Halloween Review – “Dark City”

I can’t even begin to try to summarize this movie into a short, witty sentence.
It’s weird, good, creepy, brooding, and bizarre. Read on to see how and why.

Production Info

Rufus Sewell …. John Murdoch
William Hurt …. Inspector Frank Bumstead
Kiefer Sutherland …. Dr. Daniel Schreber
Jennifer Connelly …. Emma Murdoch/Anna
Richard O’Brien …. Mr. Hand
Ian Richardson …. Mr. Book
Bruce Spence …. Mr. Wall
Complete info can be found at imdb.com

The DVD release can be found at Amazon.com

Premise

A race of aliens have created a city which they use to study humans to find out what makes them human. They need to find a human soul, examine it, and absorb it, to survive as a race.

Something (someone?) goes horribly awry. Hilarity ensues. (Okay, so no hilarity. But you get the idea.)

I’ve never quite understood “our race is dying out” school of plot. It just doesn’t quite sit in the “plausible” section of my mind. That said, I can suspend my disbelief without much effort and ride along through the vision. And what a vision. This movie owes a lot to its cinematography and tone. Visually, it comes across as Blade Runner set in the 1920’s. I’m finding myself at a loss to describe this movie with any facility, partially because I’m having trouble piecing together anything in my mind that I can use as a reference. In fact, the whole movie stands out like that. I’m just going to move on to the ratings and expand on those as they come.

High Point

“No one ever listens to me.” (This could also be a low point, as it seems slightly out of place)

Also – the scene where Murdoch realizes his full potential.

Low Point

(Warning – semi-spolierish)
These things are symbiotes inside human bodies (corpses, actually…), which are FULL of water, but they can’t survive their HOST getting wet?

The Scores

I’m impressed with its originality. A lot of the elements in use in the film are, in fact, derivative. The aliens whose race is dying out, the collective minds, the idea that there’s something “special” about humanity, the “we’re just living in an experiment” idea – but I don’t think they’ve ever been brought together in quite this way – and certainly not to this end. I was genuinely shocked by the “twist” near the end. I don’t remember what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what they finally showed. I have to give this full marks, 6 of 6.

The effects left little to be desired. Aside from a basic irritation with the visual for “tuning” (and that qualifies as a “production” issue, as it was well done even if I didn’t like it), it was overall quite impressive. All the effects merged well with the “reality” they were attempting and enhanced, rather than distracted, as good effects are meant to do. 5 of 6.

The story. Here’s where we get to the few nits I have to pick. There are huge inconsistencies in the ways both Murdoch and the Visitors use their abilities. Murdoch’s can usually be excused by “he didn’t have a good grasp of what he was capable of”, but often it seemed like the enormously powerful creatures he was up against simply forgot they had these powers. For example, they’re perfectly capable of flying, but at one point he escapes them by grabbing a tower that happens to be shooting into the air. Other times you realize that although they’ve just turned an apartment building into a mansion, they had to re-dress the occupants by hand. It’s extraordinarily perplexing. The plot itself, while complicated, hangs together on its own for the most part, and while it takes some concentration to follow it, you don’t have too many holes. So I’m going to give the story a 4 out of 6 (because, even with the problems, it was interesting)

The acting was quite good. Jennifer Connelly probably had my least favorite character, but I’d have to say that she played the part that was written for her so that’s my problem not hers. William Hurt is believable as a police detective, and Rufus Sewell is…well, I just like him so there’s not much to say there. Probably the most interesting performance is Kiefer Sutherland. He had me believing in his character completely. Definitely a 6 of 6.

I’m not sure what kind of emotional response there is supposed to be here, but it’s not immense. I never really felt any emotional connection to any of the characters – partially because I think I expected it to end badly (just felt like that kind of a movie) and I didn’t want to get attached. So, unfortunately, I’ll have to give this a 2 out of 6.

The production was (mostly) excellent – we have them to thank every bit as much as the effects people for the inobtrusive special effects, as well as the overall feel of the movie. I have to say that this was well produced and give it a 5/6.

Overall, this is a movie I enjoy immensely – and I think I always will. It’s bizarre enough, dark enough, and interesting enough that I look at this as one of the most underappreciated movies out there. I’d recommend this movie without hesitation to any sci-fi, fantasy, or horror fan. 6/6.

In total, Dark City gets 34/42.

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5 replies on “Halloween Review – “Dark City””

  1. diablo-d3 says:

    Wow
    When I first saw this movie, I was blown away. It was as
    you said, dark, creepy, and brooding. A friend of mine who
    has also seen it said this is what The Matrix should have
    turned out like.

  2. quantaman says:

    Abilities

    although they’ve just turned an apartment building into a mansion, they had to re-dress the occupants by hand. It’s extraordinarily perplexing.

    I always figgured that the Tuning was weak psychic powers greatly enhanced by the technology of the ship or even entirely due to the ship (Murdoch just happened to tap in). As a result they could reform entire buildings but had no control over the occupents or their clothing where the technology was not inconspicuous enough to be concealed (recall that their personality management was also done via technology). This could also explain the flying thing as their machines were too busy rebuilding to let them fly at that time. I don’t recall enough about the movie to be sure about the water thing but it could be they need to breath and do so through the skin, if the body is immersed they can’t breath and maybe can’t hold their breaths very long.

    Either way an undeniably awesome movie.

    • y42 says:

      Re: Abilities

      This could also explain the flying thing as their machines were too busy
      rebuilding to let them fly at that time. I don’t recall enough about the movie
      to be sure about the water thing but it could be they need to breath and do
      so through the skin, if the body is immersed they can’t breath and maybe
      can’t hold their breaths very long.

      Either way an undeniably awesome
      movie.

      I assumed as much for the flying: The midnight extravaganza uses up the
      machine’s ressources too much for them to fly around when its running at full
      capacity.

      The water thing, I just assumed that the bodies were, well, embalmed, and
      therefore not full of water at all.

      The one thing I didn’t like about that movie was the forehead wave sfx for the
      tuning, that looked horrible. But man, the surreal nightmarish feel
      throughout, and Jennifer Connely, more than made up for it.

  3. mbourgon says:

    One BIG bitch
    If you show this to friends – hit mute for Kiefer’s voiceover intro. It really ruins the “what the hell is going on” factor. IMHO it’s a much better movie if you don’t know what’s going on.

  4. is says:

    Excellent movie!
    it’s been awhile, but I’ll have tog et this one again. great review!

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