Monday, 22 April 2013

Review - Dark City (1998 - Dir. Alex Proyas)

I was trying to decide on a suitably great film to celebrate our second birthday and I remembered a reference to Dark City on Karl Kaefer's blog Xsmarkthespot. I also thought back to the first time I saw the film, at the Showcase Cinema in Peterborough, and how I was really impressed by it and in particular one moment of subwoofer pleasantness (I'll come back to that later). There were some imperfections, such as an introductory narration that told you that "the butler did it", but that's all been sorted out in the Director's Cut, which I'll review here.

Now the film plays as it was intended, as a mystery. A mister (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bath, and due to being in the water for a good long while, he suffers from severe prune feet. In top quality noir thriller style he has no memory. As he starts to piece together the clues he begins to suspect that me may have previously partaken in a spot of murdering. But who are these shady figures that seem to be lurking around... The clues all fall into place over the course of the film and everything is revealed (well almost).

Dark City is visually stunning, even now. The lighting used would have suited a black and white film with deep dark shadows and harsh highlights. In fact, I dodged about with the colour setting on my telly and watched it in monochromatic-o-vision. For the most part, it still looked great, and better than the colour version at points. So good that I found it a little disconcerting when I switched back to colour. (Similarly The Mist is brilliant in black and white but that was purposely shot that way.)

The gorgeous Jennifer Connelly - soon to be seen in an upcoming season - plays the man's wife and she participates in my favourite moment of the film. Yep, it's the subwoofer moment. She sings a version of 'Sway' accompanied by some  gravel voiced blues guys. The double bass sounds so deep and powerful. I've never quite got it to sound the same as the first time I heard it in that Peterborough cinema but it's still pretty impressive. Play it loud.

Music plays a large part in the proceedings with a large proportion of the film scored. It propels the viewer through the film towards the final climax, paralleling the main character's plight as he tries to unravel the mystery despite being constantly pursued.

Patrick Tatopoulos is one of my favourite designers having worked on Silent Hill, I, Robot and The Cave (okay, maybe The Cave is not the best example). But I think that he was at the top of his game for Dark City. The titular city is indeed dark, and gloomy, and murky, and possibly a bit stinky. The buildings are taken from a number of different time periods and places making it hard to pin down exactly where the city originates from. The city's underworld - in a nifty reversal of Metropolis - is possibly his best work. See for yourself in this explanatory screen shot.

One of the themes the film deals with is where the human soul resides. Is it in memories? If I were to be given the memories of a dancer would my viewpoint on dancers change instantly. Or would I still hate them. The thought of me suddenly appearing as a professional over-acter on 'Stricly Come Dancing' almost gives me an aneurysm so hopefully if someone does changes my memories I'll still be me.

I've tried hard to not give away any of the plot because if you haven't seen this it is well worth your while. The Director's Cut takes away the film-beginner stabilisers and lets you discover the film for yourself without being treated like an idiot. It has a  satisfying ending and the only downside for me is the inclusion of William Hurt who despite being okay in this, never totally convinces me. A worthy film for a birthday celebration.

If you like this you could also try:
Blade Runner, Metropolis, Somewhere in the Night.


  1. Thanks Evil Keith for the shout out...and I'm glad you chose this film for your birthday...and BTW..Happy Birthday!! 2 years old!

    And just for the record, I need to credit my co-writer Vicki! Dark City, in many ways, is the reason we write our blog, as it is the film that brought us together.

    1. Thanks for that and sorry I forgot to credit Vicki too. It's interesting that you can pinpoint the one film that has led to your blog. I'm not sure that there's one film that got me and Doccortex started. For me it's the love of going down to the local video shop as a child and watching anything that had just come out, however obscure. Beastmaster, Monolith, Castle Freak - all gems that were discovered at Creepy's Video Emporium. Those are the sort of hidden gems that I keep trying to find. Sometimes without much success...