Friday, September 25, 2009

Darkness Falls

Have you seen Alex Proyas' Dark City? I had the pleasure of being able to watch it again after all these years on the big screen at ACMI. I don't think I can properly articulate just how much I love this movie. I had never seen it before at a cinema and I think my love for it just grew larger. I didn't think it possible, to tell you the truth. This movie is cinema.

Dark City should be shown to all film students as an example of just what you can do in this day and age (well, 1998) and how well one can integrate art direction, CGI and practical effects, cinematography and a genuine love of cinema and create something truly breathtaking and original. Sure, "original" sounds like a strange word to use when there references to films like Metropolis and M are obvious (albeit, tastefully done and in total spirit with the film), and I imagine many would think it a rip-off of The Matrix, although in truth the latter used sets and designs from Dark City (both were filmed at the 20th Century Fox lot in Sydney, Australia).

What struck me about watching the film on the big screen though - a big upgrade from the VHS and DVD viewings of the past - is the sheer beauty of it all. This is most certainly one of the most stunning films on a pure visual level. And I got that out of watching an original print with the occasional scratch and blemish, something I would much prefer to the simple DVD projection that a lot of places use when screening old films. Indebted massively to German impressionism, film noir (it played during ACMI's season of Aussie Noir, after all) and comic strips (I'm thinking "Dick Tracy" mostly), it is gorgeous to watch. The striking production design, exemplified by the city skyscrapers, canals, jazz nightclubs, tangled road systems and the underground lair, are - at times - breathtaking. It really is like watching Metropolis being successfully updated to the modern era.

"Modern era", that's another interesting term to use, since the film doesn't feel modern at all. It runs parallel to whatever is "hip" and "cool", which is such a shame. The visual effects are kept to a minimum and whatever CGI there is it is done seemlessly. In fact the only big obvious CGI moments - the "tuning" moments - look just as good as any $200million blockbuster.

Dark City is also an incredibly strong story. It's rare to find a science fiction film with such a well-executed story. Wonderfully morphing all of the inspirations into something wholly comprehensible and superbly done. The actors, too, are wonderful. Rufus Sewell (a modern day Robert Powell if ever there was one) has never been better, Jennifer Connelly before she was terminally depressed, John Hurt in one of the more fascinating roles of his last couple of decades and Richard O'Brien from Rocky Horror Picture Show doing his shtick. And it's always fun to play "Spot the Aussie!" There's Melissa George as a hooker, David Wenham and Bruce Spence as Strangers (the villains of the film), Colin Friels as a detective and so on.

As I wrote before, Dark City is cinema. It's everything I wish more films were.


Cinema Autopsy said...

I'm totally with you Glen. I adore Dark City but haven't seen it since it was first released. I think I missed its initial theatrical run but I caught it at The Astor soon after and was completely blown away by it. It always frustrated me that it was somewhat overshadowed by the thematically and stylistically similar The Matrix. Dark City is the superior film but just didn't have the same star power and marketing budget that was behind The Matrix.

My only criticism of Dark City is that I never found the final climatic showdown all that satisfying. How does it stand up now?

On a final note, what happened to Proyas? Knowing is one of the worst films that I've seen this year!

Outland Institute said...

I agree with him. The "mind-fight" at the end always felt a little... well, like classic Doctor Who, I guess, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a little simplistic compared to the rest of the film. I love this film though, and again always annoyed that the vastly inferior Matrix got the love...

Anderson said...

Love this film and I think it's a pity many people still don't know it. Like you said, some guys insist that this is a rip-off from The Matrix, but fail to remember that it was released one year earlier.

Have you seen the extras on the bluray edition? There are great analysis by film scholars of the film.

Cheers from Brazil!

P.S: I think that in your review, you wrote "John Hurt" when you meant "William hurt", am I correct?