Some movies create two different worlds: one for the trailer and one for the actual movie. The trailer for Dark City was mysterious. It induced a feeling of awe for what the movie is about. The visuals, the loud audio, and the mysterious text all worked together to create this feeling of awe. Does the movie live up to the trailer? And does Dark City carry through with the incredible world that we glimpsed in the trailer?
Alex Proyas is best known for the dark world and mood that he created for Brandon Lee’s last film, The Crow. But, his work was overshadowed by the tragic death of Lee. This time with Dark City, Proyas is let loose to work and create a world that truly lives up to its name. Dark City is a luscious looking film—and even that is an understatement. The world that Proyas puts up on the screen is a strange mix of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Tim Burton’s Batman world. Though not set in a technological wonder like Blade Runner the world does overshadow Batman’s world. I think that this is what Burton was aiming for with his original Batman but was unable to create it.
The movie is not all visuals, though. It opens with a dreary monologue by a Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) which explains about “The Strangers.” It seems that The Strangers are a group of aliens who have taken beings from a world—though never specified as the Earth—and offloaded them onto the Strangers’ world. Here on the Strangers’ world the humans become specimens for the Strangers’ experiments. The Strangers are a slowly dying race and that are looking to beat their mortality and they think that they can find it in the human soul. We then are introduced to the main character of the film, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), who wakes up in a motel room with a dead prostitute next to his bed. Murdoch looks around the room for clues to what happened and finds a few things.
Murdoch,though, has had a complete loss of memory and is unsure if he is a killer or not. Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) is assigned to the case and is on the trailer of Murdoch. Murdoch tries to find out who he really is and follows a trail of clues which leads him to many things, including his wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly). We question if Murdoch is really the killer as we discover more about how Dark City really operates.
It seems that in the Dark City there is no day time; it’s a continuous night, and for a good reason.
The script for Dark City comes from a story by Proyas and is written by Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer. It introduces a lot of interesting ideas for the audience to think about. Dark City questions one’s real identity and one’s reality. Who are we really? What makes us who we are? Is this all real? The problem with the script is that it tries overly hard to explain every idea introduced and leaves nothing for the audience to think about. Every time something mysterious, awe inspiring, or interesting is introduced a character stops everything and gives a long monologue explaining what it is about. The characters are too talky. I’m a big X-Files fan and for a good reason, the writers for The X-Files know that not everything needs to be explained, that some things are best left to the audience’s imagination and left for the audience to chew over. It is this ambiguity of The X-Files that makes it so enjoyable. Had Proyas, Dobbs, and Goyer watched a few more episodes of The X-Files they would have learned the same. Proyas, Dobbs, and Goyer leave nothing to the audience’s imagination— everything is clearly explained and nothing is left in the dark.
Dark City’s visuals are stunning. The city that these characters live in is incredible with its tall skyline, the dark ominous buildings, the retro look of everything, and the clear lack of lighting. It creates an atmosphere for the movie that comes very close to overshadowing the story itself. The one thing, and this could be seen as a bad thing, that subdues the overly large presence of the city is Proyas’ editing. Proyas edits the film like a music video or a movie trailer. Everything comes in quick flashes and there are little or no steady shots for us to really see how characters are reacting. Also there are no shots that let us fully take in the city and atmosphere that Proyas created for the movie. The editing of the film feels like a comic book—flashing from one panel to the next, not taking anytime to slow down and let the audience look at the visuals.
The performances by the cast are all about equal. They come close to being a bit too bland, though they never slip into that territory. Rufus Sewell, who you can also catch in the current Dangerous Beauty, fares a little better than the rest of the cast.
Dark City is one of those films that draws you in even though it has some outstanding flaws. I enjoyed Dark City and all the ideas that it generates, but I enjoyed the visuals the most. Dark City is not a “style over substance” film. Actually, it can be argued that Dark City has a little more substance than it really needs. I recommend the film, though it doesn’t create enough to warrant a Don’t Miss nod.
Edited by Cher Johnson.