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A 1998 science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas.

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It's dark alright, but that's about it. 3%

  • Jul 8, 2011

I heard about this movie several years back and it looked pretty interesting and I was fairly impressed by the large amounts of positive reviews it got, and luckily for me, I found the whole movie on YouTube, so I didn't even have to invest one dollar at the local Family Video. I finally found the time to watch it about a month ago and boy was this a deplorable flick.


The story for Dark City is that John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) finds himself in a bathtub with a murdered prostitute, and gets a phone call from Dr. Daniel P. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) claiming he can help him find his identity, all the while Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelley) claiming to be John's wife along with detective Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) and a bunch of pale bald people called the “Strangers” chasing John down.


One of the things that really does Dark City in is that the characters are really shallow and uninteresting. I didn't care about a single one of them as the movie went along since they were all nothing but ultra-conventional plot devices. John is the typical semi-geeky antihero, his supposed wife is the initially shady character that you know will switch to the protagonist's side towards the end, and the same can be said for Frank. Of course, the Strangers are typical stock villains with little background, and whatever background is given to them is done only through tacky exposition. The Strangers were laughably pathetic since they're not intimidating whatsoever, they look like a goofy cross between Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies and Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, and best of all, they gather in a large mass and chatter their teeth. The occasional bursts of unintentional laughter kept me from falling asleep.


No one really seems to put any effort into their roles in this turkey. The most notable culprits for hamming things up are Sutherland and Hurt, with the former doing a really bad Peter Lorre impersonation throughout the film, and the latter acting as stale and emotionless as possible (Hurt would commit another serious offense in 1998 with that other sci-fi abomination Lost in Space). The others aren't any better and aren't worth my reviewing effort.


I'm not against movies being derivative so long as they can overcome their lack of originality by contributing something worthwhile and memorable to the plate (such as Event Horizon). However, with Dark City, you get nothing that you haven't seen before (and done much better in previous films). The city where this movie takes place looks like it was taken right out of Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Fritz Lang's Metropolis complete with Gothic skyscrapers and with everything being part of the “retro-future” gimmick (including attire, with many people wearing fedora hats). The whole angle of John trying to find his identity was done MUCH BETTER in the Paul Verhoeven masterpiece Total Recall, along with the whole “alternate reality/what's real and what's not” theme being done much better in TR. Director Alex Proyas even takes elements from Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira. The Strangers do this thing every midnight called “tuning,” which is where they swap the memories and lives of the inhabitants and use their powers to physically change the environment, complete with the skyscrapers building themselves (taken from the ending of the Akira manga). Also, with the overly tacky deus ex machina plot resolver in the form of a needle that gives John the same psychic power as the Strangers, it makes John's character resemble Tetsuo Shima from Akira. Fans have defended these acts of Proyas being derivative and claimed it's “homage” to said works. I don't mind homage, but it's all to clear that Proyas fed off other works just so he didn't have to create anything on his own.


If you haven't caught on already, Alex Proyas thinks that you can coast through a movie with nice-looking production sets while having nothing else worthwhile. Granted, the sets for this movie do look pretty impressive, but as stated before, they can't substitute bland characters or ultra-conventional plotting. The supposedly “dark” element isn't even that intimidating since it's just constantly dark out, there's no layers of griminess in the setting to unnerve the audience. Everything, visually speaking, looks too shiny and polished for a movie that's supposed to be “dark.” I bet that when Proyas was creating Dark City, he was speaking to himself “Yeah!! I'm gonna make a retro-future setting where all the technology is set in the 1920's and everyone's wearing vintage clothing!! It's gonna be so cool because many people are gonna think it's different!!” It's all to clear that Proyas ripped off the “retro-future” setting from Brazil and Metropolis just for the sake of being different from the typical sci-fi aesthetics during the 90's.


For reasons I can't comprehend, droves of people are calling this one of the best movies ever. Roger Ebert even chose Dark City as his pick for the best movie of 1998 (and this is another reason why I'm rapidily loosing respect for Ebert, but that's another kettle of fish). Can't you see the clear derivative nature of the film and how shallow the plot and characters are? I guess I'm thinking too hard about that since trying to find logic and reason in this area is all for naught.


Don't believe the hype on this one. This is NOT the cult retro-future sci-fi masterpiece that people are claiming it to be. You're better off watching Mission of Darkness (if you're 18+), which is one of the most poorly made (story and production-wise) and all around downright terrible anime porn titles in existence. I guarantee that it'll be much more entertaining than Dark City will be.

Don't fall for this shallow copy and just go for Brazil and Metropolis if you want proper retro-future sci-fi.

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July 11, 2011
While I liked this movie (the DC was a lot better), I cannot really say that I don't see your points. Many movies do lack originality so that wouldn't be a deal breaker for me, but I really liked that you observed the bits of AKIRA in it. A lot of this mainstream H-wood pseudo-intelligent movies always grab from anime, and I am very happy that you've cemented this. Thank you for the great review! Enjoyed it a lot.
July 11, 2011
Thanks for chiming in, Woopak. I've noticed the same thing about Hollywood ripping off anime. While a different kettle of fish, I was never fond of The Matrix because I always felt it was like an uninspired amalgamation of cyberpunk anime and Hong Kong action films.
More Dark City (1998 film) reviews
review by . May 17, 2011
I once read a story by Philip K. Dick - I can't remember the name of it for the life of me - in which a large organization would periodically stop the world and a team would go in and make adjustments, changing little this-and-that details around. The people in this world had no idea this was going on.     Dark City operates under what is kind of this same concept. There's a group of people who live under the ground. When the clock strikes, they put everyone to sleep, go out, …
Quick Tip by . December 29, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I thought about this movie a little more, and it's actually worse than I initially thought.      Thanks to the extremely hokey acting (Kiefer Sutherland's Peter Lorre impressions alone will make anyone cry tears of blood), bland characters, totally non-scary villains, silly plot devices, and liberal ripping off of elements from movies like Akira, Total Recall, Metropolis, Batman (the 1989 movie), and The Addams Family, I was nearly bored to the point of falling asleep …
Quick Tip by . March 05, 2011
This is the great cult classic that movies like "Inception" strives to be like...
review by . July 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
It's difficult to describe Dark City without giving anything away.  Really the only way to give a review of Dark City is to describe the after shock.      It's one of those films that completely engrosses the viewer until the credits roll and then you are left just completely baffled by what just happened to you.  You sit and think on it for a while and just say "woah" out loud and realize you have watched a masterpiece and the only thing you can do …
Quick Tip by . June 12, 2010
Loved it
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2009
A surreal and exciting blend of noir and sci-fi, Dark City is a compelling and sometimes disturbing thriller with an awe-inspiring climax.
review by . December 17, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
The Strangers attack Murdoch...
When it comes down to it, a large part of who we are comes from our collective experiences, from our past, from our memories. But what if our memories weren't our own? What if all of our experiences were generic? What if our pasts had been manufactured? Would it then be possible to manipulate us through our memories? Luckily, no one has that power... or do they?          John Murdoch awakens to find himself naked and vulnerable. He has no memory of his past or of his …
review by . October 01, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
A $28 million budget art house film that features several actors who have now ascended the ranks of stardom beat The Matrix to the punch in presenting many on screen concepts that questioned what it is to be human. Very underrated, constantly drifting on the edge of obscurity, Dark City is a magical film that transcends many levels of modern filmmaking with questions of human nature and interactions.     The story follows John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who wakes up in a bath tub …
review by . November 14, 2008
Dark City
Dark City is an extremely interesting experiment of blending futuristic settings with an oddly 1940's style of society. Its dark atmosphere surrealistic imagery contain murky allusions of dread and foreboding, making a visually stunning treat for the eye.     John Murdock (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a bathtub in a strange place, and staggering from his seedy hotel room sees a murdered woman lying on the floor. But John has absolutely no memories of who he is or why he was in the …
review by . July 17, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Jennifer Connelly all too briefly…     Cons: Pretty much the whole rest of the movie.     The Bottom Line: Some may find Dark City’s brooding underpinning palatable but the movie left a very unsavory taste in my mouth, one I am not keen to repeat.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot. Okay I will make an admission at the start of this review; the only reason I decided to watch Dark City (1998) …
About the reviewer
David Kozak ()
Ranked #20
I'm a morbid cynic who thinks very, very differently from most other people. Chances are, if the majority says X is the greatest in its category, I'll disagree with that notion, because I tend … more
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About this movie


Dark City is a 1998 neo noir science fiction film directed by Alex Proyas. It was adapted from a screenplay written by Proyas, David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs. The film stars Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly. Sewell plays John Murdoch, a man suffering from amnesia who finds himself accused of murder. Murdoch attempts to discover his true identity to clear his name while on the run from the police and a mysterious group known only as the "Strangers". Dark City asks the question of what it means to be human, and explores the relationship between memory and personal identity in an attempt to answer it.

The majority of the film was shot at Fox Studios Australia. It was jointly produced by New Line Cinema and Mystery Clock Cinema. New Line Cinema and New Line Home Video commercially distributed the theatrical release and home media respectively. The studio was concerned that the audience would not understand the film and asked Proyas to add an explanatory, voice-over narration to the introduction. The film premiered in the United States on February 27, 1998, competing against James Cameron's blockbuster Titanic. Dark City performed poorly at the U.S. box office during its initial release and received mixed reviews.

Following its screening in wide cinematic release, the film was nominated for the Hugo and Saturn Awards. With the help of Roger Ebert and home screenings, the film has since become a cult classic. In the years since its...

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Director: Alex Proyas
Genre: Drama, Film-Noir, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Release Date: February 27,1998
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: July 29, 2008
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: New Line Cinema
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