Reel Reviews

Film Reviews by a Real Person, Not a Critic

Dark City

Title: Dark City
Year: 1998
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring Cast: Rufus Sewell, Keifer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt
Rated: R

Reel Reviews Rating:

Dark City is one of those well made, underrated science fiction films that now seems dated since the advent of The Matrix. A disenchanted viewer may look at this DVD and think, “Oh, great. Another sci-fi movie in which our reality as we know it may not be what it seems. Yawn. Been there, done that.” But the thing is that Dark City came out a year before Neo learned that there is no spoon. In fact, there are so many similarities between the famous Keanu Reeves movie and Dark City that I’m willing to bet that it was a major influence on the Wachowski brothers when they wrote their story about the Matrix.

Before I begin, I need to let you know that you have to make a choice when you watch this film: to (somewhat) understand from the get go or be left in the dark (pun intended).

Ok, here’s the thing.

During the first two minutes of the movie, you’ll hear Keifer Sutherland’s deliciously gravelly voice setting up the story. Apparently, the studio execs figured that people would be too stupid to figure out for themselves what the hell is going on, so they added it in. And I reckon that they were right to do so. Let me put it this way: I first saw Dark City when it came out, and I made the mistake of arriving late to the theater. I was lost throughout a good chunk of the movie. I was just like, “Hummana hummana what the fuck is going on?!”

Anyway, Keifer’s voiceover gives you a whole lot of information in those two minutes so if you choose to do so, pay attention to what he says. Now, if you prefer to try and solve the mystery you can mute the TV until you first see Keifer actually appear onscreen. On the other hand, if you’re the type who gets confused easily (like me) and need as many clues as possible, then by all means pay close attention to what he’s saying in the beginning.

I won’t reveal what Keifer says in those two minutes, but I’ll give you the basic plot. John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in an unfamiliar hotel room and becomes alarmed that he has no memory of anything. He doesn’t know who he is or what he’s doing in the hotel room. John finds out later that he’s the prime suspect in several murders of prostitutes. His concerned wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a police detective (William Hurt) are looking for him. However, they aren’t the only ones searching for John. A mysterious group of slender, pale, bald men with black trenchcoats are also desperate to find him. Who is John? Did he commit those murders? Who are these strange men, and what do they want with him?

One thing I really liked about Dark City were the sets. They are gorgeous. They kind of remind me of Gotham City from Batman Begins: dark, dangerous, but beautiful. Whoever was the cinematographer did a fantastic job. Second was the plot. If you miss Keifer’s exposition at the beginning, you’ll swear you’re watching a regular detective movie, a film noir type of film. The characters appear to be straight from the 1940s.

As I mentioned, there are many similarities between The Matrix and Dark City. Both question the meaning of reality, but in the case of the former, it looks to the relationship between memories and reality. Is the human soul composed of the sum of their memories and experiences? What happens then, when a person has no memory of anything? Is he or she less of a person? Does a person even exist without any memories? Deep philosophical stuff like that.

I think that overall Dark City is a really good movie, often overshadowed by The Matrix. I bet it’s because Dark City didn’t have any cool ju-jitsu fights and badass lobby shootouts. Perhaps it’s because it didn’t pioneer kickass special effects such as “bullet time”. Maybe it’s because Rufus Sewell is not nearly as pretty as Keanu Reeves- nor is Jennifer Connelly for that matter. Mind you, I absolutely LOVE The Matrix. I own it on DVD. In fact, I think it’s better than Dark City. Dark City may have great cinematography, but the way The Matrix is filmed is pure genius. As my boyfriend once said, “Every shot looks like a panel from a comic book or manga.” At the same time however, people should know that Dark City came first and it’s pretty obvious that it was one of the inspirations for The Matrix. In fact, I read on Wikipedia that some of the sets from Dark City were actually used in The Matrix.

If you loved The Matrix and all this questioning reality kind of stuff, you’ll enjoy Dark City. In fact, play a little game with yourself (or with friends) as you watch. Count the number of factors from Dark City that have something in common with The Matrix. Ooh, better yet, make it a drinking game! 🙂


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January 11, 2006 - Posted by | Action, Film Noir, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Suspense

5 Comments »

  1. I agree with you for the most part on this one… Dark City is a great movie. Fans of The Matrix should definitely give it a look… Alex Proyas simply does an amazing job on this one… I had to watch it for a film class in college and I am so glad the professor made me watch it…

    Comment by J | January 20, 2006 | Reply

  2. […] Like Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor is one of those underrated films that explored the concept of alternate realities but were overshadowed by The Matrix. The Thirteenth Floor actually came out the same year as The Matrix, but because the former had a B-rate actor (Bierko) in the lead role, because there were no badass lobby shootouts, and because there was no bullet time used, The Thirteenth Floor was quietly pushed in video shelves alongside Dark City while The Matrix took all the glory. […]

    Pingback by Reel Reviews » Blog Archive » The Thirteenth Floor | February 20, 2006 | Reply

  3. […] Like Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor is one of those underrated films that explored the concept of alternate realities but were overshadowed by The Matrix. The Thirteenth Floor actually came out the same year as The Matrix, but because the former had a B-rate actor (Bierko) in the lead role, because there were no badass lobby shootouts, and because there was no bullet time used, The Thirteenth Floor was quietly pushed in video shelves alongside Dark City while The Matrix took all the glory. […]

    Pingback by No Face for Film » The Thirteenth Floor | March 21, 2006 | Reply

  4. To me Dark City seems like a commentary on the inherent injustice of the concept of reincarnation.

    Comment by Alfonso | May 13, 2006 | Reply

  5. Sounds like Keanu did a great job in The Lake House. I am sure my wife will want to see that one. She always wants to see chick flicks. I would never see these movies by myself. But I end up liking them. 🙂

    Comment by mr skin | October 19, 2006 | Reply


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