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Alex Proyas
Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard O'Brien
Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer

Forget the Sun. Forget Time. Forget Your Memories. Synopsis:
A man struggles with memories of his past, including a wife he cannot remember, in a nightmarish world with no sun and run by beings with telekinetic powers who seek the souls of humans.
Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Castillian Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Latin Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min. (Theatrical Version)
111 min. (Director’s Cut)
Price: $14.97
Release Date: 7/29/2008

• Both Theatrical Version and Director’s Cut
• Theatrical Version Audio Commentary With Director Alex Proyas, Writers Lem Dobbs & David Goyer, Director of photography Dariucz Wolski & Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos
• Theatrical Version Audio Commentary with Film Critic Roger Ebert
• Director’s Cut Audio Commentary with Director Alex Proyas
• Director’s Cut Audio Commentary with Writers Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer
• Director’s Cut Audio Commentary with Film Critic Roger Ebert
• Fact Track
• Production Gallery
• Two Documentariies
• “The Metropolis Comparison”
• “Neil Gaiman on Dark City
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Dark City [Blu-Ray] (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 17, 2015):

Maybe I should pay less attention to trailers. Not only do they frequently steer me toward crummy movies, but also they sometimes prompt me to miss a film that I otherwise might enjoy. In the latter category fell 1998's Dark City, a picture that I skipped during its theatrical run.

Thank heaven for home video, because it lets us find little treasures that we otherwise wouldn't experience. Dark City definitely enters into that category.

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a strange motel room and lacks memory of how he got there – or his own identity, for that matter. John seeks answers to these questions and also finds himself under suspicion for murder. We follow his journey as he attempts to solve a number of mysteries related to the nature of the town where he lives.

As I mentioned, I didn’t see Dark City theatrically, and don’t believe I ever thought about seeing the film until after the success of 1999’s The Matrix. I heard that the two films boasted a number of similarities, and since I really liked The Matrix, I thought I should give City a look.

And I'm glad that I did. I prefer The Matrix because I'm an action film kind of guy, but City certainly holds its own as a more thoughtful alternative.

It's weird to say that because I first saw City months after I viewed The Matrix, so it's hard to remember that City came first. Both films really do offer a lot of similarities, primarily due to plots that revolve around the nature of the "real" world and expository paths that follow somewhat obscure and circuitous routes, but I don't think that The Matrix ripped off City.

Yes, Matrix came out more than a year after City, which certainly would seem to have been plenty of time for the makers of The Matrix to see and copy City. However, since the former film spent lots of time in preparation – with six months martial arts training for the actors alone! - it's pretty clear that these similarities must be coincidental.

Whatever the case, both films stand up on their own, with The Matrix offering the more compelling visceral experience and City the more emotional, more intellectually complex production. City revolves around questions of what makes us who we are, and although it's not tremendously deep in a philosophical way, it's definitely one of those movies that can provoke thought and conversation.

And it's pretty entertaining, too! I worried that City might lose something the second time around since much of the tale acts as a mystery. The viewer spends most of the movie just trying to make sense of what's happening and what the underlying truth is, both of which become irrelevant upon subsequent screenings.

However, City offers such a rich and detailed enough experience that I liked it as much the second time as I did the first. What I lost in impact I gained in nuance. City draws you in and keeps you hooked.

As with The Matrix, Dark City is one of those movies that can even wriggle out of apparent flaws due to the nature of the story. In my review of The Matrix, I noted that some of the computer animation looked fake, but that was actually a good thing due to the way the computer-created objects were supposed to have been generated in "real" life.

In City, it's the acting that often seems flat and wooden. However, the performances should come across as vaguely disoriented and uninvolved due to the nature of the story. These are people whose lives get changed radically every few days, so it would seem logical that their personalities appear unformed and tentative.

I'm not completely sure that the premise excuses everything - part of me thinks that while these folks have indeed gone through frequent personality changes, they don't know that and they think they've been who they are forever. As such, their personae should seem well established to themselves and their lack of engagement doesn't make sense.

However, I suppose the latter supposition requires the memory implants and their execution to be flawless, and it's probable that some bugs exist, so I guess it's sensible that the new personalities come across as pretty blah.

Dark City gives us an abnormally complex fantasy. It comes with an intriguing premise that it explores in a satisfying manner.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus A+

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

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main