STARRING: Rufus Sewell,
William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O'Brien
1998, 103 Minutes, Directed by: Alex Proyas
Description: Alex Proyas (The
Crow) directs this futuristic thriller about a man waking up to find he is
wanted for brutal murders he doesn't remember. Haunted by mysterious beings who
stop time and alter reality, he seeks to unravel the riddle of his identity.
Suppose that there is a God. Now imagine that the
universe and everything in it wasnt created billions of years ago, but was dreamt
into existence only last Sunday. Or maybe even a mere three minutes ago. Imagine that what we take
to be our entire existence and lives - everything we know - are actually false memories
implanted into us, with a few fabricated artefacts such as faded old photos to serve as
reinforcements of our perceptions.
After all, that is all we have to show for our lives
ultimately: a collection of often rapidly fading memories. And what if God only put the
dinosaur fossils into the earth to screw around with our minds? If you acknowledge the
existence of such a Being, then you must admit that such a feat wouldnt be beyond
His powers. If you dont believe in such a Being, how can you disprove something that
is actually unprovable?
These are the type of
questions which has seldom been asked by celluloid science fiction. Blade
Runner and Total Recall are two rare examples I can think of
right now. However, it has been the staple diet of literary science fiction for quite a
while now. Perhaps the best example would be author Philip K. Dick (whose work
incidentally inspired Blade Runner and Total Recall).
City isn’t based on any of Dick’s works, the film is clearly infused with
some of his speculative musings. It could be described as Kafkaesque
metaphysics in action.
A man wakes up in a bath one
evening. In the same room is the mutilated corpse of a murdered prostitute. He
can’t remember anything of what happened - he can’t even remember his own name.
All he has are some disjointed fragmented shards of memories. Soon he finds himself on the
run from the police as the prime suspect. But there is more afoot: who are the
tall dark strangers following him around?
"A dark and original graphic novel come to life . . ."
Dark City is quite a
rarity: it is both visceral and cerebral at once. The film combines a very intelligent
(and at times even intellectual) story line with some stunning production designs and
special effects. In an age where the science fiction film genre has been dumbed down to a
mere spectacle of loud explosions and special effects (like in Independence
Day), Dark City stands out head and shoulders above the rest.
Its only weakness is that it gives away most of the films premise in a voice-over narration in its first few
seconds of running time. A more lingering sense of mystery and confusion would have served
the movie much better. I wouldnt normally recommend this: but maybe pitching up a
few minutes late for the movie would be in order. Or fast-forwarding the video until the
opening credits come up, I dont know. I have a suspicion that the films money
bosses probably insisted on the voice-over sequence thinking that audiences would probably
be too bewildered by the onscreen proceedings initially.
Along with the Harrison Ford
voice-over in the first theatrical release of Blade Runner this must count as one
of the most cynical underestimations of audiences intelligences by a studio yet. (This was rectified in the so-called Blade Runner -
Directors Cut many years later. Perhaps one day we will be treated to a similar
version of Dark City.)
However, despite the major
flaw of the opening narration there are still many surprises left in Dark City
and the film quickly draws audiences into its story. This alone is a great testament to
the creative powers of director Alex Proyas (whose previous film was the cult The Crow
Speaking of video, this is most
likely the format in which most people will ultimately see Dark City, which is a
shame. The film should be seen on the big big screen to be appreciated for its stunning
production designs. Can you say early-20th Century German expressionism? Dark Citys
designs are a skilful updating of the artistry of films like Nosferatu (the
original, not the remake), Metropolis and The Cabinet Of
It is a dark and original graphic novel come to life. I have always
been an architectural freak and a sucker for cities of the imagination like those featured
in Tim Burtons Batman and Ridley Scotts Blade
Runner. Dark City goes one step further: the amazing noir-ish city of the
title actually plays an active role in the storytelling itself. But unlike the films
producers I dont want to give away any more plot details . . .
studios attitude to the film so far has been like the great man Bob Marley once
sang: to kill it before it grows. It has been so swiftly in and out of cinemas
with so little publicity that few people actually got to see it. Where I live it is
showing in only two cinemas in the entire city! But forget about all of 1998s other
sci-fi offerings (like Lost In Space, Godzilla
and Deep Impact) so far - the film to check out is Dark City,
which will no doubt grow into a cult sci-fi favourite . . .
Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick: Architectural fetishism! Everyone has seen The Matrix, yeah - but have you seen the film
from which it, er, borrows the most? More stylish and low-key, Dark City is
directed by Alex Proyas who probably has an architectural fetish as evidenced by this and
his The Crow . . .
Top 100 Sci-Fi
of all time