in recent years within the counties that are covered by region one.  So expect to see more pan and scan versions in the future.

Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is both dark and yet beautiful at the same time.  As is apparent from the name, this movie is consistently dark throughout; only a few exceptions can be thought of but mentioning these would probably spoil your enjoyment of the story.  All I will say is that these scenes are probably the only ones that you will distinctly recall after seeing the movie.

On the topic of the transfer, the picture quality is excellent with a lot of detail – you almost always find that a 2.35:1 version is much better (picture quality wise) than a 1.85:1 because it requires a lot less compression to fit in the same amount of space. And for the reason, MPEG artifacts are practically non-existent - even though this film is very, very dark. Colour balance is good; varying from the extreme blue filtered shots to the warm colours found in the city scenes. Those scenes that are lit are amazing to see especially when the surrounding environment you are viewing the movie from is also darkened.
 
Audio
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is as perfect as it could be, being both subtitle in the few scenes that are heavy on dialogue while adequately maintaining the suspense of the action sequences.  It does apparently have a very wide front sound stage, with a strong emphasis on the front channels; such manifestations can cause a few very minor but still undesirable effects.

Also included is a two channel English Dolby Surround track and a 5.1 French Dolby Digital track.  The two commentaries are explained in the paragraph that follows.

Extras
Two commentaries were offered, one by Roger Ebert - a well-known critic who understands way too much about movies in general!  The other commentary is an amalgamation of comments from such persons as Alex Proyas (director), Lem Dobbs (writer), David Goyer (writer), Dariusz Wolski (cinematographer) and Patrick Tatopoulos (production designer).  I found the former to be much more interesting because of the way in which Roger Ebert actually described various interpretations and aspects of the movie that you may otherwise have missed or not even thought of.  Touching upon its film noir and science fiction influences.  The second commentary was also interesting but somewhat confusing and almost irritating at first, with regular cuts from one person to another as it progresses (even with help from Roger Ebert narrating).  In my opinion, there were too many people assimilated into that single commentary track. One interesting aspect that you might like to listen to was the choice of the name, mentioned during the credits in the second commentary.

Dark City
In addition to the commentaries, there is a trailer for the movie, a "cast and crew" section, set-designs and a comparison between the movie and other silent movies of the same genre like "Metropolis".

There are also a few extra hidden features, which could be of some interest if you have the time to go through the moderately long unearthing process.  I have written a somewhat descriptive "Easter Egg" item associated with this movie which can be found by clicking on the "Easter Egg" link in the right-hand column – whether you can be bothered trying to find them is another matter.

Overall
So much work has gone into this movie; a huge set will have had to have been created and lots of expensive and necessary special effects were used in the conception of this movie.  As to whether you would like it, well, if you are a fan of either the film noir or science fiction genres then there is a fair chance that you will like this movie – especially if you like both!  I have seen it suggested that if you liked the more spiritual elements of "Event Horizon" to take an obvious science fiction example then you will almost certainly like the film, I’m not sure about this comment but that may help.

"Dark City" is a highly involving movie in that you cannot help being drawn into the story as it develops, yet at the same time it requires quite a bit of thought to keep up.  This certainly isn’t your average pap that we get spoon-fed from the major Hollywood movie studios.  I definitely recommend that you see this movie, even if you aren’t that keen on science fiction.


Links: