May 31, 2020 – Hollywood, and many movie audience members found “Dark City” puzzling when it was first released in 1998 because it doesn't fit into the usual categories and it doesn't bother to explain everything that happens in its complex, offbeat story.
It wasn't until the film was released on video, and shown on TV networks, that it finally found its audience. I liked the film when I saw it in a movie theater (my 1998 review can be found here) but I was really blown away by the Director's Cut of the film, released on video disks 10 years later.
I recently acquired a blu-ray copy of the Directors Cut of Dark City at a local pawn shop's BOGO sale. I watched it last night on my big screen home theater setup, and was immediately compelled to watch all the extra features. I had not seen this film since 1998, and not seen the director's cut before last night.
In the extra features, writer-director Alex Proyas (“The Crow” and “I, Robot”) explains that he was less than satisfied with the 1998 theatrical release, the opening voice-over (added in post production) in particular, and he feels the movie was not properly marketed. Both he, and some of the film's actors were encouraged, however, by the film's lasting appeal and its expanding fan base over the years.
Intense actor Rufus Sewell, who plays the main “Dark City” character, John Murdoch, has been in a number of good movies before and since, including “Hamlet” (1996) “Dangerous Beauty” (1998) “The Illusionist” (2006) “Amazing Grace” (2006) and “Judy” (2019). Still, he is best remembered for his role in “Dark City.”
In the director's cut, Murdoch awakes to find himself with no memory of his past life, naked and wet and at the scene of a murder (the opening voice over is omitted in this director's cut). He is advised by an enigmatic doctor, Daniel Schreber (played by Kiefer Sutherland) to flee the scene of the crime, which he does.
Murdoch soon discovers that worse things than the police are after him, mysterious men, and a child, dressed in black, are out to kill him for unknown reasons. The story revolves around two mysteries: Who really killed the prostitutes that Murdoch is accused of murdering, and who are these mysterious strangers who are trying to kill Murdoch?
Police Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt of “The Accidental Tourist”) is charged with solving the mystery of the murdered women. He finally captures Murdoch, but begins to suspect that Murdoch is not the murderer after all. Bumstead and Murdoch find themselves caught up in a much larger mystery about the nature of their existence.
This film has an amazing, noirish look about it with production design by George Liddle and Patrick Tatopoulos. The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and music by Trevor Jones are very haunting. The film's eerie shape-shifting cityscapes foreshadow later, similar scenes in such films as “Inception” and “Dr. Strange.”
Overall, the film reminds me of other surrealistic films such as “The Trial” (1962) and “The Double” (2013) in that it lends itself to an existential interpretation. It is also bears some similarities to film noir detective films such as “Out of the Past” (1947). The extra features on the blu-ray offer a number of interpretations of the film.
The extras revealed a fact I hadn't known before: Two characters in the movie, Frank Bumstead and Doctor Daniel Schreber are named after real people, the film art director and production designer Lloyd Henry “Bummy” Bumstead (1915-2006, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Vertigo”) and a German judge, Daniel Schreber (1842–1911) who wrote influential memoirs about his own mental illnesses. Alex Proyas notes that many people thought the Bumstead character was named after the popular comic strip character, Dagwood Bumstead.
This film also features the beautiful Jennifer Connelly as Murdoch's love interest, a few years before she won her Academy Award for “A Beautiful Mind” (2001). Overall, the Director's Cut of “Dark City” is a big improvement over the theatrical release, and the extras make this blu-ray a must have for fans of this film. Both rate an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.