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the Video Vault

From the Vault: ‘Dark City’

Alex Proyas followed-up his directorial debut of The Crow with this , inventive, and unabashedly stylish work of sci-fi noir. While The Crow demonstrated that Proyas had the makings of a great director, it was overshadowed by the tragic on-set death of its star, Brandon Lee; Dark City (1998) gave the filmmaker a chance to show what he could do free of controversy.

Rufus Sewell stars as John Murdoch, an amnesiac who awakens in a hotel room to learn that he is wanted for a series of murders. His only memories are vague images of a woman (Jennifer Connelly) who maybe his estranged wife. Determined to find out what the hell has happened to him, Murdoch goes on the run, pursued by a deranged physician, Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland); a relentless detective, Frank Bumstead (William Hurt); and the Strangers, creepy bald men in Nosferatu evening wear who can manipulate reality through a process known as Tuning. And then things get weird.

Proyas concocts a heady blend of tropes to tell the tale, strip-mining as disparate but compatible sources as the films of David Lynch, vintage film noir, The Twilight Zone, German Expressionism, the original Akira manga, and the writings of Franz Kafka. As with such classics as Blade Runner and Metropolis, his claustrophobic shape-shifting urban jungle is as much a character in the story as the flesh-and-blood heroes and villains who populate it. It most instances this would lead to something pretentious and derivative; Proyas and co-writers Lem Dobbs (Haywire) and David Goyer (the Blade films) display the guts needed to stand behind their narrative guns.

Unfortunately, at the time Dark City was made, most studios were less comfortable with high-concept material, and in their infinite wisdom [editor’s note: that’s sarcasm] the suits at New Line couldn’t resist in tinkering with the film by inserting narration that gave away the central mystery in the film’s opening minutes. First-time viewers are advised to hit the mute button until Murdoch awakes, or better yet, watch the director’s cut edition DVD released in 2008.

About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.


One thought on “From the Vault: ‘Dark City’

  1. A classic all the same. I genuinely really enjoyed this film.

    Posted by John the Aussie | May 11, 2012, 11:01 am

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