Dark City (Director's Cut) (1998)

Actors: John Bluthal, Jennifer Connelly, Colin Friels, Frank Gallacher, William Hurt
Color, Director's Cut, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Aspect Ratio:
Number of discs:
New Line Home Video
DVD Release Date:
July 29, 2008
Run Time:
111 minutes



darkcity2.jpg (6490 bytes)Hard to believe that's been 10 years since the release of this criminally underrated sci-fi gem by the director of The Crow.

This so-called director's cut doesn't feature any new scenes as such, just longer ones with more dialogue. Most importantly however it gets rid of an annoying voice-over narration by a wheezy Kiefer Sutherland which spills the beans within the first few minutes of the movie's running time.

Even harder to believe though is that some critics attacked Dark City upon its release for being a case of style over substance. It is more of a case of both visual style and philosophical substance. After all, how many Hollywood movies will have you discussing Cartesian metaphysics afterwards? It is however easy to believe that the movie didn't do particularly well at the box office, but did however garner a cult status following its DVD release. After all the movie is too downright weird for mainstream tastes but appeals instead to the type of viewer familiar with film noir conventions, German expressionism in film as well as the art of Edward Hopper.

The less you know about Dark City's plot in advance, the better - which is why that idiotic voice-over for dummies insisted upon by its studio was such a bad move. Interestingly enough it shares many themes with another cult movie famous (or is that infamous?) for a voice-over narration insisted upon by studio bigwigs afraid that audiences won't get it. That movie is of course Blade Runner, and both movies deal with issues such as what makes us human? and can we rely on our memories?

Dark City kicks off with a man (Rufus Sewell, the bad guy from A Knight's Tale) suffering from amnesia waking up at a murder scene. Was he the murderer? He doesn't know. He doesn't even know his own name for that matter. Things get weirder. Who are the strangers looking like refugees from Nosferatu following him around? Why is it always night in the city they inhabit? Why do all the city's inhabitants mysteriously fall asleep at midnight every night?

The answers to all these questions may not be all that satisfying, but the journey in this hyper-stylized film is definitely a fascinating one especially for architectural fetishists and philosophy majors. This director's cut is the version that should have been released theatrically back in 1998 and is the preferred version.

THE DISC: Amazing what they can cram onto one disc nowadays! Not only does this disc boast the sort of long making-of documentaries usually found on two-disc sets, but it also boasts three (count them!) audio commentaries. Picture and sound quality on the feature doesn't seem to have been compromised at all as the movie itself looks and sounds great.

Noted film critic Roger Ebert who counts himself as a fan of the film also supplies an audio commentary in addition to the film's creative team. Unfortunately Ebert's talk is too often punctuated by silences but is still worthwhile as he points out some interesting points regarding the film's history and the composition of its shots amongst others. Interestingly enough the film's director, Alex Proyas, admits in one of the documentaries that he knew the voice-over narration was a mistake but felt too unsure of himself as a film-maker following some negative test screenings to contest its inclusion. If he had opposed it, he claims, the studio probably would have relented - a pity then that he didn't.

RECOMMENDATION: Is Dark City too cerebral and stylized as its own director of photography claims? Perhaps. However it will appeal to a certain type of film school cineaste who will find it endlessly fascinating. For them it is whole-heartedly recommended. Long-time fans (such as myself) who actually fell in love with the movie upon its initial theatrical release should seriously consider a purchase as this is how the movie should have been released back in 1998.



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