MONKEY REVIEW: Dark City – Director’s Cut

August 24, 2008

“You were looking in the wrong place.”

Director Alex Proyas followed up his moody, heavily atmospheric and richly imaginative film debut The Crow with another moody, heavily atmospheric, richly imaginative film called Dark City, about a man who wakes in a city where it is perpetually night with no memory of who he is, though he quickly finds he is being pursued by police for a series of gruesome murders. He is also being pursued by the Strangers, led by Mr. Hand in a memorable performance by Richard O’Brien. Though it tread on much the same ground as The Matrix, released a year later, Dark City was nowhere near as successful as that film, nor was it even as successful as Proyas’ own The Crow. It did have some champions, Roger Ebert among them, who hailed Dark City as the best film of 1998. Ten years later, Proyas has released his own cut of Dark City, and unlike a lot of other so-called director’s cuts, which too often tend to be self-indulgent or flat out pointless, the changes made here have enriched it, and indeed made this the definitive version of this movie. If you are one of the few who saw Dark City during its original theatrical run, or else have seen since on DVD, I highly recommend seeing this directors cut. If you haven’t seen it, you will be watching one of the all time best science fiction films, and certainly one of the most stunning to behold. Obviously, some of the grandeur and beauty of the imagery, inspired chiefly by German Expressionism and film noir, will be diminished somewhat on a smaller screen, but it still retains much of its visual power. The changes Proyas made to the film are immediately apparent at the outset: The opening voiceover narration of Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland, in one of his most unusual and effective performances) is gone, along with some footage that has been moved to later in the movie, thus preserving the initial mystery of the plot, allowing viewers to discover what’s really going on in Dark City along with its central character, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell). I’ve read that some viewers actually turn down the narration in the original cut, as the narration immediately gives so much of the movie away. The narration was not a directorial decision, however, but one enforced upon Proyas by New Line Cinema. Other changes include more scenes including William Hurt’s detective character, Frank Bumstead, elevating what seemed more of a glorified cameo in the original cut to a major role. Some of the special effects have been subtlely modified as well. Some critics have accused of Dark City as emphasizing style over substance, but this is just wrong. It is a movie about individuality and control, anxiety about the nature and purpose of human lives, and finally, about the nature of that thing we called the human soul. Proyas’ directorial style, which presents the story with the intensity of a fever dream, serves but does not overwhelm these weighty themes. Clearly, I admire this film quite a lot, and I was happy to discover Proyas had improved with this new cut what was already a great movie in my mind. If you are a fan of this movie, you should see this version as well, and if you have never seen it, this is the only version you need watch, Dark City as it was originally meant to be seen.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)


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