Dark City (1998)

dark city poster 1998 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Strong story, good actors, good science-fiction

Some spotty FX

Movie Info

Movie Name: Dark City

Studio: Mystery Clock Cinema

Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s): February 25, 1998 (Premiere)/February 27, 1998 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

dark city shell beach

Can you tell me how to get to Shell Beach?

The city is cloaked in perpetual darkness, and a man (Rufus Sewell) has just woken up in the bathtub in a room with the body of a woman.  He finds he has no memory, but he is told that his name is John Murdoch.  Fleeing the scene, Murdoch seeks to find out who he is and why he is haunted by memories of a place called Shell Beach.  Meanwhile, John’s wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) is working with police detective Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) to find John due to his ties to the serial killings.  John feels there is something wrong in the city and no one seems to remember how to reach Shell Beach.  When a doctor named Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) warns John of the dangers, John finds himself facing off against a group of men called the Strangers…and the city seems to belong to them.

dark city jennifer connelly singing

Is Dark City, Jennifer Connelly at her most Jennifer Connelly?

Written and directed by Alex Proyas (with additional scripting by Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer), Dark City is a science-fiction crime noir fantasy.  The film was released to positive reviews but wasn’t a box office success.  The film gained a cult following after its release including Roger Ebert who provided a commentary track for the DVD release.

Dark City was The Matrix before The Matrix…though a lot of things were The Matrix before The Matrix since The Matrix seemed to borrow a lot from previous science-fiction efforts to craft its story…but The Matrix literally borrowed from Dark City by reusing some of its sets.  While I enjoy The Matrix, Dark City often feels like a more creative expression of science-fiction and the themes of The Matrix.

dark city strangers richard obrien

I’ll tell you about a science-fiction double feature

It is important to note that Dark City is also seen as borrowing from other movies including Terry Gilliam films and The City of Lost Children.  All of the films deal with the artificial nature of memories and what makes a person.  Dark City examines the idea of “the soul” and the attractiveness of the idea to the alien race known as the Strangers who just can’t comprehend it and use the people as chess pieces to set-up their own experiments.  Murdoch’s escape from the circle of experiments and his development of powers is a bit arbitrary, but it serves the point of telling the story.

The cast is good.  Rufus Sewell and his Murdoch is rather generic, but he is also meant to be generic…he is a creation of the Strangers and Dr. Schreber and doesn’t have his own personality.  Jennifer Connelly always excels in her roles and she’s teamed with William Hurt who is also strong as the detective who is seeing his world crumbling from his suspicions.  Kiefer Sutherland is a bit too much as Schreber and the movie features the first film role of Melissa George.  Rocky Horror Picture Show vet Richard O’Brien plays the lead Stranger Mr. Hand who suffers from “becoming” Murdoch while Ian Richardson leads the people…Satya Gumbert and her twin brother Noah Gumbert win the creepy kid award as Mr. Sleep.

dark city strangers lair rufus sewell

I have the power now! I’m going to build this city on rock and roll!

The movie is quite stylish.  The film takes the guise of a noir crime film with old style cars and dress styles (because the Strangers are essentially just winging it and it is unclear what time they “stole” the population of the city).  This is combined with really quick editing that was noted for being extremely short, fast takes.  The special effects of the film are decent for the smaller budget and the surreal nature of the city also gets a lot of comparison to German expressionist films like Metropolis.

Between this movie and The Crow, Alex Proyas established himself as a visual director, but unfortunately, this may have been his peak.  The story and concepts were interesting, but they never caught hold like bigger and more explosive movies like The Matrix.  The difference between this and The Matrix is that Dark City feels like real sci-fi while The Matrix is an action movie with a sci-fi plot…and action often sells better than sci-fi.  If you never saw Dark City, check it out…it is a fun trip, and it has managed to age surprisingly well.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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