Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dark City (USA, 1998)

A rare film indeed. Dark City is nothing less than a masterpiece, both as a science fiction film and as a simple visionary, cinematic experience. This, of course, helps to explain why the film was such a flop, disappearing from the screens almost as quickly as it appeared, relegated to the nether regions of unjust obscurity. As is proved again and again: "Never overestimate the intelligence of the public." They cry for, desperately await and then rush to see something (not just once but some dozen times) as emotionally empty and uninteresting as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999), but when something truly creative comes their way, they let it slip by unnoticed, unloved, and never to be seen. The loss to the masses means only the greater gain for the few that one day stumble upon this film, for it allows that additional special joy one has when suddenly seeing an unknown masterpiece for the first time.
A masterful crossbreeding of film noir and science fiction, Dark City is aptly named, for it features a city darker than any of the dank, shadowy urban horrors to be found in the classic film noir or German expressionistic masterpieces. Much more than in his previous film The Crow (1994), which is more famous for being the film in which Brandon Lee died than for being one of the best comic book adaptations ever, director Alex Proyas creates both a city and a situation that is as convincing as it is fantastic. And though a nonstop rush of visual and special effects, the story never is overshadowed or drowned by what is seen on screen. Unlike The Mummy (1999),for example, none of the CGI ever come across as being a replacement for content or plot, but serve instead to enhance and support both the story and theme. Filled with enough intellectual and philosophical asides to keep geeks and trivialists busy for years, Dark City nonetheless never sinks into intellectual pretentiousness, and delivers all it wants to say in the language of popular entertainment. As unbelievable as it sounds, this film has its cake and eats it, too.
Though few will notice it, Dark City opens with a direct reference to The Bible, The Book of John, 6:14, which refers to the coming of the savior. John Murdoch (played by a sleepy-eyed Rufus Sewell) awakens in room 614 of some seedy hotel, naked in the bathtub, bereft of memory but saddled with the body of a bloody, naked woman. The telephone rings and the raspy, gasping voice of Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) tells him he is in great danger and must leave the room, for the Strangers are coming. Mere seconds ahead of the white-faced, bowler-wearing men in their long, fur-lined overcoats, John flees into the gloomy night of a city in which the sun never shines with no idea of who or what he is or where he belongs. Bit by bit, the clues seem to indicate that he is a serial killer, the murderer of six prostitutes. But as Inspector Frank Bumstead (an unusually effective William Hurt) muses at one point, what type of murderer slaughters women but takes the time to save a goldfish? After taking a brief respite with streetwalker May (Melissa George, Australian Playboy playmate of March 1997, whose attributes we have the pleasure of seeing again), John returns to Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly — as beautiful as always but, regrettably, unlike in The Hot Spot (1990), she keeps her perfect body completely covered this time around), the wife he cannot remember but nonetheless feels love for. The clue to everything seems to lie at Shell Beach, his supposed place of birth outside the city, a location which seems impossible to get to. Forever on the run from the Strangers and the police, John witnesses how at the stroke of midnight the whole city fall asleep and how whole aspects of it change and grow, seemingly at the will of the Strangers out to get him. They are aliens, creatures of unknown origin — as Dr. Schreber says, "First came the darkness, then came the strangers" — that use bodies as their containers and that, in their search to discover and understand the human soul, use Dark City as a living test tube. It seems they control the very fabric of reality of the city, and the memories of all its inhabitants are of their creation. In an attempt to capture John, one of them, Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien, known to many from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)), has the memories intended for John injected into himself. (As he later tells John, "I have become the monster you were intended to be.") Eventually John, with the help of Busmtead and Schreber, discovers the secret of Dark City, but will it help to save either him or Emma?
Watch this film and find out — you definitely won't be disappointed. Dark City is a masterpiece of action and special effects, with a story that moves from convoluted to completely logical even as it remains wonderfully fantastic. Whether watched as a cinematic masterpiece or a simple sci-fi action flick, Dark City delivers more than most films of either kind. It deserves to be rediscovered; do your part in helping this.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...