Tuesday, April 26, 2011


(February 1998, U.S.)

Alex Proyas' DARK CITY falls under that category of intelligent, high concept science fiction film that perhaps require more than one viewing to fully appreciate it's artistic potential; the kind the average Friday night multiplex moron would never go for if they could help it. There have been others before it like METROPOLIS (a heavy influence on this film) 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THX-1138, BLADE RUNNER, DUNE and SOLARIS; all of which I can now consider some of my favorite science fiction films.

This is a 1940's style neo-noir sci-fi film that depicts a mysterious city in which human inhabitants never see the sun, as their lives are manipulated by extraterrestrials referred to only as the "Strangers", who masquerade as humans in black, grimy trenchcoats and hats. They also bear a strong resemblance to and possess collective consciousness just like the "Borg" of STAR TREK-THE NEXT GENERATION. The Strangers are committed to studying the race of humanity and their souls through bizarre experimentation. The film itself explores the violent subject matter of murder, as well as abstract ideas such as hallucination, simulated reality, and the relationship between lost memory and personal identities. As the mysterious unfolds through the investigative findings of our hero John Murdoch (played by Rufus Sewell), we learn the truth of the city's actual existence in outer space and that humanity's hope of salvation will also lie in the hands of Murdoch's inner powers not only over the Strangers, but of the city itself. Murdoch defeats the Strangers who control the inhabitants and remakes the city based on childhood memories, which were illusions ironically arranged by the Strangers themselves.

The dark city itself can easily be compared to many things - to murky, nightmarish German expressionist film noir depiction of urban mechanism and repression, to World War II dreariness reminiscent of popular works by Edward Hopper. It has details from different eras and architectures that are changed at will by the Strangers. The city inhabitants are prisoners who do not realize they are in a prison and live their lives according to what the dominant higher intelligence has manipulated them into believing and experiencing. Perhaps this sounds very much like THE MATRIX (1999). It does, but DARK CITY was released a little over a year prior. And as previously mentioned above, Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS (1927) was a major influence on the film, shown through the architecture, concepts of the baseness of humans within a metropolis, and the general tone itself.

By the way, just in case one of the "Strangers" looks vagualy familiar to you, you're not wrong. You're looking at Richard O'Brien, the writer of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW and player of "Riff Raff" in the legendary film version.

Favorite line or dialogue:

John Murdoch: "When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?"
Frank Bumstead: "What do you mean?"
John: "I just mean during the day. Daylight. When was the last time you remember seeing it? And I'm not talking about some distant, half-forgotten childhood memory, I mean like yesterday...last week. Can you come up with a single memory? You can't, can you? You know something, I don't think the sun even...exists...in this place. 'Cause I've been up for hours, and hours, and hours, and the night never ends here."

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