Tuesday, February 20, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "DARK CITY- DIRECTOR'S CUT"


DARK CITY: DIRECTOR’S CUT (1998)

Director: Alex Proyas
Screenwriter: Alex Proyas and Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer



At some point, it went from cool to cliche to say that you were a fan of "Dark City". I think it's well-respected and well-known enough now, but at one point in time, even people who thought they really knew sci-fi and all the famous archetypal elements and the films that created them like Fritz Lang's "Metropolis' or Kubrick's, "2001..." or Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", a lot of those fans didn't catch on to Alex Proyas's "Dark City" 'til way later. It was practically ignored by the general public and awards upon its original release, although through critical praise has become a favorite cult film, and in time is keen on surpassing some of its more popular contemporaries. (The next year, “The Matrix,” came out with a different but similar premise and was far more popular)  Proyas, who’s had previously directed the infamous Brandon Lee film “The Crow,” and has gone on to more popular sci-fi himself in “I, Robot,” and "Knowing". Everything else he's done is interesting for one reason or another in their own right, but in "Dark City", Proyas creates a completely new universe, one that is part film noir, part mystery, and completely reinvents what sci-fi can imagine. I say “create,” because unlike most of those other films I mentioned, Proyas didn’t adapt “Dark City,” from a previous source like a novel or comic book, so this really places him in the same atmosphere at Philip K. Dick, and Gene Roddenberry and Arthur C. Clarke. 

It’s a little difficult for me to explain to much of the plot because the movie has one of the most amazing reveals of all-time, and so much of this ever-changing world filled with dark corners, dork alleys, and,… well, darkness, that revealing too much would spoil some of the more intricate surprises the movie has for us. (Actually revealing how there is so much darkness is itself too much of a reveal) In the only theatrical version, there's a narration at the beginning that similar to the “Blade Runner,” fiasco, that reveals certain aspects of the world before the characters were aware of them, which is why I’m specifying the Director’s Cut version for the Canon. 

What I can reveal is that the story involves a man who wakes up with apparently amnesia, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell). He also wakes up in a hotel room, naked, and with a dead hooker. While the police start looking for him, led by an observant and perplex Det. Bumstead (William Hurt), he slowly starts searching for clues as to who he is and who or what is setting him up. A postcard, a wallet, a briefcase with strange initials,… but where did these clues come from? A mad scientist, Dr. Schraber (Keifer Sutherland) seems to have some of the answers and informs John’s wife, Emma (Jennifer Connolly) of his recent disappearance and suspected activities, but is very nervous and twitchy about the information he’s giving away. We see certain clues, the shifting of architecture, the way everyone goes to sleep suddenly at what appears to be midnight, and we see the race of apparently aliens that live underground that seems to control the world above, but we and the characters are only allowed certain pieces of information of what’s happening and why. 

Looking back on the film, I can't help but think about all the uproar and popularity that Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's feature "The Cabin in the Woods" has. I've never liked that film, partially because I found no surprises in it; it takes a lot of the aspects of "Dark City", changes the genre from sci-fi to slasher horror and basically strips the movie of all metaphor, and lays out how it's a deconstructionist look at the genre writing process. I never even thought about "Dark City" while watching "The Cabin in the Woods" at the time, and why would I, the conventions that started, or were at least mastered with that film had become cliches of cliches by the time Whedon & Company decided to do their fanboy version. Now, looking back it's obvious that the biggest difference between "The Cabin in the Woods" and "Dark City" and even it's imitators, including "The Matrix" films, is that instead of being about the twist and reveal, they focus more on the characters instead. Rufus Sewell is an underrated actor and despite one corny and obvious line at the end, he plays the classic Hitchcockian wronged man really well. We care that he's stuck in a world he's trying to piece together likes broken puzzle pieces that he doesn't have a full picture to guide with, and there's strong acting and storytelling all around, that makes us care about the fate of these characters as oppose to other films that use their characters own existence as necessary evils to be turned into punchlines.

It may borrow from some of the useful sources as it needs to, for dramatic effect and effectiveness, but “Dark City,” even in a genre filled with similar repeated and boring ideas remains a truly unique and original work. Dare I say, even a seminal work in the genre. A film that itself has been borrowed and sourced from for dramatic effect and effectiveness ever since.

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