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DVD Review

DVD cover

Dark City (Director's Cut)


Starring: Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and Richard O'Brien
Entertainment In Video
RRP: £14.99
Certificate: 15
Available 04 August 2008


John Murdoch wakes up naked and alone in a strange hotel room, suffering from what appears to be amnesia. He is being hunted by police inspector Frank Bumstead for a series of brutal murders that he knows nothing about; tailed by a mysterious doctor; and sought by a woman called Emma who claims to be his wife but of whom he has no recollection. On the run from Bumstead, Murdoch sets out to discover his past and with it the mysteries of the city; a place shrouded in perpetual darkness with no known way to leave and whose inhabitants fall comatose at midnight...

After ten years Dark City (1998) is finally getting the release that director Alex Proyas (I, Robot, The Crow) wanted the public to see.

This is a Director's Cut release that isn't just a self-indulgent collection of pointless scenes reinserted back into the movie. This Director's Cut is a whole different film, without really altering that much. This version actually keeps the viewer in the dark for a lot longer. In the theatrical cut Kiefer Sutherland's Dr. Schreber opens the movie with a voiceover that lets the audience in on what is going on. With the Director's Cut, this narration is deleted, leaving the audience almost as much in the dark as the main characters. Of course, there are plenty of additional scenes and longer versions of scenes, but it's the removal of the explanation that makes this version of the film seem more mysterious.

To be honest though, Dark City is far from being a great film. It's aesthetically pleasing, and has plenty of substance... it's just that it's one of those movies that you won't really want to watch more than once - not even to pick up the subtle references that you missed in the first viewing.

It's also has a lot of similarities with The Matrix, which opened the year after Dark City. For starters, both movies deal with a society of people that are living in an artificial reality, both have strange, identical looking, uniformed figures that are working behind the scenes, and both are centred around one man who realises something's not right about his environment and discovers he can use the same special powers as the people behind the scenes. In addition, both films were filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney, and apparently The Matrix reused some of Dark City's sets. Click here to visit a great Spanish language website that compares the two films in more detail - including some interesting photography that compares scenes from both movies.

Extras are pretty impressive. We get three audio commentaries (more on those later); Introduction by Alex Proyas (5 min featurette that's more an introduction by film critic Roger Ebert and Proyas); Memories of Shell Beach (43 min, 25 sec featurette that interviews cast and crew on their memories and experiences of working on the film); Architecture of Dreams (33 min, 50 sec featurette that looks at various elements of the film and interviews crew and academics on why the movie is so important); Production Gallery; and Theatrical Trailer.

The first audio commentary is with the film's director Alex Proyas. I was surprised to hear that he was shocked, after unsuccessful test screenings of the movie, that the studio asked him to dumb the film down. This is quite a big budget movie and the studio needs to make its money back. If Proyas wants to make movies that appeal to the, sadly dwindling, intelligent members of society then he really shouldn't be engaged in the studio system and should work in the independent movie sector.

He spends a little too much time describing some of the subtle hints as to what's going on in the film, as well as explaining things that the audience should have picked up themselves. These is all the more strange when you consider that he bemoans the fact that the studio told him to "dumb down" the original theatrical release of the movie. Yet, here he is explaining stuff for the audience. This would have been more palatable if he'd pointed out what he was trying to achieve, but more often than not he seems to be lost in his own movie. For example, on explaining what the significance of the swirl patterns are he says that he's not clear what the spirals signify: "but they signify something".

The second audio commentary is with film critic Roger Ebert. This is the most enjoyable of the three, with Ebert pointing out the differences between the theatrical release and the Director's Cut, as well as the odd homage to other movies and continuity errors. But he does make the odd mistake himself. For example in the shot where the camera zooms in towards Mr Book's eye and then continues to go inside his head, Ebert says that this is the first time we've seen what the alien creatures actually look like. He adds that the audience won't really understand what the strange image is supposed to be. It's actually the second time the audience has seen them - the first being when one of the strangers has the top of his head sliced off and the alien crawls out.

Ebert also states that while this movie may not have been as financially successful or critically well received as other movies released in the same year, but that these other movies are quickly forgotten about. That's right, we've all forgotten Saving Private Ryan, There's Something About Mary, Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love, A Bug's Life, The Big Lebowski, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ring (Ringu), The Truman Show, The Wedding Singer and Godzilla (actually, I wish I could forget that one). He also states that this film doesn't have the usual cop cliche set-up; a single cop who has a partner who is married, and the partner gets killed leaving the wife alone. This is exactly the cop set-up in Dark City, so I've no idea what he was getting at.

He also point out an interesting fact that could be intentional or coincidental. John Murdoch is staying in hotel room 614, which Ebert links to a Biblical reference. Checking on the Internet myself, in case Ebert is perpetuating a myth, I discovered that John 6:14 in the New American Standard Bible states: "Therefore when the people saw the sign which he had performed, they said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'" In the New International Version it states: "After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.'"

The third audio commentary is with writers David Goyer and Lem Dobbs, and sounds as though they were recorded separately and then edited together later. The reason I though this is because Dobbs spends quite some time explaining what the spirals in the movie meant to him and what they were supposed to represent. This is then followed by Goyer admitting he's not sure what the significance really is behind them, or rather that whatever their significance, it wasn't woven into the movie as well as it could have been.

Unless you've either never seen this movie before, or are a huge fan of the original, then I doubt it's really worth your time picking this up. Entertaining for an evening in if you fancy renting it, but I'm not sure I'd add this too my collection.


Darren Rea

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