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Before I say anything about the film, I want to recommend that you see DARK CITY ($25). If you are reading this review and don’t have a DVD player- see the Laserdisc. No Laserdisc player- then go for wide screen pay-per-view or even a wide screen VHS cassette.

Earlier in 1998, I was amongst those fortunate few who got to see DARK CITY presented in a theater. As the film was projected on the screen, I was awestruck by what had to be one of the most inspired science fiction films ever made, and quite possibly one of the best films of the year. Commercially, DARK CITY did not fair well at the box office. The film cannot be faulted for its poor showing; one has to blame the teenage to young adult audiences that are now the bread and butter of the film industry. DARK CITY is a darkly beautiful and brilliant piece of cinema that required too much of its television numbed audience- it expected them to think and follow the story without every single detail being spoon fed to them. DARK CITY is the brainchild of director Alex Proyas. His previous film, THE CROW was a highly stylized piece of filmmaking, just like DARK CITY. Based upon his work on these two films, I am tempted to say Proyas is a film genius. The visual content of both films is truly amazing. However, I will admit the scope of DARK CITY eclipses anything Proyas achieved in THE CROW. In fact, Proyas’ work on DARK CITY goes way beyond the visual achievements of many more seasoned filmmakers. If the Academy Awards hadn’t become a popularity contest that honored those films that made the most money, DARK CITY would certainly be up for a number of awards.

The brilliance of DARK CITY comes from the way that the film has melded elements of film noir to that of a science fiction movie. The story has puzzle-like quality that has to be solved as one sees the film for the first time; therefore, I won’t describe the plot in too much detail. DARK CITY stars Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch, a man who emerges from his hotel bathtub like a newborn, nude and without a single memory preceding that moment. His hotel room telephone rings and he receives a warning to leave his room immediately- someone is coming for him. Before he can exit his hotel room, Murdoch spies the body of a young woman on the floor lying next to the bed. She has obviously been murdered. Murdoch can’t remember anything, including the murder, but knows that he will be blamed for the crime. Once outside the hotel, Murdoch finds himself pursued by The Strangers, a race of aliens who control the city from below. DARK CITY doesn’t give any immediate answers, so the audience must follow along with John Murdoch as he tries to discover who he really is, while solving the mysteries of a city where the night never ends. DARK CITY also stars Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Schreber. Dr. Schreber is a scientist who has been collaborating with The Strangers in their experiments on the city’s inhabitants. As Dr. Schreber, Sutherland gives a deeply affecting performance, unlike anything else he has done in his career. Jennifer Connelly portrays Emma, Murdoch’s wife, who has difficulty believing that her husband has become the lead suspect in a murder investigation. Connelly is a wonderful actress and timeless beauty who is a perfect fit to the film’s noir setting. William Hurt gives an effective performance as police Inspector Bumstead. Hurt uses his patented brand of blandness as an asset in essaying the role of the fastidious, regimented detective who becomes part of the film’s ultimate mystery. Richard O'Brien (of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW fame) plays Mr. Hand, one of The Strangers who takes a personal interest in discovering what separates John Murdoch from the other human inhabitants of DARK CITY.

New Line Home Video has released DARK CITY as part of their marvelous Platinum Series of DVDs. DARK CITY is available in both wide screen and full frame presentations on opposite sides of the DVD. My recommendation is to skip the full frame version entirely, since the full frame transfer destroys far too much of Alex Proyas’ meticulous compositions. The wide screen presentation features the 16:9 anamorphic enhancement and is very close to the film’s full 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is dark, yet eerily beautiful. New Line’s superb wide screen transfer complements Wolski’s haunting work on the film. The level of detail is excellent, even within the darkest parts of the image. Color reproduction on the DVD is also excellent. The mostly muted colors are faithful to the film’s original color scheme and flesh tones appear natural. On DVD digital compression artifacts are usually prevalent in the dark portions of the image. Since so much of DARK CITY is very dark, I expected to see more artifacts than those that show up on this well authored DVD. 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has an excellent mix that uses the discrete capabilities of the format to the max. Dialogue is crisp and focused in the center channel while sound effects are fully directional. The track has good bass reproduction and Trevor Jones’ rich musical score sounds super in Dolby Digital. Other soundtrack options include a matrixed Dolby Surround compatible track and a French Dolby Digital track. Subtitles are available in English and French. DARK CITY has some nicely styled and animated menus that give one access to discs supplemental features. This Platinum Series DVD features two audio commentaries, one with the filmmakers, the other with film critic Roger Ebert. Both commentaries are intriguing and worth a listen. The filmmaker’s commentary features director Alex Proyas, writers Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. The commentary has all the inside information fans will want to hear. Roger Ebert’s commentary puts a critic’s spin on the film. Ebert talks about the film’s merits and compares it to science fiction films as well as film noir. Other supplements include a theatrical trailer, a comparison to Fritz Lang’s classic silent science fiction film METROPOLIS, plus there are set designs and cast and crew biographies/filmographies. Also included is a "Find Shell Beach" interactive game. The game requires that one follow the clues in precise order to reach the elusive Shell Beach. Solutions to the game have been posted in various places on the Internet for those who want to take the quick way to shell beach.

As I stated above, DARK CITY is a fantastic film that everyone should see at least once. Science fiction fans, as well as anyone who loves great cinema will want to own this marvelous film on DVD. Absolutely recommended.

 Dark City - New Line Platinum Series


DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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