Classic Intel: Dark City - Blu-ray Review

'like the very best Noir, Dark City feels dirty and dangerous; otherworldly but recognisably familiar'

Released almost exactly one year before The Matrix, Dark City might count itself extremely unlucky that where the Wachowskis' film made $27million on its US opening weekend, Alex Proyas' own slice of dark science fiction stumped up with only just over $5.5million. In 1999, sci-fi was very definitely 'in', in 1998, at least in the case of Dark City, it appears to have been very definitely 'out'.

The point of financial comparison pales somewhat when analysing budgets ($63million for The Matrix, a still meaty $27milllion for Dark City) but still, Proyas' film was a financial flop of the sort which would see the director absent from the Hollywood arena until 2004, when he returned with Will Smith vehicle I, Robot.

Like a number of late nineties/early noughties films and TV series though, Dark City found some sort of audience on DVD. A Director's Cut, included on the Blu-ray, made some changes which improved the film, most notably, in a move extremely similar to Ridley Scott's re-cutting of Blade Runner, the removal of several sequences of narration. Roger Ebert made it one of his 'Great Movies' in 2005.

Watching the film in 2011, it feels ahead of its time. This Summer will see Sci-fi returning to fashion with Source Code and Attack The Block already released and considered a success and Green Lantern, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and a rebooted Apes franchise soon to follow.

Ignoring the blockbusters though, it is Duncan Jones' quiet approach to sci-fi which Proyas' own take feels most in tune with. Dark City, like Jones' Moon, is a film about identity and the human condition, explored in a quiet and deliberate way in a Noir setting. Like the very best Noir, Dark City feels dirty and dangerous; otherworldly but recognisably familiar. The lighting Proyas employees, to keep the Dark City dark, is effective and threatening and the locations he creates all ooze character and threat.

The film is also characterised by several brave casting choices. Kiefer Sutherland was perhaps, in 1998, already on his way down a road that would end with several little-seen releases but still, he perhaps had the right to expect to play the hero. In Dark City, that role instead goes to Rufus Sewell who has since been notable by his absence in any truly 'major' mainstream Hollywood material. Sutherland instead plays a staccato-speaking doctor whose allegiances remain a mystery right till the final scenes. Sewell is tremendous as a literal every-man whilst the strongest support possible comes in the form of William Hurt, who should have won some sort of award. Richard O'Brien, who is indelibly linked in my eyes to The Crystal Maze TV show of the early nineties, provides an unexpectedly chilling villain as one of the mysterious 'strangers' whilst Jennifer Connelly is seen here on the crest of a wave that has taken her near to Hollywood's peak.

If the film gets perhaps a tad too allegorical in its closing scenes this is balanced by the duplicitous open-ended nature of its opening hour which works vigorously to keep viewers off-balance. This has perhaps been one of the main reasons why its success has come about due to home viewing, where audiences can take time and multiple watches to enjoy one of the nineties' finer slices of science-fiction.

Look further...

'one of the most underrated and under-seen science-fiction masterpieces of our era' - Anomalous Material, A-

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