Monday, October 24, 2011

Dark City

Dark City (1998)
Directed by Alex Proyas, Starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly

I hadn’t watched Dark City in many years, when I decided to pop it in this week, and I wondered first of all if I would still in enjoy it as much as I once did. The film has had a devoted following amongst science fiction and fantasy fans since its release, though it wasn’t a box office success at the time (in spite of generally positive reviews). I had picked it up on VHS, but never upgraded my copy to DVD or Blu-ray (I rented a DVD copy).

The opening narration spills all the secrets: the Strangers are a dying race and studying us because they believe we may hold the key to their continued existence. John Murdoch wakes up in a hotel bath tub to find out he has no memories and that there is the body of a dead, carved up prostitute on the floor beside the bed. Fleeing the scene he is stopped by the clerk who tells him that the automat has called. He’s left his wallet there. The wallet leads him to his home, a wife who’s cheated on him, and a psychiatrist who’s been helping him deal with the breakdown of his marriage. If he’s off to a bad start, it only gets worse as he discovers strange powers and encounters the Strangers themselves, all while trying to figure out who he is and how to elude the police.

It’s at these times that the movie is strongest. Proyas has assembled a strong cast and the story works best when puzzling over koans like, how do you get to Shell Beach? But in the second half of the movie story development is given over to a series of chase and fight scenes (which largely translates into people staring really hard at each other) and it just isn’t as interesting. It rests on atmosphere and set design, which become somewhat repetitive after a while. I mean, how many noir-ishly lit streets does one need? In the end Sutherland’s character comes up with an impressive way to save the day, but it’s used to generate a conventional comic book ending (read: principle characters hitting one another).

A good movie if you’re looking for something different, or want to entertain a SF fan (though they’ve probably already seen it); but it’s an uneven film.

NOTE: This film shares with The Matrix the ideas that the world isn’t what it seems and that we’re being controlled by malevolent forces. Dark City was released first, thirteen months before the Wachowski Brothers film.

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