Dark City

Directed by Aussie Alex Proyas (‘The Crow’) & with an all-star & very British cast including Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connolly, Ian Richardson & Mr. ‘Rocky Horror’ himself, the great Richard O’Brien, ‘Dark City’ is a moody, spectacular & visually stunning ‘cyber-punk’ sci-fi thriller.It reminds me of a very good dance track put together by a top DJ using loads of samples from many older & diverse tracks. Although borrowing inspiration from & copying the work of others the DJ, using his skill & creativity, messes around with then mixes the individual samples together, adds his own touches, & shapes it all into something that exceeds the sum of it’s parts & takes on an entirely new identity of it’s own.

So it is with this film: borrowing/sharing ideas from (for instance) the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series, Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Dancers at the End of Time’ books, films such as ‘Blade Runner’ & ‘The City of Lost Children’, & more recent films ‘The Truman Show’ & ‘The Matrix’; ‘Dark City’ has very little that I haven’t seen before in some way or other, but it manages to mesh it’s disparate strands into an end product that is fresh, original & highly entertaining.

The eponymous dark city, unbeknown to it’s population, is ruled over by mysterious cadaverous beings known only as ‘The Strangers’. These beings have the power to reshape matter at will with the help of great machines underneath the city, a process they call ‘tuning’. Every day at the same time they put everyone in the city to sleep in order to ‘retune’ their city environment & reprogram their memories, with the help of psychiatrist Dr. Schreber (Sutherland).

Occasionally a city inhabitant wakes up while he is being ‘reprogrammed’ & realises the awful truth. If they manage to escape they either go mad or are hunted to their deaths; John Murdoch (Sewell) however is different – not only does he escape when he awakes but he somehow himself gains the ability to ‘tune’. In their determination to capture him the Strangers not only chase him themselves but also frame him for a series of vicious murders. Meanwhile Murdoch is desparately trying to find ‘Shell Beach’ – a place of which everyone knows but for which they can never quite remember the directions. He vividly remembers spending his childhood there & feels that if he can find it he can escape to freedom.

Plotwise there isn’t an awful lot else to it – will the Strangers &/or the police find Murdoch – & if so can he fight them off – or will he find his mythical Shell Beach & escape? Is there a way to defeat the Strangers? And exactly what is the ‘dark city’ anyway?

As good as all this is, where this film really excels is stylistically & visually: in those regards this is one of the most amazing films that I have ever seen – the designs, the sets, the costumes, the special effects & the film’s overall look & feel are simply stunning. There are images here that are I think some of the most striking in cinema history.

I enjoyed this film immensely – for sheer visual impact & atmosphere it’s hard to beat, & the Strangers are some of the most flesh-crawlingly creepy villains I’ve ever seen. Although I found the plot to be somewhat inconsistent, there’s enough to maintain interest, & there’s a great surprise towards the end.

Overall ‘Dark City’ is a very rich & rewarding experience, & one that I can thoroughly recommend.

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