Dark City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image usually seemed strong.
Overall sharpness satisfied. Despite some light edge haloes, the movie provided distinctive material without softness to mar the presentation. I noticed no jaggies and only saw a couple of tiny instances of shimmering. Print flaws remained absent, but some mild digital noise reduction occurred. This lessened facial textures at times, but I didn’t think the DNR became egregious; I’d prefer no use of this technique at all, but it doesn’t ruin the transfer.
The movie opted for a restricted palette that favored greens and browns much of the time, though blues came through in a few shots. The tones looked well-rendered given the stylistic choices. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows seemed smooth and concise. The latter factor seemed especially important given the darkness that envelops so much of the tale. While I wish the transfer lacked noise reduction and edge haloes, it still looked good enough for a “B”.
I felt pleased with the movie’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack, though it didn’t dazzle. The mix emphasized the forward channels, where we got good stereo music and a nice sense of place. Various elements moved across the front smoothly and fit together well.
Surround usage added a bit of material but not much that stood out from the crowd. The back channels tended to contribute ambience and not much more, so they fleshed out the spectrum without much stand-out material. Still, the surrounds gave us a decent layer of environmental information.
Audio quality was fine. The movie suffered from some iffy looping, but the lines remained intelligible and they sounded reasonably natural much of the time.
Music appeared vivid and full, while effects showed nice range. Those elements came across as fairly accurate and concise. This ended up as a satisfactory mix.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the original 1998 DVD? Audio offered greater range and warmth, while visuals delivered radical improvements. The Blu-ray looked much smoother, tighter and clearer than the muddy, messy DVD. Even with the minor digital distractions, the Blu-ray became a tremendous upgrade.
The Blu-ray provides both the film’s theatrical version (1:40:29) as well as a Director’s Cut (1:51:43). Though the DC adds more than 11 minutes, the majority of this comes from extensions to existing scenes. A few small new subplots emerge, but they don’t add a whole lot. The DC also restructures sequences from the original and makes other alterations such as the elimination of the narration that opens the theatrical edition.
I’m surprised the Director’s Cut runs so much longer than the 1998 version, as the additions seem so minor. With an extra 11 minutes in play, I expected some major changes, but those don’t occur. I guess the many little bits and pieces tossed into the DC account for that running time, but they sure don’t feel like they contribute that much footage.
Despite the subtlety of most of the changes, I think the Director’s Cut offers the more satisfying experience. It seems smoother and becomes a better integrated tale. Both versions work fine, but the Director’s Cut seems a smidgen stronger.
Audio commentary fans rejoice, as Dark City provides five separate tracks. The first two accompany the theatrical version and also appeared on the original DVD.
Commentary One involves director Alex Proyas, writers Lem Dobbs & David Goyer, director of photography Dariusz Wolski & production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. Recorded individually for this edited, occasionally screen-specific piece, we learn about story/characters/themes, cast and performances, sets and production design, effects, music, editing and cinematography, and connected domains.
Some people don’t like this kind of edited “Frankencommentary”, but when done well, the format succeeds, and this track comes across in a very satisfying manner. We get a great array of notes and insights, as the participants flesh out different elements in a compelling way. The commentary keeps us informed and involved from start to finish.
For the second commentary, we hear from film critic Roger Ebert. He brings a running, screen-specific view of story/character areas, visual design, influences, themes and inspirations, performances, cinematography and interpretation.
Ebert clearly knew his stuff, so he gives us a fine examination of various aspects of Dark City. He provides nice insights and allows us to better understand different cinematic techniques. Expect an engaging, useful discussion.
The other three commentaries run alongside the Director’s Cut. First up, we get a solo track with director Alex Proyas. He offers a running, screen-specific look at changes for the Director’s Cut, cast and performances, sets and visual design, effects, story/characters and connected elements.
After a slow start, Proyas delivers a mostly engaging chat. Some of the material repeats from the 1998 commentary, but we learn a fair amount of new material. That’s enough to make this track worth a listen.
For the second track, we get another piece with film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert recorded a commentary specifically for the Director’s Cut, but the end result mixes in parts of the 1998 piece as well.
That makes the Director’s Cut commentary a mixed bag that doesn’t really work. If you already played the 1998 discussion, then you’ll hear a lot of the same notes here. If you didn’t listen to the original commentary, then you’ll miss a lot of its insights; the DC chat includes some of the 1998 material but not nearly all of it.
Frankly, Ebert offers too little Director’s Cut-specific information to make this commentary worthwhile. He gives us occasional thoughts but they pop up too infrequently to keep our attention – and that leads to all the regurgitated bits from the 1998 track. I can’t recommend this spotty commentary.
One odd editing choice occurs here. In 1998, Ebert speculated how Proyas’s career would proceed in the years after Dark City. The Director’s Cut commentary retains those predictions, even though they became outdated by the Blu-ray’s 2008 release date. Why pair 1998 predictions with a 2008 commentary?
Finally, we hear from writers Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer. The only commentary without any new content, this one consists solely of recordings made for the 1998 disc. That means it lacks any direct discussion of the Director’s Cut.
It also means Dobbs and Goyer touch on topics they discussed in the 1998 commentary. The writers cover story/character areas, the development of the screenplay, themes and motifs, and related subjects.
As occurred with the Director’s Cut track from Ebert, this one includes material that also appeared in the edited 1998 piece. However, the Dobbs/Goyer discussion expands better than Ebert’s chat, and it includes a lot of good new details. Dobbs and Goyer show a delightful bluntness in their remarks. It’s a minor disappointment that the commentary only recycles recordings from 1998, but it’s still a solid look at the film.
The disc also tosses in a Fact Track. Alongside the Director’s Cut, this subtitle commentary tells us that it will “compare this Director’s Cut to the original theatrical version. It will also include some trivia about the film.”
Does that statement hold true? Yes, though one shouldn’t expect much trivia, as only a handful of those tidbits emerge.
This means the vast majority of the content discusses alterations for the Director’s Cut, and the track details those changes well. It gives us a thorough accounting of the differences and offers a helpful addition.
Under Production Gallery, we get a collection of stills. This area shows 80 photos, most of which offer behind the scenes glimpses of the shoot. These offer a decent look at the set.
Within Documentaries, we find two shows: “Memories of Shell Beach” (42:54) and “Architecture of Dreams” (33:40). We also see a four-minute, 50-second introduction from Proyas and Ebert. The intro should’ve run before the movie, not before the documentaries, as it sets up the Director’s Cut.
In “Memories”, we hear from Proyas, Goyer, Dobbs, Goyer, Wolski,
costume designer Liz Keogh, 2nd unit director Bruce Hunt, and actors Rufus Sewell and Richard O’Brien. “Memories” looks at the project’s roots and development, story/character areas and screenplay issues, casting and performances, costumes, sets and visual design, the addition of the voiceover to the theatrical cut, the original release, and the film’s “afterlife”.
“Dreams” involves Dobbs, Ebert, Proyas, author Rosemary Dinnage, UCLA Professor of Critical Studiies Vivian Sobchak and Tisch School of the Arts Professor of Cinema Studies Dana Polan. It discusses themes, influences, interpretation and cultural significance/ramifications.
Both programs work well. “Memories” offers the more “nuts and bolts” view of Dark City, while “Dreams” adopts an intellectual view of the film. Even after all those commentaries, both provide some new – and interesting – observations.
Matched with the theatrical version, we locate the film’s trailer and some text materials. An essay from comic book writer Neil Gaiman contains some interesting observations about the movie.
Since Dark City shares some commonalities with silent classic Metropolis, a historical essay discusses that film. We also see two negative reviews that greeted the initial release of Metropolis, one from no less an authority than H.G. Wells. This adds to the package.
Clever and exciting, Dark City develops a rich universe that maintains the viewer’s attention. The movie explores its themes and conceits in a satisfying, compelling manner. The Blu-ray brings us mostly good picture and audio as well as a stellar collection of supplements. Dark City remains an involving movie, and this Blu-ray does well for itself.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of DARK CITY