STARRING: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O'Brien

1998, 103 Minutes, Directed by: Alex Proyas

darkcity.jpg (10879 bytes)Description: Alex Proyas (The Crow) directs this futuristic thriller about a man waking up to find he is wanted for brutal murders he doesn't remember. Haunted by mysterious beings who stop time and alter reality, he seeks to unravel the riddle of his identity.

Suppose that there is a God. Now imagine that the universe and everything in it wasn’t created billions of years ago, but was dreamt into existence only last Sunday. Or maybe even a mere three minutes ago. Imagine that what we take to be our entire existence and lives - everything we know - are actually false memories implanted into us, with a few fabricated artefacts such as faded old photos to serve as reinforcements of our perceptions.

After all, that is all we have to show for our lives ultimately: a collection of often rapidly fading memories. And what if God only put the dinosaur fossils into the earth to screw around with our minds? If you acknowledge the existence of such a Being, then you must admit that such a feat wouldn’t be beyond His powers. If you don’t believe in such a Being, how can you disprove something that is actually unprovable?

These are the type of questions which has seldom been asked by celluloid science fiction. Blade Runner and Total Recall are two rare examples I can think of right now. However, it has been the staple diet of literary science fiction for quite a while now. Perhaps the best example would be author Philip K. Dick (whose work incidentally inspired Blade Runner and Total Recall).

While Dark City isn’t based on any of Dick’s works, the film is clearly infused with some of his speculative musings. It could be described as Kafkaesque metaphysics in action.

A man wakes up in a bath one evening. In the same room is the mutilated corpse of a murdered prostitute. He can’t remember anything of what happened - he can’t even remember his own name. All he has are some disjointed fragmented shards of memories. Soon he finds himself on the run from the police as the prime suspect. But there is more afoot: who are the tall dark strangers following him around?

"A dark and original graphic novel come to life . . ."

Dark City is quite a rarity: it is both visceral and cerebral at once. The film combines a very intelligent (and at times even intellectual) story line with some stunning production designs and special effects. In an age where the science fiction film genre has been dumbed down to a mere spectacle of loud explosions and special effects (like in Independence Day), Dark City stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

Its only weakness is that it gives away most of the film’s premise in a voice-over narration in its first few seconds of running time. A more lingering sense of mystery and confusion would have served the movie much better. I wouldn’t normally recommend this: but maybe pitching up a few minutes late for the movie would be in order. Or fast-forwarding the video until the opening credits come up, I don’t know. I have a suspicion that the film’s money bosses probably insisted on the voice-over sequence thinking that audiences would probably be too bewildered by the onscreen proceedings initially.

Along with the Harrison Ford voice-over in the first theatrical release of Blade Runner this must count as one of the most cynical underestimations of audiences’ intelligences by a studio yet. (This was rectified in the so-called Blade Runner - Director’s Cut many years later. Perhaps one day we will be treated to a similar version of Dark City.)

However, despite the major flaw of the opening narration there are still many surprises left in Dark City and the film quickly draws audiences into its story. This alone is a great testament to the creative powers of director Alex Proyas (whose previous film was the cult The Crow favorite).

darkcity2.jpg (6490 bytes)Speaking of video, this is most likely the format in which most people will ultimately see Dark City, which is a shame. The film should be seen on the big big screen to be appreciated for its stunning production designs. Can you say early-20th Century German expressionism? Dark City’s designs are a skilful updating of the artistry of films like Nosferatu (the original, not the remake), Metropolis and The Cabinet Of Doctor Calagari.

It is a dark and original graphic novel come to life. I have always been an architectural freak and a sucker for cities of the imagination like those featured in Tim Burton’s Batman and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Dark City goes one step further: the amazing noir-ish city of the title actually plays an active role in the storytelling itself. But unlike the film’s producers I don’t want to give away any more plot details . . .

Unfortunately the studio’s attitude to the film so far has been like the great man Bob Marley once sang: to “kill it before it grows.” It has been so swiftly in and out of cinemas with so little publicity that few people actually got to see it. Where I live it is showing in only two cinemas in the entire city! But forget about all of 1998’s other sci-fi offerings (like Lost In Space, Godzilla and Deep Impact) so far - the film to check out is Dark City, which will no doubt grow into a cult sci-fi favourite . . .


Sci-Fi Movie Page Pick:
Architectural fetishism! Everyone has seen The Matrix, yeah - but have you seen the film from which it, er, borrows the most? More stylish and low-key, Dark City is directed by Alex Proyas who probably has an architectural fetish as evidenced by this and his The Crow . . .



# 19
of the
Top 100 Sci-Fi Movies
of all time



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