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Cult films don't come much more groundbreaking than "Dark City" -- it was bending reality before the Matrix ever did, and with less obvious messages.

At first glance, Alex Proyas' spellbinding movie seems like a pretty basic story -- a seemingly ordinary man is pitted against the mysterious aliens who control his world. But it is far more than that. It's a dark grimy nightmare where nothing is what it seems, and everything we think is real is just an elaborate illusion, suffused with murky noir atmosphere and a mesmerizingly creepy band of villains. This is one of the rare films that is sublime from start to finish.

The Strangers are pasty-faced, bald, leather-coat-wearing aliens (think Darth Vader, post-mask), whose survival depends on somehow imitating human souls and dreams. So they created the Dark City, to observe and manipulate the unwitting humans.

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up naked in a tub, with no memory of who he is, and a brutally murdered woman in the hotel room outside. Police inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) and the cops are hunting him for a series of murders, but John is sure he didn't murder anyone. He also is the only who seems to notice that the Dark City is perpetually night. And he's the only one who doesn't spontaneously fall into a coma at midnight, which is when the the Strangers appear.

Who are the Strangers? Pasty, bald aliens inhabiting dead bodies who appear every night to rearrange the world. Buildings are reshaped, people's memories change, and some people's whole lives are altered. And before long, John discovers that the strangers are after him because he can "tune" reality as they do.

As John struggles to figure out what is real and what is manufactured by the Strangers, he encounters the eccentric scientist Dr. Shreber (Kiefer Sutherland), who creates the fake memories that the Strangers inject into people's brains. As Shreber tries to help him achieve his destiny, the Strangers send Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien) -- who has the false memories intended for John -- to find what makes him different from all other humans.

"Dark City" is often considered the predecessor of "The Matrix" -- they both deal with dark-suited people who manipulate the real world, the fluidity of memory and reality, and a single messianic figure who may be the key to stopping them with his reality-warping powers. But "Dark City" is less of a blockbuster, and more of an eerie cult movie that begs to be watched and rewatched, dissected and reexamined.

And Alex Proyas gives this movie a fascinating vibe -- it's dark, angular, and haunted, like if Fritz Lang made a sci-fi noir. The Dark City is a pretty creepy place, like a... well, like a city at night, with some surreal skyscrapers, big cogs and giant clocks. The streets are mostly empty and the citizens seem to walk through life in a half-awake fog, and even everyday actions like eating soup or doing paperwork achieve a strangely unreal quality. When the occasional person like Bumstead -- able to pierce the veil of lies and false memories -- comes along, it seems to cut through the strange eerieness.

But it's also paired with a very suspenseful script, which is equal parts surrealism and gnostic philosophy. All the dialogue is well written ("You know something, I don't think the sun even... exists... in this place"), and very spare, as if the characters have mostly pre-programmed responses to things. But Proyas makes all the dialogue weirdly disconnected, as if the characters are never really communicating fully. It adds to the dreamlike feeling.

Sewell is mesmerizingly good as John Murdoch, moving seamlessly from confusion to skepticism to a pretty wild action scene where he clashes with all the Strangers on a scaffold. He forms a trinity of sorts with Hurt's Bumstead, a capable and intelligent cop who begins to realize that his entire world doesn't make sense, and Sutherland's Peter Lorre-like Shreber as a scientist whose nervous gasps and scarring hint at how the Strangers have treated him. Underused but quite good is Jennifer Connelly, as the conflicted nightclub singer who MIGHT be Murdoch's unfaithful wife... but probably not.

And as the opposition, we have the incomparable Richard O'Brien as one of the Strangers who achieves a small amount of humanity, and seems to like it -- one beautiful little scene has him talking with Emma (whom he now has husbandly memories of) about the nature of memory and how his species has "no experiences to call your own."

Like Kafka on acid, like a dark comic book brought to life, "Dark City" is a fascinatingly dreamlike sci-fi movie, with the mesmerizing design and the complicated plot. What is real? The human soul.
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on March 12, 2010
The Amazon editorial review implies this film is all style no substance, but that is untrue. Although a lot of effort went into the style (partly in homage to Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis') the darkness here is no mere plot device, it is a metaphor.

The 'dark city' is an elaborate device created by a soulless race of aliens (who all look like John Gielgud, perhaps because they "use our dead as vessels") as part of a giant experiment to find out what makes humans IRREDUCIBLE (i.e. the part of us that can't be measured or quantified - our souls). 'Dark City' is clearly influenced by Gnostic spirituality, with its concept of a demiurge who has trapped us in a materialistic 'circle of circles'.

The film is tightly scripted and packed together, with extremely fast camera shots (like British show 'The Prisoner', with which it has much in common), and more than one viewing may be necessary to understand the plot in its entirety.
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on September 27, 2009
'Dark City' has always been an interesting but flawed movie, and this Director's Cut fixes a lot of those flaws with the removal of a few changes forced on the director by the studio (e.g. excessive narration) and adding a few minutes of extra footage which helps to fill out some of the holes in the theatrical release.

As you'd expect, it looks great on Blu-Ray, and comes with some interesting extras. If you like the movie and have only seen the theatrical cut, I'd certainly pick up this version to see it closer to the way it was intended to be seen.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon July 9, 2006
In a city where the sun never shines and everyone knows the way to Shell Beach but you can never get there, John Murdock (Rufus Sewell) thinks he knows a truth, with his half remember past he now seeks to find out the cities secret.

It appears to be around the 40's and John is thinking of his wife Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly), that now may or may not be someone else.

We are carried along with the story and just might find the secret out before John. Can we handle the truth?

What happens if john finds out how unique he is and whom he may be threatening?

"Dark City" (1998) seems like a short story (both story and screenplay by Alex Proyas "The Crow") with a simple prime that was fleshed out to movie length. The visuals gothic in feel and style will hold you long enough to allow you to enjoy the slow unfolding of the story. Jennifer Connelly seems like she should have been born in the thirty's/ forties as she looks and acts her part so well that you forget you are watching a movie; At times you forget that it is a sci-fi movie.
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on July 19, 2004
"Dark City" will be remembered as the film that bridged the film noir genre at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
Alex Proyas directs a suspenseful story on the meaning of reality in a dark, foreboding dream world. As people go about their lives, almost no one notices something is seriously wrong with their world. Until one man wakes up alone, one fateful night.
John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakes in a hotel room to find he's lost most of his memories. Even worse, he may have committed a string of brutal murders against local prostitutes. Fleeing the crime scene, he finds himself pursued by not only the police, but also a mysterious cabal of cloaked men.
Assisted by a cowed doctor and a supportive woman who claims to be his wife, Murdoch learns the truth of the city, and its secret Masters, the Strangers.
The feature actors all give strong performances, as a confused Murdoch and a supportive Jennifer Connelly as Emma. Keifer Sutherland is impressive, especially when you contrast the cowardly Dr. Scheber vs. his characters from "The Lost Boys" or "24."
The sets are as compelling as the actors, and credit is due for the deliberate "retro" look of the city. Making of movie of this style look creative guts, and it paid off.
I just beg of the producers of the story one request: don't make a sequel, this story will always stand as a one and only!
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on July 17, 2004
In a city covered in perpetual darkness a group of strange beings known as "The Strangers" attempt to understand what makes us human and identify what the soul is. These strangers change the city and erase peoples memories and assign them all new lives, but one of their specimens also has this unique power. Now he must save the day and prove that he's not a killer.
Much has been said about Dark City. Roger Ebert called it the best movie of 98. A visually stunning sci-fi/noir tale of a man who wakes up with no knowledge of who he is or how he got to where he is. From the opening narration by Dr. Schreber (Sutherland), we learn that is a world that only mirrors our own. The inhabitants are nothing more than guinea pigs for a group of "strangers from another solar system" to study. Schreber knows that Murdoch (Sewell) has the ability to "tune" where he can change things around him by concentrating. The strangers also have this power and use it to change the city and imprint the inhabitants with all knew lives to see what makes us tick. But they must first take care of Murdoch who they in the process of imprinting with the life of a serial killer. Then we meet Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) and Emma (Connelly), the detective on the case and Murdoch's wife. He must learn who he really is, stop the strangers, and prove he is not a serial killer.
Dark City is a movie that's hard to forget, not only for its visuals but its great story and acting. Proyas (The Crow) gives us more of the same dark and dreary visuals from the The Crow, but in Dark City they are on a grander scale. Proyas delivers visuals with a flare and style all his own. Proyas and his writing team also delivered an original and brilliant story. The acting is dead on here too. Sewell is great as Murdock, Sutherland is amazing as the doctor, Hurt plays the hard edged copy well, and Connelly as usual looks great and is a hell of an actress. Throw all those elements together into an exhilarating comic book type flick and you have Dark City.
What you've heard about this flick is true. Its a masterpiece! A brilliant and beautiful film that you won't soon forget. It's not just a sci fi or a noir flick, its much more. Its a film about what makes us human. Although we are surrounded by darkness, the human spirit will triumph and that's just what Dark City is. A triumph.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 11, 2009
Though I liked the original version, I'm a super-fan of the Director's Cut. The story is more coherent and overall the film is just so much better. On blu-ray Dark City looks fantastic, and there's too many extras to mention (multiple commentaries, making of's, fact track etc.), but also included is the original theatrical version. It's definitely worth it for any fan.
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on April 20, 2015
Movie ratings are a matter of taste, of course, but I loved this movie. Visually beautiful and deserving of viewing projected onto a large screen. Kept my attention throughout without the use of sensationalistic gimmicks. Beautifully moody filmography. Audio excellent, dialogue easy to hear, music didn't overwhelm dialogue and visuals. Great fun -- could easily re-watch this repeatedly.
As far as the media itself is concerned, it offers a choice of either playing the theatrical or director's cut, with or without commentaries. There are extra documentaries included, some of which are quite extensive (one is 1 1/2 hrs by itself). The quality of the video encoding is superb. I've seen plenty of blu-rays which produced easily visible video artifacts when projected -- not this one: even projected on a screen larger than 4 X 7 feet, no video artifacts visible -- one could practically reach out and feel the texture of the tiles in the opening bathroom scene. Disk quality: meh. Arrived with two small scratches on it. Luckily, it didn't interfere with playback or result in any picture defects, but blu-rays should not be sent from the factory with scratches -- not impressive.
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A man wakes up in a bathroom. There are signs of a struggle around him, a dead body, and a broken syringe. His instincts scream at him to run. But why? He doesn't remember much, fleeting images only. The police are after him, but if he doesn't remember the crime, how can he be a murderer? Hiding in the city, dark, immense and cold, is easy, until he starts to notice incongruities, and foreboding strangers try to catch him. He must escape. but doing so means unraveling the secrets of the Dark City.

First off, this film plays as a hybrid between a film noir, and sci-fi. Both elements might seem to clash, but they are each done well and perfectly dosed so they mingle well. The attention to detail and atmosphere is impressive. The visuals are stunning but they're not just eye candy, they add to the story, they fuel our unconscious understanding of the existence of the characters inside the city. The characters themselves are great proxies for us to experience the story for ourselves. More than that, they seem to lend a humanistic insight to the harsh metaphor that are presented to us. It is difficult to praise the movie as much as it should be without including spoilers, but this is a movie that bears watching many times.
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on May 31, 2013
I liked very much the idea of the experimental world and how and why the extra terrestrials manipulate the humans. It's so utopic, but still logical in its own way. The actors and the characters are OK, the tempo of the movie is appropriate as of the secrets you learn when you follow the poor guy that doesn't know who he is, what is his past and how he can use his new powers. He must figure out everything with so little help. Very captivating and if you let the idea in your mind, you begin to understand how desperate those people are and there is obviously no solution to their trouble. One thing is sure is that they are humans, still hoping for something (what?) and are certainly unwilling to be told what to do or even think by those that captured them and make experiments on them. I really like that kind of pure fiction. Well done. p.s. what exactly is the idea behind the little bad boy dressed like an adult that follows the killers all the time: he is completely meaningless... Still give it a five stars anyway.
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