that there is a God. Now imagine that the universe and everything in it wasn't
created billions of years ago, but was dreamt into existence only last Sunday.
Or maybe even a mere three minutes ago. That what we take to be our entire existence
and lives, everything we know are actually false memories implanted into us, with
a few fabricated artefacts such as faded old photos to serve as reinforcements
of our perceptions. After all, that is all we have to show for our lives ultimately:
a collection of often rapidly fading memories. And what if God only put the dinosaur
fossils into the earth to screw around with our brains? If you acknowledge the
existence of such a Being, then you must admit that such a feat wouldn't be beyond
His powers. If you don't believe in such a Being, how can you disprove something
that is actually unprovable?
are the type of questions which has seldom been asked by celluloid science fiction.
Blade Runner (1982) and Total Recall (1990) are two rare examples I
can think of right now. However, it has been the staple diet of literary science
fiction for quite a while now. Perhaps the best example would be author Philip K. Dick
(whose work incidentally inspired Blade Runner (1982) and Total Recall (1990)).
While Dark City isn't based on any of Dick's works, the film is clearly
infused with some of his speculative musings. It could be described as Kafkaesque
metaphysics in action. A man wakes up in a bath one evening. In the same room
is the mutilated corpse of a murdered prostitute. He can't remember anything of
what happened - he can't even remember his own name. All he has are some disjointed
fragmented shards of memories. Soon he finds himself on the run from the police
as the prime suspect. But there is more afoot: who are the tall dark strangers
following him around?
Dark City is quite a rarity: it is both visceral and cerebral
at once. The film combines a very intelligent (and at times even intellectual)
story line with some stunning production designs and special effects. In an age
where the science fiction film genre has been dumbed down to a mere spectacle
of loud explosions and special effects (like in Independence Day (1996)),
Dark City stands out head and shoulders above the rest.
only weakness is that it gives away most of the film's premise in a voice-over
narration in its first few seconds of running time. A more lingering sense of
mystery and confusion would have served the movie much better. I wouldn't normally
recommend this: but maybe pitching up a few minutes late for the movie would be
in order. Or fast-forwarding the video until the opening credits come up, I don't
know. I have a suspicion that the film's money bosses probably insisted on the
voice-over sequence thinking that audiences would probably be too bewildered by
the onscreen proceedings initially. Along with the Harrison Ford
voice-over in the first theatrical release of Blade Runner (1982) this must
count as one of the most cynical underestimations of audiences' intelligences
by a studio yet. (This was rectified in the so-called Blade Runner - Director's
Cut many years later. Perhaps one day we will be treated to a similar version
of Dark City.)
However, despite the major flaw of the opening narration there are still many
surprises left in Dark City and the film quickly draws audiences into
its story. This alone is a great testament to the creative powers of director
Alex Proyas (whose previous film was the cult The Crow (1994) favourite).
Speaking of video, this is most likely the format in which most people will
ultimately see Dark City, which is a shame. The film should be seen
on the big big screen to be appreciated for its stunning production designs. Can
you say early 20th Century German expressionism? Dark City's designs
are a skilful updating of the artistry of films like Nosferatu (1922) (the original,
not the remake), Metropolis (1927) and The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920).
It is a dark and original graphic novel come to life. I have always been an architectural
freak and a sucker for cities of the imagination like those featured in Tim Burton's
Batman (1989) and Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982). Dark City
goes one step further: the amazing noir-ish city of the title actually plays an
active role in the storytelling itself. But unlike the film's producers I don't
want to give away any more plot details...
the studio's attitude to the film so far has been like the great man Bob Marley
once sang: to "kill it before it grows." It has been so swiftly in and
out of cinemas with so little publicity that few people actually got to see it.
Where I live it is showing in only two cinemas in the entire city! But forget
about all of 1998's other sci-fi offerings (like Lost in Space (1998), Godzilla (1998)
and Deep Impact (1998)) so far - the film to check out is Dark City,
which will no doubt grow into a cult sci-fi favourite...
Review by James O'Ehley from The
Sci-Fi Movie Page.