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Dark City – Movie review of the underrated 1998 sci-fi classic


Director: Alex Proyas
Starring: Rufus Sewell, Keifer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, Bruce Spence, Melissa George

This excellent review by Mike Milling. Spoilers ahead.

In 1994, Australian film-maker Alex Proyas gave angst-ridden teenagers and goths everywhere a chance to stop crying and wallowing in misguided self-pity for 102 minutes and actually enjoy themselves, by adapting the James O’Barr comic book ‘The Crow’ and creating a rather brilliant dark fantasy that those moaning freaks could really sink their fake fangs into. Years later, in 1998, Proyas returned to Hollywood with another dark fantasy, that would unfortunately not share the impressive box-office success showered upon his previous effort.

The film in question is ‘Dark City’ – a brooding, sinister little sci-fi flick which owes much more to classic film-noir than gothic fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty darn dark (hence the name ‘Dark City’) and gothic in style, but it has the general feel and pace of a gripping crime thriller.

The action takes place in a dank, creepy city, seemingly trapped in some sort of 1940’s noir time-warp, completely bereft of any daylight. Our hero John Murdoch (frowning medieval eyebrow actor Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a strange hotel to find he is wanted for a series of brutal murders, yet has no memory of these events taking place. In fact, he doesn’t have much of a memory left at all. It’s fair to say he’s rather bloody confused actually (which is handy, seeing as Brit-twit Rufus Sewell’s face seems to have ‘confused’ as it’s default setting).

Now, a vast portion of the films plot is essentially the concept of the ITV daytime light-entertainment programme ’60 Minute Makeover’ (honestly, stick with me on this one), with a sci-fi twist:

> Ordinary folks surroundings (in this case, not a 3 bedroom semi-detached house in Clapham, but a whole city) are being changed and manipulated around them.

> The cities inhabitants are completely unaware of these changes (due to a mysterious mass sleep that has been forced upon them. None of them are enjoying a suspiciously convenient hour long trip to the local beauty salon while being filmed for no reason by their excitable brother-in-law who is OBVIOUSLY hiding something).

> These bizarre transformations are being carried out by an evil organisation (have no fear, I’m not talking about Claire Sweeney, Terri Dwyer and that sickeningly nice handy-man Big Brother winner – the film isn’t THAT unsettling).

The dastardly silly beggars behind this twisted experiment are a completely bald alien race known as ‘The Strangers’. Led by the ominous Mr. Book (‘proper thespian’ Ian Richardson – known by American audiences as that snooty English stereotype from that mustard commercial), violent, knife-wielding Mr. Hand (prancing ‘Crystal Maze’ ponce Richard O’Brien) and freaky hairless child Mr. Sleep (some freaky hairless child). Their aim – to mess with the human race by changing their surroundings, mixing up their identities and stealing their memories, in order to learn more about the human condition…or something.

Anyway, Murdoch wakes up during the procedure and somehow gains the ability to blow weird super-powerful smoke-ring things out of his head. With the help of an extremely odd Doctor (terrorist deterrent Jack Bauer), a beautiful yet dead-eyed lounge singer (Jennifer ‘You Have No Power Over Me’ Connelly) and a hilariously named policeman (Inspector Bumstead – Ha ha ha! Though he’s played by ‘Mr. Excitement’ William Hurt, which makes the whole thing a lot less funny), our frazzled-brain hero uses his new found power to combat the despicable Right Said Fred cover band that’s been causing all the trouble.

But head-rings and daytime TV comparisons aside, this really is a hugely enjoyable and gloriously weird science-fiction/noir blend, that deserves much more recognition than it actually gets. Fans of recent action packed mind-bender ‘Inception’ and pill-popping reality distorter ‘The Matrix’ will no doubt enjoy it immensely. If you’re one of those particular geeks, go ahead and check it out.

Right, I’m off to re-watch ‘The Crow’ and self-harm. Or maybe I’ll just watch ’60 Minute Makeover’…and self-harm.



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