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2012/02/12

Dark City

by Tony Ramos

In 1999, the Sci-Fi film The Matrix astounded film audiences worldwide with its revolutionary action sequences and unique story. It was a film that spoke of the world not being what it seemed and that most of humanity was essentially asleep; that only by awakening would humans come to see and know the truth about the world around them. A year prior to The Matrix opening, another Sci-Fi film with a similar concept, of a man who literally awakens from a sleep and discovers the world is not what it seems, also opened. The film was called Dark City, and it was directed by the very talented filmmaker Alex Proyas, who is best known for the movie The Crow.


Despite the similarity of both films having their main protagonist awakening to the truth, Dark City is a very different film to The Matrix. The most obvious difference is that Dark City is not a Sci-Fi action movie.  Instead, it is a Sci-Fi mystery/thriller film. In true mystery style, the film was shot in the film noir style, which really lets it live up to its title name, Dark City. Having made The Crow only a few years earlier, Mr. Proyas was well prepared to shoot another film that would mostly take place in a dark urban environment. His expertise and choices for camera placement throughout Dark City are amazing. There are many wonderful shots, but one that always stands out in my mind is that of when the main character, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), gently places a fish into water. Dark City also contains some impressive visual effects where buildings literally rise high out from the ground, while others shrink away or literally stretch themselves out, creating a new setting for the city and its inhabitants.

Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland)
The film opens with a black screen shot of nothing, before a star field appears on screen. Then the camera slowly begins to pan down to reveal a city's night time skyline before finally settling down on the city's dark streets, revealing Dr. Daniel P. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) overlooking a part of the city. During all of the this action, we hear the offscreen voice of Dr. Schreber explaining about “the strangers”, an ancient alien race that has mastered “the ultimate technology”: the ability to alter physical reality through will alone. Despite their powers, Dr. Schreber explains that this alien race was dying, and in an attempt to save their civilization, they abandoned their home to find a cure for their mortality. This journey into the stars led them to Earth, where these “strangers” feel they may have found the answers to their quest in human beings.

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell)
After this great introduction, we soon meet the main protagonist, John Murdoch, who is sleeping in a bathtub in which he suddenly awakens, naked and with amnesia. John does not know where he is, what is going on, nor even his name. This begins John's search for the truth. First, to figure out who he is, and then to figure out who these “strangers” are and why or how they have the ability to alter the city's landscape and its inhabitants lives. This altering is something the “strangers” do every day at twelve o'clock; also the time when everyone in this city (that never sees any daylight), fall asleep while the changes in the city and to them are occurring. The only person who does not sleep, and thus cannot be altered by these “strangers”, is John, who soon discovers his own ability to alter physical reality causing the “strangers” to now see him as a threat. To add to his problems, John is also on the lam from Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt), who believes John is the man responsible for the murder of several prostitutes throughout the city. The only person who seems to want to help him is a woman named Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly) who claims to be his wife, although because of his amnesia, he doesn't remember. John's attempt to keep his sanity while on the run from everybody ultimately leads him to an explosive climax and the truth about the entire city itself.

Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly)
As I stated before, this a film that, for obvious reasons, I can compare to The Matrix, but the differences between the two is what makes this film unique unto itself. It is a film in which after the protagonist awakens, he is not explained to, everything about the reality in which he now finds himself in in just one scene. John has to figure out for himself who he is and what is going on, all the while trying to evade aliens and humans who are after him. As he begins discovering the truth, we the audience curiously follow him, and this is what makes the film a pleasure to watch. Like any true mystery movie, this film will also benefit from multiple viewings.

Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt)
An always impressive William Hurt is smooth as Inspector Bumstead. The beautiful Jennifer Connelly plays Emma Murdoch with a subtle frustration yet loving compassion for her confused husband, John. While Kiefer Sutherland's slightly mad scientist portrayal of Dr. Schreber almost steals the movie as the only human who knows the entire truth about the "strangers" and the city from the very beginning. In the beginning of the film, John Murdoch is scared and confused, but slowly with his determination he begins gaining confidence and strength, something we can clearly see thanks to Rufus Sewell's fine performance. Also notable is Colin Friels who plays the character Detective Eddie Walenski, who, like John, also discovers the truth about the city, but can never quite put it all together, thus causing him his sanity.


Dark City is a film that so impressed well known American movie critic, Roger Ebert, that he offered to give his own commentary on one of the film's DVD audio tracks. With Dark City, Alex Proyas made a film that, although initially received poorly at the box office, now has a cult following. Still, it is a beautiful film with a great story that definitely deserves a second look by not only Sci-Fi fans, but all movie fans, especially by those who might know of it but have never seen it.

For more information visit their IMBb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118929/

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