Dark City Reviews
#Content: Script 3 | Acting 3 | Cinematography 4 | Film Editing 3
#Visual: Costume Design 3 | Makeup & Hairstyling 3 | Scenic Design 4 | Lighting 4 | Visual Effects 4
#Sound: Score & Soundtracks 4 | Sound Editing & Mixing 3
#Overall (1~10): 6
Knowing close to nothing going in was a wise choice, but I did find myself saying "what in the world is going on?" several times. The story follows a man named John Murdoch who finds himself alone in a bathtub with no memory of who he is or where he's been. Murdoch is being hunted by both law enforcement and a mysterious group of people, known as 'The Strangers' with unknown powers and abilities. In some ways, Dark City makes for a good compilation of films like The Matrix, Minority Report, Blade Runner, and even Metropolis. For much of the film Murdoch is the audience. We have no idea where we are, who's good, who's bad, and where this all ends up. But once Murdoch starts to understand 'The Strangers' agendas, the film starts to take off.
The supporting cast includes William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and Kiefer Sutherland. Similar to how I feel about the movie overall, I didn't really care for any of the characters in particular until you understand the context of how the film is being played out. Sutherland has the most to do, but his performance is diluted to a quick breathing nerdy doctor.
I think as a whole Dark City will play better on repeated viewings. Especially because it will become more and more apparent just how many films have taken from Dark City. Proyas has made a few interesting directing choices since this one, but none quite capture the scope or uniqueness of Dark City. In the long-running genre of science fiction, Proyas' breakout film is definitely among the better ones.
+Mystery plays out nicely
+Gets better as it goes along
-Could have opened up with more context
Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus stated: "Stylishly gloomy, Dark City offers a polarizing whirl of arresting visuals and noirish action". Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun-Times called it a "great visionary achievement," while also exclaiming that it was "a film so original and exciting, it stirred my imagination like Metropolis and 2001: A Space Odyssey." In the San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Stack wrote that the film was "among the most memorable cinematic ventures in recent years", and that "maybe there's nothing wrong with a movie that is simply sensational to look at." He felt the film's "twisting of reality and its daring look - layered and off-kilter grays, greens and blacks - make it click." In a mixed review, Walter Addiego of The San Francisco Examiner thought "as a story, Dark City doesn't amount to much." He believed Dark City contained a "complicated plot" while also having important themes that were "no more than window dressing". But on a positive front, he wrote, "what counts here is the show, the creation of a strange world by a filmmaker who clearly knows science fiction and fantasy, past and present, and wants to share his love for it." Left unimpressed, Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle wrote, "You really have to feel for Alex Proyas. This guy wears bad luck like the grimy trenchcoats of his protagonists, only his zipper's stuck and he can't seem to shake the damn thing off." In expressing his negativity, he believed "Dark City looks like a million bucks (or rather, a million bucks gone to compost), but at its dark heart it's a tedious, bewildering affair, lovely to look at but with all the substance of a dissipating dream." Left equally disappointed was John Anderson of the Los Angeles Times. Commenting on the directing, he thought "If you had to guess, you might say that Proyas came out of the world of comic art himself, rather than music videos and advertising. Dark City is constructed like panels in a Batman book, each picture striving for maximum dread." He went on to say, Proyas was "trying simultaneously to create a pure thriller and sci-fi nightmare along with his tongue-in-cheek critique of artifice. And this doesn't work out quite so well." Author TCh of Time Out, felt the development of the Murdoch character was "surprisingly engrossing" and thought production wise, the "art direction is always striking, and unlike most contemporary sci-fi, the movie does risk a cerebral approach, tapping a vein of postmodern paranoia." Writing for TIME, Richard Corliss said the film was "as cool and distant as the planet the Strangers come from. But, Lord, is Dark City a wonder to see." James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, remarked that "Visually, this film isn't just impressive, it's a tour de force." and noted that "Dark City opens by immersing the audience in the midst of a fractured, nightmarish narrative." Berardinelli also said "Dark City appears to be New York during the first half of this century, but, using a style that is part science fiction, part noir thriller, and part gothic horror, he has embellished it to create a surreal place unlike no other." Describing some pitfalls, Jeff Vice of the Deseret News said that "when critics talk about films being 'style over substance,' they're definitely talking about movies like Dark City, which looks good but leaves an unpleasant aftertaste." Vice however was quick to admit, "The special effects and set designs are dazzling", but ultimately believed "Proyas makes a crucial error in treating the subject even more seriously than The Crow, and the dialogue (co-written by Proyas and The Crow: City of Angels scriptwriter David S. Goyer) is unintentionally funny at times and often just plain dumb." Andrea Basora of Newsweek, stated that director Proyas flooded the screen with "cinematic and literary references ranging from Murnau and Lang to Kafka and Orwell, creating a unique yet utterly convincing world". Similarly, David Sterritt wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that "The story is dark and often violent, but it's told with a remarkable sense of visual energy and imagination." Additionally, Marshall Fine of USA Today, found the film to be "Fascinating, visionary filmmaking." and "With its amber-tinged palette and its distinctively dystopian view of life, it may be the most unique-looking film we've seen in ages...[but] defies logic and makes frightening and unexpected leaps." Critic Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that the "plot that Dark City builds on John's predicament is a confused affair" and that the film's premise is "unsettling enough to make you wonder if it could actually derail a seriously drug-addled mind." Steve Biodrowski of Cinefantastique found the production design and the cinematography overwhelming, but he considered the narrative engagement of Sewell's amnesiac character to be ultimately successful. Biodrowski writes, "As the story progresses, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and we gradually realize that the film is not a murky muddle of visuals propping up a weak story. All the questions lead to answers, and the answers make sense within the fantasy framework." The reviewer compared Dark City to the director's preceding film The Crow in style but found Dark City to introduce new themes and to be a "more thoroughly consistent" film. Biodrowski concluded, "Dark City may not provide profound answers, but it deals seriously with a profound idea, and does it in a way that is cathartic and even uplifting, without being contrived or condescending. As a technical achievement, it is superb, and that technique is put in the service of telling a story that would be difficult to realize any other way."
"Dark City" is a unique film with a touch of science fiction, noir thriller, and gothic horror and I personally think that Alex Proyas has created something stand alone in which you still can see and feel its inspiration and foundations. The storyline throws you around and you are not sure what is right, what is wrong, what is fantasy, what is real and who is who. This surreal Kafkaesque noir original film almost creates its own genre, but yet it never goes so far that it loses track of its own identity. However, the plot isnīt always fully understandable and at times the editing and scenestructure becomes slightly confusing. The ensemble with Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland are all doing a fine job, but you can almost see in their faces that they werenīt sure themselves what was going on during the shoot. The photography is great, the production values of a high standard and we get hypnotic stunning visuals. I do like the eye-catching, stylish future noir design of this visionary world our main characters inhabit, which does look like New York City during the time period of the 1940s. The themes about loss of identity and the destruction of individualism in order to create an ideal society is for sure intriguing. However, "Dark City" suffers from the fact that a lot of the character development and the story itself is never revealed which makes you ask way too many questions during the film. Thereīs something that simply doesnīt hold the film together even if thereīs so much that points in a direction of movie greatness. "Dark City" is so promising, but in the end I can only give it a 3 out of 5 as the film is lacking something fundamental I simply canīt pinpoint.