Dark City (1998)

2008 #2
Alex Proyas | 97 mins | DVD | 15 / R

Reposted today in memory of the great Roger Ebert, this was a film he championed and, as you’ll soon see, I adored.

Dark CityA little while ago I wrote about not falling in love with new films any more. Well, put bluntly, here’s one.

Dark City is probably the most underrated film I’ve ever seen. It is, to my mind, absolutely brilliant. It’s an intelligent and engaging neo-noir thriller with wonderful sci-fi twists. The imagery is fantastic — the film is beautifully designed and shot in a wonderfully stylised and highly effective manner. The sets and effects are breathtaking — not showy like so many blockbusters, but utterly effective and impressive. The script and story are complex (though never too much) and interesting, allowing you to piece together the mystery of just what is going on. To my mind, it’s much more effective than the whole “what is the real world” thing of The Matrix.

Incidentally, on that subject, if you’ve seen all of that particular trilogy you may find some bits of Dark City eerily familiar — to say which would spoil things, but many are so obvious you don’t have to be a film buff to spot them. Either both universes are based on similar philosophical ideas, or the Wachowskis just ripped this off (in case you hadn’t noticed, it predates The Matrix by a year, and many of the most recognisable elements are in the sequels anyway). Considering there hasn’t been a lawsuit (to my knowledge), I’ll guess it’s the former. But Dark City does it all better: there are no rambling, incomprehensible speeches and it doesn’t batter you around the head with philosophical claptrap when all you want is the story to move forward.

The film’s single major flaw is the studio-imposed opening narration, which gives away far too many plot twists — honest to God, if you ever watch this, mute it during the New Line logo and don’t turn the sound back on til the first close-up of Kiefer Sutherland’s fob watch. If you don’t, you’ll find most of the mystery of the plot ruined, as this narration shockingly gives away most of the answers. (There are rumours of a director’s cut, 15 minutes longer and without that narration, slated for release back in 2006. Maybe this year it’ll turn up as a “10th Anniversary Edition”.)

I could witter on for pages about how much I’ve fallen for Dark City. It’s a superb movie, massively underrated, that I hope I haven’t over-hyped for any reader who wants to seek it out. But please, if you do, heed my warning about muting the opening narration — it really is worth it.

5 out of 5

Dark City placed 3rd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2008, which can be read in full here.

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