dark city | alex proyas | lem dobbs | david s. goyer | rufus sewell | kiefer sutherland | jennifer connelly | fantasy | mystery | sci-fi | thriller | william hurt | australia | richard o'brien | ian richardson | bruce spence | melissa george | neo noir | alien | aliens
Film: Dark City
Director: Alex Proyas
Writer: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer
Starring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Connelly
This was a movie that I had never heard of until I was working my way through the horror movie encyclopedia. Now I’ve heard my buddy of Tim say he really likes this one and there is debate if this was horror or not. I also found out there are 2 different cuts of the movie. For this first viewing, I did watch the theatrical cut, but next time I see this, I will go director’s cut. To get into this movie though, the synopsis is a man struggles with memories of his past, which include a wife he cannot remember and a nightmarish world no one else ever seems to wake up from.
We start this movie off seeing space. There is voice-over narration from Kiefer Sutherland. He explains that he is Dr. Daniel Schreber and that there is this powerful alien race known as The Strangers. They’re dying out so they came to Earth. Dr. Schreber is helping them to find a way to ensure their race survives. We then get a look at the city this takes place in. What I like here is that we have a blended feel of noir-style cities and a bit of modern as well. Everyone in this world goes to sleep aside from John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell).
John doesn’t know who he is though. He gets flashes of memories, but he cannot piece them together. He is in a bathtub and he gets dressed. Leaving the room he knocks over a fishbowl and has to save the goldfish. He makes an even worse discovery, which is that of a deceased woman in his room. Things get weirder for him when he gets a phone call from Dr. Schreber. He tells him that he has to leave before it is too late, which he does.
From here, John tries to piece together his life. Emma (Jennifer Connelly) is his wife and John left when he learned she cheated on him. There is a series of murders of prostitutes which leads the police to look for him. This investigation is led by Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt). They find J Murdoch in the guest book and this guest is nowhere to be found.
It goes even darker though when everyone falls asleep again, except for John. There are these odd looking people seeking him out and they’re led by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson). Along with Mr. Wall (Bruce Spence) and Mr. Hand (Richard O’Brien), they need to find him before it is too late. They’re using Dr. Schreber for their plans and when he doesn’t show up at midnight, they go looking for him. This movie plays a lot with memories and what isn’t real. These weird individuals also have strange powers that John might also have as well, making him the first human with them.
Now that is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie as I don’t want to go any deeper into spoilers. Where I want to start with breaking this one down is that first I love the setting. The title of the movie is fitting in that we’re in a city that is always at night. It definitely helps with the noir vibe it has going for it. No one seems to notice though, that is until John comes around. This movie actually predates The Matrix, which makes it even more interesting. The world we are seeing isn’t necessarily real. Those that are living in it can touch things and live, but it is being controlled by The Strangers. As I was stating, it wasn’t until John comes around to notice that no one can remember where anything is, they can’t remember him and they cannot tell the last time it was day out. No one thinks about any of this though until they asked. It gives this story an eerie vibe for sure.
The idea of memories is where I’m going to take this next. One thing that has always stuck with me from psychology is that memories are unreliable. In courts of law, it is really taken with less certainty than harder evidence. What is interesting with this movie is that none of the characters memories are their own. Inspector Bumstead and Emma along with Uncle Karl Harris (John Bluthal) are the best for this. Dr. Schreber points out to John that he might not have known any of them before the night that he woke up where this movie started. Memories are sometimes all that we have though. Despite what he knows, John is doing everything that he can to cling to the last life that he remembers.
I feel I should go next to the elephant in the room, is this movie horror or not? In the grand scheme, no as this more is a sci-fi, fantasy, mystery and thriller film. I’ll admit, I stole all those from the Internet Movie Database page. It also could be considered a Neo Noir as well. If this movie hadn’t been included in the horror movie encyclopedia, I wouldn’t be covering this. I’m glad it was in there though and gave me a reason to watch this as I do feel this adjunct. It is scary to not remember who you are. John is framed as a killer and we have this alien race that studying us. The vibe doesn’t go full into horror, but I think we get enough elements there for me to at least include it here.
Before I move away from the story, I do want to bring up The Strangers. I believe they’re led by Mr. Book. Mr. Hand is the one that is following John and willing to sacrifice himself to find him. I love the look of these aliens. They’re all bald, have really white skin and there’s something creepy about them. They also have powers to manipulate things around them. O’Brien does great as this main villain as there is just charisma about him. What I will say as well, there is a little kid one that is the creepiest of all.
Since I’ve shifted to the acting of Mr. Hand, I’ll go into the rest. I really liked Sewell as our lead here. He’s more a villain to me, so I did like to see him as our hero. There is a confusion he needs to take on John and I think he does well there. The determination works on top of it. I’m a fan of Hurt and I think he does well as Inspector Bumstead. I’m also a fan of Connelly. My only issue is that I wish she had more screen time. Sutherland is good as this mad doctor that we don’t know if we can trust or not. Richardson, Spence and the rest of The Strangers fit the look for me. We also get a cameo here from Melissa George as a prostitute named May. The cast is solid across the board as there wasn’t a bad performance.
Then I’ll go next to the effects. This movie came out in an interesting time. I love the setting and look of this city. There is a timeless feel that brings up noir from the past while also being futuristic. There are also some really good practical effects that we get. We also get some CGI. I’ll be honest; there was quite a bit that held up for me. There is a bit that doesn’t, but I’ll take it regardless. I’ve seen much worse. The cinematography was well done here to give the city character and that adds another dimension to this movie for me.
In conclusion here, I really dug what this movie was doing. As someone who really enjoys sci-fi, I’m surprised I hadn’t seen or even heard of this movie before. The concept is an interesting one. The acting really helps to bring these characters to life. Not all of the effects work, but what doesn’t is pretty minor to me. The cinematography even does well in giving the city a bit of character. I’m hard pressed to fully consider this a horror movie, but it is adjunct and I’ll include it in what I do with rankings. Overall I’d say this is a good movie for me. This is one I’m excited to revisit now that I’ve watched and see what is different with the director’s cut.
My Rating: 8 out of 10