Dark City (1998)R


This is not actually a comic book film. I got the idea in my head that it was, and many reviewers tend to use the word “comic book” when describing it — even when writing an ecstatic rave review — but the screenplay is not derived from any printed original. So, as I did in the case of The Shadow, I’ll include the film just because, having put it in here, I don’t want to take it out again.

This relatively little-seen picture bears a close ancestral relationship to the huge hit, The Matrix*. It was groundbreaking in its depiction of an exotic artificial world where the sun never rises and reality changes every midnight. Nothing before it had ever used modern special effects to so thoroughly immerse you in a truly unearthly city. The “sense of wonder” factor is quite high here. And it isn’t just the Matrix movies that owe a lot of credit to this; I see definite signs of its influence in another movie about living in a fake reality: Inception. William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and Kiefer Sutherland turn in high quality supporting performances. Sutherland’s short-of-breath voice, as the crippled psychiatrist collaborating with the controllers of the city, will stay in your head as firmly as the visuals do.

Director Alex Proyas, who had previously made The Crow, later went on to helm the idiot blockbuster I, Robot. In this film, he definitely shows comic-book influence: for instance, many scenes are filmed as quick cuts between static camera positions, like comic book panels. Generally speaking, he does a terrific job of creating an unearthly and visually spectacular environment without a gargantuan budget, as well as a kind of simultaneously familiar and unreal noir tone and ambiance — as with the city, he constructs the exotic out of familiar and commonplace elements. In terms of style and imagery and mood and atmosphere, he produces very haunting results.

For Jennifer Connelly, this film marked the turning point from the relatively lightweight material that had previously constituted her career to the bold dramatic roles she would later become known for.

At bottom, though, this is just a generic, not to say geriatric, power-fantasy story... just like The Matrix*. The idea of an everyman hero discovering that he has unknown super powers slumbering within was overworked in science fiction pulp magazines by 1953. That said, though, I give it props for being true science fiction, not just a visionary fantasy or a superpower story.

Oh, I loaned my DVD of this movie to my best friend, and she declared that it sucked. Except for the big reveal of where the Dark City really is: that was striking enough to get through her sci-fi-cheese-resistant armor.

* The Matrix moved very little beyond that story, and is not in the end any better of a movie. I will resist the temptation to discuss the Matrix series at further length, despite the clear influence of comic books on it... All I’ll say is that it’s hard to believe how grandiosely some people can overinflate the significance of a juvenile action movie.