"Dark City" is a triumph of science fiction--a smarter version of "The Matrix" and the one of the most visually impressive motion pictures of it’s type to date, only being narrowly beaten by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Dark City: The Director's Cut (1998, Blu-ray)
Directors: Alex Proyas
Producers: Alex Proyas and Michael DeLuca
Writers: Alex Proyas (story and screenplay) and Lem Dobbs (screenplay) and David S. Goyer (screenplay)
Features: * Commentaries * Documentaries * Essays * Photos * Trailer * Pop-up Track Track * Digital Copy
Rufus Sewell ... John Murdoch
William Hurt ... Inspector Frank Bumstead
Kiefer Sutherland ... Dr. Daniel P. Schreber
Jennifer Connelly ... Emma Murdoch / Anna
Richard O'Brien ... Mr. Hand
Ian Richardson ... Mr. Book
Bruce Spence ... Mr. Wall
Colin Friels ... Det. Eddie Walenski
John Bluthal ... Karl Harris
Mitchell Butel ... Officer Husselbeck
Melissa George ... May
Dark City: Director’s Cut Blu-ray Review
It’s been ten long years since we were first introduced to director Alex Proyas’ strange, hypnotic sci-fi horror film, "Dark City." What’s odd is that despite major advancements in digital technology and effects over the years as well as an ever evolving sense of style and substance, Proyas’ dirty, dark tale is still every bit as engrossing and visually alluring as it was in 1998. It’s even quite possible that today the film proves more daring and original than ever before.
Back when "Dark City" was first released, it was met with mainstream apathy, only gaining attention in critic’s circles and with cult audiences. Then, in 1999, just as the film was starting to find an audience and a voice, "The Matrix" was released. And with it’s shiny, candy coated surface and meaty interior that bore a similar resemblance to "Dark City," "The Matrix" became the success story of the darkly twisted duo of mind-bending sci-fi features. But now that "The Matrix" has crumbled upon itself with two dismal sequels, it’s "Dark City’s" time to "tune" its own legacy as a modern sci-fi classic.
"Dark City" follows a young man named John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), who wakes up in a bath tub only to find a dead body in the next room. He doesn’t know who he is or what he is. The only constant he knows is that his wife (Jennifer Connelly) is looking for him even though he can’t fully remember her. Also constant is that the cops are after him for murder, as well as a darker, secret society of mysterious Strangers. As the film unravels, we learn who The Strangers are and what they’re doing to the human race and how this all ties into John’s confused world. This, of course, coincides with the murder investigation being researched by Frank Bumstead (Jon Hurt, in one of his finest roles). "Dark City" can be best described as part film noir, part sci-fi thriller and part romantic drama.
Director Alex Proyas was originally known for his tragic, but uniquely enthralling comic book epic, "The Crow." While, by today’s standards, the film isn’t nearly as engaging as today’s graphic novel features ("300" and "Beowulf" come to mind), or as visually alluring as "The Crow’s" chopped up sequel "The Crow: City of Angels," the original "Crow" does have a spark of originally and a raw nerve to suit its gothic needs. With "Dark City" it seems Proyas’ goal was to establish a cleaner, better voice with his visuals. Utilizing German expressionistic settings, costumes and design, Proyas creates a extraordinarily visual world out of his dreary setting that’s wholly fresh while paying homage to expressionistic films like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."
Proyas also borrows themes from classic sci-fi novelists Phillip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov, an author Proyas will directly deal with on his next major motion picture, "I, Robot." There are even cleverly shades of classic satirist Kurt Vonnegut weaved within the strings of Proyas’ complex and daring script.
The film only suffers in one department--emotion. The characters never fully connect to one another despite the obvious need for such connection. John tries to remember his wife, and comes close with a few faint memories, but the dynamic couple is only given one emotional scene together to connect their relationship, and their love for one another. Some of the film’s disconnect is entirely intentional, given the twists and turns the film eventually takes. But a simplistic emotional core is lacking within our key heroes. This flaw leads to distracting, flat performances, particularly from Connelly who doesn’t seem to fully understand her character’s motivations.
The pacing of the film is also slightly off, with certain moments, particularly in this director’s cut, that don’t quite work in the way they should. There is a lot of character building being done in the film, but most of it only builds upon the film’s central story, rather than giving us insight into the minds of our heroes, and even our villains.
Minor flaws aside, "Dark City" is a triumph of science fiction--a smarter version of "The Matrix" and the one of the most visually impressive motion pictures of it’s type to date, only being narrowly beaten by Ridley Scott’s "Blade Runner." Even Proyas’ bigger budgeted "I, Robot" doesn’t come anywhere near as close to sci-fi perfection as "Dark City." Hopefully, we’ll see more work like this from this awesome director in the near future.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A-
Film Value: A-
New Line presents the film in 2.35:1 widescreen at 1080p/VC-1 video stretched across a BD50 disc. For those who own the original DVD, this will be one of the greatest updates you’ve ever seen. The old DVD was a first-gen DVD title and looked fine for that era, but by today’s standards, it’s just a notch above titles in the $1 bin at Wal-Mart.
New Line has gone back and meticulously restored this print to pristine perfection. Proyas was also on-hand to help rework lighting, effects and even tweak the film’s grain. The transfer did have DNR applied to it, but I didn’t honestly notice too many flaws, or softness because of it. The transfer is a touch grainy, but it feels intentional. There are not digital compression issues or dust on the print. Detail as well as black levels and fleshtones are spot-on. This is an amazing catalog release fixing the ten year old mistake that is the original DVD. Fans are going to love this transfer.
Even better is the astonishingly tight DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio uncompressed surround track. Surrounds are aggressive and enveloping. Everything is extremely well mixed, particularly given the age of the film. Dialogue is a touch soft though, marring some of the more action orientated sequences. I also noted a few speaker pops--I’m not sure if that’s the mix or my system. Regardless, New Line has done a wonderful job recreating this mix for a new generation. I can’t imagine a transfer for this film getting much better.
The Blu-ray version of "Dark City" sports all of the features on both the new DVD and the old DVD edition.
• Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut -- The Blu-ray version contains both cuts of the film. There are small tweaks made throughout the film from a deleted narration to added scenes, extended scenes and even some visual tweaks here and there. Both cuts are quite good, but I’d say that the DC is just slightly better if only because we get a little more insight into the characters and the world they inhabit.
• Intros by Roger Ebert and Alex Proyas -- Both Ebert and Proyas contribute intros to the film. Worth a look as it whets the appetite for more discussion with both men.
• Commentaries -- There are five tracks total featuring a multitude of people involved in the film. Alex Proyas gets a solo track. There’s also a writers track and a technical track. Probably the best of the tracks though, goes to critic Roger Ebert who listed "Dark City" as his favorite film of 1998. Ebert is fairly responsible for the cult status this film has attained as his enthusiasm for the film is engaging and inspiring. Here, his original commentary can be found on the theatrical cut and he’s also included in the commentary tracks for the Director’s Cut. The other tracks are certainly fine, but fans should give Ebert’s tracks a spin first.
• Documentaries: ‘Memories of Shell Beach’ and ‘Architecture of Dreams’ -- The first documentary runs about 40 minutes and explores the film from a retrospective angle. We are treated to behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interviews and other more. It’s a great addition to this awesome set. The second documentary, running about 30 minutes, is more design based as we explore behind the scenes footage surrounding the film’s elaborate sets and production design. If you love the look of the film and want to know more, check this feature out.
• Text Essays -- A rarity today, but back when the original DVD was released, New Line was known for placing a few choice reviews and essays on their discs. Here we are treated to a review of the film from Neil Gaiman, an essay that likens "Dark City" to "Metropolis" as well as two reviews for "Metropolis," one from sci-fi author H.G. Wells.
• Photo Gallery and Trailer -- Great promo stuff, worth looking at.
Oddly, the film doesn’t sport many HD-exclusive bonuses. Fans are treated to a pop-up track that makes note of the differences between the two cuts. The Blu-ray edition also sports both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut. Finally, the Blu-ray edition comes complete with a Digital Copy of the film on a separate DVD.
The film is presented in a blue "Elite" case and is pretty consistent with New Line titles.
"Dark City" is a wonderful, memorable film that only gets better with each viewing. It’s just awesome that New Line is finally recognizing what an amazing achievement this film is to science-fiction cinema. The Blu-ray edition is stunning, presenting the finest version of this film on any format. You’d be doing yourself a great disserve to skip out on buying this disc.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: B
Recommendation: Worth owning.
On Blu-ray disc: July 29, 2008.
Follow DVDFuture on TWITTER for the latest in Blu-ray and DVD news and reviews!
* Add me as a friend on Myspace
* Email Me with Comments, Concerns, Questions and Complaints regarding this review, but please, be nice.
----R. L. Shaffer