Monday, September 1, 2014

Movie #268: Dark City

Dark City is a neo-noir sci-fi film starring Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Richard O'Brien, and Kiefer Sutherland. It's directed by Alex Proyas, the genius behind The Crow, and is one of the best examples of producers pissing in the soup I can think of.

So: John Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub in a place he doesn't recognize, no memory of who he is or what's going on, with a dead prostitute nearby. He runs out into the city - perpetually dark - trying to figure out what's going on. He quickly realizes that he's wanted in connected with a number of street-walker killings, and the inspector in charge, Bumstead (Hurt) is closing in. The picture in his wallet seems to be his wife (Connelly), but he can't remember her, either.

Into the mix is a man claiming to be his doctor, Schreber (Sutherland, getting his Shatner on), and these horrific bald people in black coats with weird powers who seem to want to kill him. And as Murdoch runs for his life, trying to figure out what's going on, Bumstead, Emma, and the rest of the inhabitants of the city treat this like a homicide investigation...but is that really what's happening?

At midnight, everything stops, everyone falls asleep, and the black-clad Strangers change the city to suit their whim. And then it comes out - the Strangers built the city. They abducted people and they've made their own little society, and they play with memories to figure out what makes humanity...human. They keep it dark because they can't stand the light. But Murdoch resists their programming, and with the help of the other PCs Schreber, Emma, and Bumstead, destroys their machines and brings back the sun.

Like all Proyas films, Dark City is moody as hell. It waffles a little between being a noir movie or a sci-fi movie, and I think it could have handled the transition a little more gracefully. The other complaint I have is at the end, the TK-fight between Murdoch and Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) looks absurd, because Murdoch just kind of leans forward and screams with waves of power coming out of his head. But generally, the performances are good. We get to see Jennifer Connolley sing in a slinky dress, William Hurt as a noir-cop, and Richard O'Brian as the Stranger who chooses to end his life by taking on Murdoch's memories, becoming an individual for a few brief hours.

Here's the thing: When Dark City opened in theaters (in 1998), there was a voice-over in the beginning from Sutherland's characters where he literally explains the whole plot of the movie - the Strangers, their plot, their memory manipulation, and so forth. It complete fucks the movie not because it's a big twist, but because there's nothing to discover. You get no sense of Murdoch's confusion or his helplessness when he's running around at night while everyone is asleep and unresponsive, because you know what's happening.

I, however, bought the director's cut, which excises that stupid monologue, and the whole thing works better. Makes for a much more interesting movie, very much a gamer flick (and the RPG Edge of Midnight is largely based on it). I do wish Connelly had been given a little more to do, but she doesn't get killed or kidnapped (threatened a bit), so that's nice.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Technically Fierce Creatures, but we already have Hudson Hawk on the schedule