Dark City

I saw “Dark City,” a 1998 film, in a movie theater when it first came out.  I found it highly impressive, with wonderful images, a great story, a well-designed plot, and lots of wonderful and interesting ideas.  Directed by Alex Proyas, the movie skirts the genres of film noir, horror, science fiction and fantasy.  It’s full of substance and it delivers wonderfully on style.

Kiefer Sutherland is in cahoots with aliens in “Dark City.”

So I couldn’t believe that so few of my friends and fellow movie fanatics had even seen it.  I didn’t know the full story of the film until the “director’s cut” DVD came out, which offers a version of the movie closer to the director’s vision. Proyas discards the narration at the beginning and lets the audience figure things out as they occur.  The story concerns an apparently alien race that experiments with humans, transferring memories among inhabitants of a 1940’s style city where it’s always nighttime. One man, John Murdoch, becomes conscious during the experiments, prompting the aliens to hunt him down. Kiefer Sutherland plays a doctor, Schreber, in cahoots with the aliens.

The color film uses a film noir style, with very dark images, shadows and set designs that include lots of bright white backgrounds. The film opens as John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a bathtub with his memory lost. He climbs out of the tub and sees a horrific scene of a murdered woman sprawled on the floor. Confused, he runs out into the night, which becomes a major mystery when he realizes that the city never experiences daylight. Each night, at midnight, the entire population of the city dozes off while the buildings, streets and people transform themselves into a new environment. The aliens notice Murdoch’s immunity to their experiments and send Schreber to lure him into their lair. Except for their superior intelligence, the aliens’ power comes from their incredible ability to shape realities with their mind (psychokinesis, or “tuning” as it’s called in the movie). Ironically, Murdoch doesn’t particularly want to battle them, he just wants to get to an idyllic place called Shell Beach — which may not exist.

The DVD adds 3 complete commentaries, and several documentaries about the film. Anybody who watches the new cut of the movie along with all the special features will realize the film’s value.  It’s definitely watchable more than once and I count it as one of my favorite movies of the last 20 years.  Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connolly, William Hurt and Richard O’Brien also star in the film.

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