Today I watched Dark City, directed by Alex Proyas in 1998. I can't remember why or when I saw this movie last, but I have seen it recently. I really like it. I've only see the director's cut with no voice over - I'm not sure if that matters. I love that it's one of those movies that combines incredible visuals with an awesome plot, but doesn't get bogged down with special effects and stupid like a lot of sci-fi does.
Because it's my bedtime, here's a quick but awesome summary from IMDB: "John Murdoch awakens alone in a strange hotel to find that he has lost his memory and is wanted for a series of brutal and bizarre murders. While trying to piece together his past, he stumbles upon a fiendish underworld controlled by a group of beings known as The Strangers who possess the ability to put people to sleep and alter the city and its inhabitants. Now Murdoch must find a way to stop them before they take control of his mind and destroy him."
The movie reminds me of a lot of other films, and all of them I really like - things like Metropolis, M, various film noirs, The City of Lost Children, and even Memento. It's also similar to The Matrix, but came out a year earlier and for me, has a stronger message because it's not so lost in special effects. I love that it visually and thematically pays homage to some of my favorite silent films. It's always fun when you find a director that shares your knowledge of film and shows his own personal love of films in his own work. There's something very cool about these homages - I like how they seem to be a neat way to show some appreciation and respect for other directors and works.
Since the director's cut I've seen doesn't have the narration that Ebert talks about, the movie is a little more confusing, which I like. That's why I said that it reminds me of Memento, where you have to sort of struggle with the characters amnesia right along with him. I like movies that you have to work with a little bit and that don't give you everything you need to understand them right away. I think it can make the plot more exciting and tense, too. In this case, I always feel really excited as Murdoch pushes on, because I want to find out what happened to him, too, and anxiously hope that he can fix things.
I love that the film looks awesome, with it's dark, green-tinged color palette and constant darkness. I love the shifting city, the well-composed shots, even The Strangers (which I read were inspired by Riff Raff from Rocky Horror - rock on! Richard O'Brien, who played Riff Raff, even plays on of The Strangers. See? The cool movie references just keep coming.) with their pale skin and weird true form. I just think it's great when you see a movie where you can tell that so much care was put into each scene. Shots were not just composed at random, but with purpose, and you can really see the difference that it makes.
I think it's great that the film never drowns in it's own effects, though. I think that at times the message and story of The Matrix is lost to the special effects. I haven't seen it in a while, but I know that when I think of the film, I think of unique effects, not the story so much. Could just be me, though. I do know that in a lot of sci-fi, story can take a back seat to visuals. I really appreciate and respect that Dark City doesn't allow this to happen. It has a really strong style, some really cool effects, but I find myself not overly distracted by these things. I really enjoy them, but I can easily enjoy the story at the same time.
I really, really, like this movie - there's a lot going on here that I could keep talking about. You know, everything from Allegory of the Cave stuff to just breaking down shots and different references for fun. But, I should rest or at least put some more stuff in my suitcase. I don't often hear Dark City talked about, but it's one of the cooler sci-fi films out there, and I don't like most sci-fi. It's worth checking out if you haven't seen it. It's pretty short and it's really satisfying. It still feels really new and visionary to me when I watch it, even now!
Have any thoughts about Dark City? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Dark City
Buy it on Amazon