MOVIE REVIEWS

Dark City

8/10 R 01 hr 43 min

February 27, 1998

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This review is of the Director's Cut.

Welcome To Shell Beach.

Dark City is directed by Alex Proyas who also co-writes the screenplay with Leon Dobbs and David S. Goyer. It stars Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard O'Brien and Ian Richardson. Music is by Trevor Jones and cinematography by Dariusz Wolski.

A man wakes up in a grotty hotel bathroom and upon finding a dead girl in another room he realises he has no recollection of who he is or how he got there...

There's a lot of Blade Runner fans still out there waiting for that film's sexual partner to happen along. What many of them don't realise is that Alex Proyas has already made that movie. More than a cult film yet still criminally ignored in certain circles, Dark City, by way of poor box office and studio interference, never got off to the best of starts. The problems were compounded with the release of The Matrix the following year, where that film's popularity, and its sci-fi linkage to Dark City, led many to think that Proyas' movie was a Matrix rip-off; pushing it further (unjustly) back in the sci-fi noir pantheon. Fact is is that Dark City homages much great cinema from previous years, but it has influenced much that followed, with Inception fans asked to note that Nolan himself was taking notes...

Stolen Memories.

Dark City is a feverish film noir dressed up in stunning sci-fi clothes. The amazing visuals have led many to state that it's a film with much style and little substance, something which Proyas has fiercely argued against; and he's right to do so, especially once his own preferred director's cut became available to view. The story is a complex one, pulsing with human characters living in a world where there is no daylight, with their respective memories scratchy to say the least, it quickly becomes evident that a creepy alien race are overseeing things. The aliens, wonderfully attired in black trench-coats and hats to match, and aided by Kiefer Sutherland's shifty - stammer affected - doctor, have special powers and their reasons for being here unfold in deftly constructed stages. One man stands in their way, John Murdoch (Sewell), but he is an olde noir amnesia sufferer supreme and his battle to unravel what is going on is our task as well.

Do you think about the past much Mrs. Murdoch?

The search for identity and the truth is what propels the picture forward. Murdoch in his confused state is not only at the center of an existential dilemma, he's also the focal point for a serial killer murder investigation. This also as he tries to come to terms with matters of the heart, it seems he has a beautiful wife (Connelly), and that she may have cheated on him? And why is he drawn to the place known as Shell Beach? A simple narrative hidden by visual splendours? Don't make me laugh! But hell you have to say the visual look and atmosphere of the design is very much attention grabbing.

I have become the monster you were intended to be.

With the film noir characters in place; Hurt's dour sleuth, Sewell's amnesiac and Connelly's sultry torch singer, Proyas brings German expressionism in abundance whilst overseeing an eye splintering neo-noir colour palette. Greens and reds often ping from the screen, while the murky browns and golds down on the angular city streets pave the way for changed perceptions and revelations of plotting. There are reoccurring motifs throughout, with swirls and circles integral to mood and meanings, while at the mid-point we then get to see Proyas' tricks of the trade, where the city shifts and moves to create a meeting of Metropolis and Gotham, all as the humans slumber away. Watch those clocks folks...

You know how I was supposed to feel. That person isn't me... never was. You wanted to know what it was about us that made us human. Well, you're not going to find it...

Acting performances are hardly top of the line (Sutherland especially irritates more than he impresses), but they actually don't need to be, and they all look terrific in their respective dressage. The story is of course bonkers and one which I myself found was much better whilst consuming mucho alcohol! (I watched it three times in 48 hours!) While Proyas himself is on record as saying it's a far from flawless picture. Again he is right, but he also knows that his film is still under valued and in need of more to seek out his director's cut. The late Roger Ebert championed Dark City with much gusto, and he provides very good input on the DVD, much like Roger I have to say, this is a unique and fabulous sci-fi noir experience. A film in fact fit to watch alongside Blade Runner; And I do not say that lightly. 9/10

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