on 31 March 2009
Dark City has been one of my favourite films for many years, it's a criminally underrated sci-fi film that, like one of it's influences, Blade Runner, was a flop when it was released and is only now starting to recieve some of the praise it deserves. Also, like Blade Runner, a decade after it's release it now sees the film given the 'director's cut' treatment. Unfortunately, unlike Blade Runner, this new cut does not improve/radically transform the film the way Ridley Scott's did. The main alteration is the removal of the opening narration which basically gave away the whole twist to the film, so that now the beginning of the film seems much more mysterious and is all the better for it. The rest of the changes just consist of slightly extended scenes that don't really add a great deal to the film. The dubbing of Jennifer Connolly's singing has been removed so that you can now actually hear the actress' own voice however there was a reason for why she was dubbed - she's just not a very good singer and I feel it let's those scenes down. Another gripe is that the excellent musical score has been significantly toned down to the extent that it's often barely noticeable which is a shame as I felt it really added to the atmosphere of the film. And some of the special effects actually seem to have been made less 'special' which I also think is a mistake. Where this DVD scores over the previous release, however, is in terms of it's extras which boast 3 commentaries, and a very informative 'making of' documentary. But in terms of the film itself, I feel that the original theatrical cut is actually the one I prefer, just turn the volume down for the first 2 minutes so you don't hear the opening 'spoiler' narration and you have a much more satisfying movie.
on 18 April 2009
Picture-quality is stunning on Blu-Ray, and I suspect that the costumes and lighting benefit. I've no idea what it was like on the first cut, but in this extended cut it's a gripping story, told at an admirably even pace and without resorting to many Hollywood action-movie cliches (you'll find no tedious car chases here). I gave it four stars - so what's not to like? Despite the generally inventive visuals, I was rather unimpressed by the presentation of the ending "battle". Especially the sub-par FX. Also, the story has a science-fiction setting, but the science is distinctly hazy and what's happening is generally rather unconvincing. And I say that as someone who's a long-time SF fan, and who can do "unbelievable". That said, it's certainly interesting for being a successful hybrid of several genres: mystery, noir, detective, vampire/horror, sci-fi, and even bits which veer towards the superhero genre. But I suspect that, for me, it's one of those films that's only going to be successful once - I doubt I'd watch it a second time now that the mystery has been explained.
on 16 August 2008
I have always liked the film but on blu ray it is something else. The picture quality is stunning as well as the sound.
What should be noted is that the blu ray disk contains both the theatrical cut(100mins) and the directors cut (111mins). The disk is also packed with an extensive range of extras such as 5 commentries and numerous making of documentries.
Overall this is one of my favourite blu ray disks and for the price it is a must buy for any fans of the film or any fans of science fiction in general.
on 14 October 2012
Dark City is a film so filled with secrets that I can only describe a fraction of the plot and hope that my fellow critics have done likewise. John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a strange apartment with a prostitute's bizarrely mutilated corpse. He has no idea how or why he found himself there, but is contacted by psychiatrist Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) who claims he's in terrible danger. John is then pursued by the police and a group of aliens.
And that's all I'll say. The rest you'll have to discover yourself, as I did; it's an incredible journey, full of beautiful, surreal images and a screenplay which masterfully encompasses several genres, including two of my favourites, noir and sci-fi. The humans dress and talk like characters in a hardboiled drama; there's dames, cops and johns, and they live in a city which echoes Tim Burton's Gotham, with steam always rising from the sewers. The aliens, meanwhile, bear a striking resemblance to Nosferatu, and possess powers that evoke hypnotic visuals. The special effects are great, springing not just from technology but also imagination. What I love most about this film is its perfect marriage of imagery and story; neither element has been neglected, unlike, say, the Transformers series, which spends all its budget on special effects then gives them no reason to exist. Dark City is a banquet both visually and mentally.
The cast also does a magnificent job. Sewell gives a sturdy performance as the kind of hunted, haunted man beloved by Alfred Hitchcock, and Sutherland plays the nervous, eccentric shrink with his usual aplomb. Sutherland, perhaps best known for playing TV action hero Jack Bauer, is I think underrated when it comes to his subtler roles.
Dark City is an almost perfect masterpiece, and if I had to pick a flaw it would be its romantic element, which feels contrived and tacked on. I think it also creates a plot hole that I won't go into. Otherwise, however, Dark City is a smart, exciting mystery which is one of my favourite films, blending genres I love and all that makes cinema such a magical art form.
A note on the DVD: this isn't a feature packed disc, containing only a five minute "making of" segment and a two minute trailer.
I have to say, like many, I missed this when it came out at the cinema so this was brand new for me. I think that it was a shame this missed out on the publicity as it is not a million miles away from the Matrix, and a year earlier, however with the ground breaking special effects and the big name cast, the Matrix seems to have taken all the glory. This disc contains both the original and theatrical releases, and with lots of extras this is a great disc for fans and new viewers alike. The film itself is a clever sci-fun/murder mystery film which keeps you interested for the whole time. It also looks and sounds good on the blu-ray transfer, giving you a great idea of the in depth and atmospheric sets. I enjoyed this very much!
"The city's ours. We made it. We fashioned this city on stolen memories. Different eras, different parts, all rolled into one. Each night we revise it, refine it, in order to learn. About you. You and your fellow inhabitants. What makes you human."
Dark City kicks off with a classic film noir premise - a man wakes up in a hotel room with no memory, a dead woman's body in the corner and the police on the way - but quickly goes off in unexpected directions. Or rather, very expected directions if you've seen the original theatrical version, which began with a lengthy voice over explaining the film's major plot twist to avoid the audience sharing the main character's confusion. It's a surprise to discover it was co-writer/director Alex Proyas, not the studio, who added it, but thankfully its deletion is perhaps the most significant change in his director's cut that runs some ten minutes longer. Mostly the additional footage is more dialogue, more spirals (a recurrent visual motif in the film) and the occasional clarification of character points, giving the film a bit more room to breathe without feeling quite as rushed as the theatrical version. Surprisingly, that wrongheaded narration aside, both work well on their own terms without either feeling a copout or an overindulgence.
The film itself is a remarkable mixture of German expressionism (Keifer Sutherland even models his performance on Peter Lorre, overdoing it a bit too much), film noir and future shock set in a city filled where it is always night and which no-one ever leaves. Filled with people with gaps in their memories, it is physically and socially reinvented every night by mysterious `strangers' looking for the essence of the human soul. With no memories of their own, they rearrange those of their human lab rats, turning blue collar workers into millionaires and innocent men into serial killers from one night to the next to study the results of their handiwork under the microscope. And memories are ultimately the key to the film - it's not simply a matter of deciphering the hidden messages in his artificial memories that hold the key to Rufus Sewell's amnesiac surviving the experiment but the very nature of memory that drives the film itself. Are memories a comfort or a torment? Are our emotions dictated as much by memory as the present moment? Are we defined by what we remember? And just how much of what we choose to remember do we really remember and how much do we simply reduce to précis and ignore?
While they have no empathy, one of the `strangers' (Richard O'Brien) is even willing to die for the answers, becoming the person Sewell was meant to be, remembering what he cannot, giving in to the homicidal urges he rejects, ultimately becoming a tragic figure trying to find individuality in the worst of humanity at the cost of his own life while Sewell tries to recapture the best of his stolen humanity to save his life. Yet despite the heavy ideas, Proyas makes it an impressively visual experience, the constant `tuning' of the city proving surprisingly spectacular despite the comparatively modest budget. He also shows a truly inspired use of the widescreen space, for once using it not to emphasise width but for depth, emphasising the claustrophobia with interior sets that are narrow and deep, more like corridors or alleys than bedrooms or diners. The colour scheme is also surprisingly successful, using a potentially disastrously limited palette of blacks and greys that doesn't fall into the kind of visual clichés of so many derivative orange-and-teal photographed dystopias but manages to sap the life from the city without losing its credibility or detail. But more than the technical achievements, he manages to make it an involving and enthralling experience that carries you along even on subsequent viewings when you know the answers. The Matrix and Inception would later use similar ideas and imagery to more box-office success and with bigger action set pieces, but while this never managed to break out to a mainstream audience it's still an exhilarating experience.
The Director's Cut Bluray and DVD offer a decent package that improves on previous DVD releases, with both the 111-minute director's cut and the 100-minute original theatrical version, two audio commentaries, stills galleries, trailer and two documentaries, both of which are very much taking heads affairs but are a definite cut above the norm because he heads doing the talking (Proyas and writers Lem Dobbs and David Goyer in particular) are being frank about the film's development and discussing the ideas behind the film in surprising depth for once instead of just reciting anecdotes or saying how great everyone was. A few minor extras from the French special edition DVD of the theatrical cut like the original brief making of featurette and b-roll footage haven't been included, but they're no great loss in light of the quality rather than quantity of the new extras (Entertainment's original UK DVD of the theatrical version only contained the brief promo and trailer). The picture quality is excellent too, more than coping with the darkness without sacrificing detail. Do bear in mind that the US Bluray from New Line is region locked to Region A, though Entertainment's UK release is Region B.
on 11 January 2010
I discovered 'Dark City' not at the cinema, but on video, having bought it on a whim, since then I have bought it on DVD and now blu-ray because each time I watch it I find something new. The moment I first viewed it, I realised that it was that rare creature, an almost perfectly realised fantastic world, peopled believably and having such attention to detail that it remained real even when the events bordered on the crazy and bizarre. The Gothic feel of a city in terminal decline with a 1930s theme suits this quirky tale perfectly and the acting both understated and overstated works well in its context and genre. Not quite as good as 'Bladerunner' but very very good.
This film is a collision between Sam Spade type noir, Philip K Dick layered (un)reality in a Lynchian dystopia. Clearly if none of those appeal then this not the film for you. Similarly if you did not enjoy The Crow, the previous film by Alex Proyas then this is even odder and darker.
In its favour, it is visually stunning and sumptuous, filmed in 1998 the lack of CGI gives the film a welcome sense of grime and texture. Rufus Sewell and Jennifer Connelly (the girl with the eyebrows who had her brother kidnapped by David Bowie, the Goblin King with a very bad haircut, in Labyrinth) acquit themselves well, William Hurt provides an anchor of decency amidst the chaos, and Kiefer Sutherland plays against type with a rather wobbly accent.
Initially the film just seems to be all over the place, with far too much oddness going on, and not much for the confused viewer to grab hold of, but it does all fall into place, and by the end the plot comes to a satisfying resolution. It is not often you get to the end of a film wanting to see more, but this could easily have been expanded out into a trilogy, there is as much potential here as in the Matrix.
This film probably lost a shed load of money, but it is a triumph of intelligent cinema set in an eyepopping world of its own.
on 19 May 2007
Breathtaking film. Beautiful to look at and it hurts your head to follow the plot. It's agressively intelligent and it doesn't wait for the popcorn public to catch up - you pay attention or you miss out.
That said, it's worth the effort, as all the strands fall neatly into place. Second and subsequent viewing show how everything was there for you to understand from the start if you could just get the jigsaw puzzle pieces to hold still long enough.
Extremely good performances from Rufus Sewell (Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence), William Hurt (Gorky Park, The Big Chill), Keiffer Sutherland (Lost Boys, 24), Richard O'Brian (Rocky Horror Show) and the sadly missed Ian Richardson (House of Cards, Hogfather). Where could you find a cast like that now?
It's all crafted by Alex Proyas, who went on to make a splendid job of I Robot.
Highly original, highly thought provoking, highly entertaining and highly recommended!
on 13 October 2008
This is definitely the definitive version of Dark City that everyone should see. After watching it for the first time I was amazed at how heavily edited the original version was especially in the beginning half of the movie. In this version the added pieces of narrative help flesh out the characters and keep the movie's pace consistent, without making it too long. I also noticed it's easier to hear the dialogue as the soundtrack has been toned down from the less dramatic scenes, and it seems that Jennifer Connelly is actually singing in this version, either that or they've improved the overdub. Overall this still remains (even more so now) one of my favourite movies of all time!