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Dark City"Dark City" on DVD

Avante Garde filmmaking, or just plain weird?

By Jim Bray

Director Alex Proyas ("The Crow") has come up with an ultra lush look for his his second feature film. Dark City is a futuristic thriller that treads a fine line between science fiction, fantasy, and murder mystery, taking a bit from each genre and adding its own unique twist to create a film that really must be seen to be understood.

And even then you might not understand its ins and outs...

Dark City is another of New Line Cinema's Platinum Series of DVD releases, and it's a terrific  view of a possible-but-unlikely scenario in which a dying alien race takes control over a city' full of very confused humans to use in its experiments.

Without giving away too much of the plot (it's worth seeing this movie just for the fascinating way the story unfolds - and of course for its terrific look and feel), Dark City starts with the awakening of the hero (played by Rufus Sewell) at the scene of a grisly murder. Naturally, he's accused and confused - it looks like it was he whodunit, but he remembers nothing about it - let alone the rest of his past life.

What starts out looking like a typical murder mystery doesn't take long to veer off into totally uncharted territory, however - and you'd best pay attention if you want to keep up, because by the time the closing credits run you've gone from an apparently typical "film noir" movie to a thoughtful sci-fi film that stretches the imagination.

Dark City's look certainly hearkens to the film noir genre, with a healthy dose of movies like "Blade Runner" and "Metropolis" thrown in for good measure. But looks alone don't make a film. Dark City also uses computer generated special effects to create a mind boggling display of the alien technology as they manipulate matter to their own ends. But special effects don't make a good movie, either. Fortunately, Dark City offers a lot more.

Performances by Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt, and Jennifer Connelly are first rate, each actor being stretched in new directions as they work their way through this unusual screenplay.

But enough about the movie itself - you really should watch it and I don't want to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say this is definitely worth seeing on its own merits, as well as being an early film from a director who could possibly become one of the giants.

Speaking of that, one of the bonus audio tracks on the DVD is a running commentary by film critic Roger Ebert, a man who definitely knows his stuff. He compares Proyas to a young Stanley Kubrick, which is high praise indeed. Ebert's commentary is fascinating, and made me want to immediately go back and watch the film with the regular soundtrack on.

There's also a commentary track by director Proyas, accompanied by the writing team (of which he's also part), Director of Photography, and the Production Designer - a combination that gives you interesting insight into the creation of a film that dares to think outside the box.

Both widescreen and pan and scan versions are included on the disc, one per side, and you also get standard extras like cast and crew biographies, the theatrical trailer (which, if I'd seen it in the theatres, would have turned me off Dark City!), and other goodies like set design concepts and a short essay comparing Dark City with Fritz Lang's silent masterpiece Metropolis.

New Line also throws in "Find Shell Beach," a supposedly interactive game you play with your DVD player's remote control. Neither I nor my son could make head nor tail of this, though.

Dark City is a worthwhile movie experience and, except for the so-called game, the DVD release is a fine example. Picture and sound quality are as spectacular as we've come to expect from the DVD format. They've even done a nice job at making readable the tiny letters labelling the widescreen and pan and scan versions around the disc's spindle hole! That's a nice change.

Dark City,
Directed by Alex Proyas,
from New Line Home Video


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Updated August 13, 2008