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Dark City (1998)
New Line Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/29/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/30/2008
As Will Smith once rapped so many years ago, "OK, here's the situation": You are a director working on your first major film. The movie has a modest budget, it's based on a somewhat obscure comic book, and you're shooting in Wilmington, N.C. It would have been very easy for this product to go unnoticed. Suddenly, the star is killed in an on-set accident and the world takes notice of the movie. It opens to critical acclaim and becomes a touchstone for goth kids worldwide. So, if you are Director Alex Proyas, how do you follow The Crow? Proyas' next film, Dark City, would have a look similar to that of The Crow, but the story would be much, much deeper.
Dark City is set in a city (obviously), but in an indeterminate time and place. (The citizens speak English and the cars and clothes could be from several different eras, but that's all we know.) John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a bathtub with no recollection of how he got there, or anything else for that matter. As if that weren't bad enough, John discovers a dead woman in the next room. He quickly gets dressed and flees the scene. He retrieves his wallet, thus learning his name, and begins to try to learn who he is. Meanwhile, John's wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), is searching for her husband, and is approached by a psychiatrist, Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland), who claims to have worked with John. She then seeks the help of police Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt), who is convinced that John is the killer for whom he's been seeking. John finds himself by a group of bald men dressed in black who seem to be able to move about the city at will. Who are these men? Why does the sun never rise? And why does everyone fall asleep at midnight? It seems that John is the only man who can answer these questions.
Dark City is an ambitious film and given the popularity of The Crow, the movie should have been a smash. And yet, it opened and closed very quickly, brining in only half of its reported budget. Why did this happen? Seeing the film a decade later, it's pretty obvious why general audiences weren't (and probably still aren't) ready for this movie. Please don't take that to mean that Dark City isn't a good movie, because it is, but there's a lot going on in the film and it's easy to understand how some people couldn't follow it, or wouldn't have the patience to let the story unfold. Essentially, there are two stories happening here. We have the tale of John Murdoch, amnesiac and possible murderer and the bald men who live under the city. Once these two stories converge in the second half of the film, things make sense, and there are some good twists, but the movie never shies away from being hardcore science fiction.
Despite the views of some naysayers, Proyas has created a unique world with Dark City and the film's look alone should be enough to draw admirers. Not unlike The Crow and Tim Burton's Batman, Dark City takes place in an urban landscape where noir is an understatement. Every street and alley looks menacing, and even if John didn't think that he were a murderer, it would be easy to understand if he couldn't relax in this town. And again, the story unfolds at its own pace, giving us pieces of the puzzle. When we finally learn what is happening, Dark City reveals itself to have a story which can be placed along-side classic Twilight Zone plots in terms of creativity.
The newly released Dark City Blu-ray Disc contains both the original theatrical cut of the film and a new director's cut, which runs some 12 minutes longer. I hate to sound like a general audience type, but I prefer the theatrical cut. The one good thing about the director's cut is that it does away with the opening narration. (Shades of Blade Runner there.) Other than that, the director's cut isn't dissimilar from the theatrical version. The difference is that Proyas has moved a few scenes around and he's added some shots and lines here and there. The extended running time makes the film feel long and drawn out. Dark City isn't an action film and slowing the pacing even more is a mistake. However, it is fantastic that we are getting this release and the opportunity to compare the two versions. Dark City is a shining example of the fact that sci-fi doesn't have to mean spaceships and robots.
Dark City exchanges lives onBlu-ray Disc courtesy of New Line Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is razor-sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. Again, 99% of the film takes place at night, but the image is never overly dark. In fact, the dark streets have a surprising amount of depth. The image is very detailed and in the shot where Jennifer Connelly is introduced, we can see every blemish on her face. (Is that a good thing?) The colors which emerge from the darkness, such as reds, look good. The Disc features a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a powerful track, as it offers a nice array of stereo and surround effects. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and match the on-screen action. The city setting allows ample opportunities for surround effects. During the morphing scenes, the track really comes to life and the subwoofer action accents the molding of the buildings. I wish that Warner would adopt the use of DTS found on New Line Blu-rays.
The Dark City Blu-ray Disc contains a combination of the extras from
the original DVD release and a host of new goodies. They are arranged based on
the two cuts of the film.
Accompanying the Theatrical Cut, we have two AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features Alex Proyas, Writers David Goyer and Lem Dobbs, Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski, and Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos. This is one of those annoying commentary tracks where the speakers were recorded separately and then edited together. At times, Roger Ebert's voice appears to let us know who is talking. Because of this approach, the comments aren't always scene specific. The second is from renowned critic Roger Ebert. Here, Ebert not only professes his love for the film, he discusses its themes and points out how the film references or echoes other movies. "The Metropolis Comparison" is a text piece which contains reviews attacking Fritz Lang's film and an introduction which compares the reaction to Metropolis as being similar to that of Dark City. "Neil Gaiman on Dark City" is another text piece in which the author gives his thoughts on the film. The THEATRICAL TRAILER is here, letterboxed at 2.35:1 and anamorphic. This should receive a life-time achievement award for showing random images which tell you nothing about the movie. No wonder it flopped.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long