Not a commercial success by any means, Dark City eventually found a home and cult following on the home video format, where its DVD release sold like crazy. With its host of bonus features, including dual commentaries, something rare for the DVD format at the time, fans were able to dig deeper into the film than they could have ever imagined. Although critical reviews were mixed at the time of its release and moviegoers were more confused by its story than intrigued, Dark City would eventually find its place on fan films shelves…and finally, after ten years since its original theatrical release, Dark City sees the long awaited Director’s Cut from Alex Proyas.
Penned by a trio of talent that still lights up movie screens to this day, including Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, and David S. Goyer, Dark City revolves around John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), a man who wakes up with no memory and no clue about what’s happening in the world around him. Informed by a mysterious Dr. Daniel P. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) and chased by Inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt), Murdoch must unravel the truth behind Schreber’s words and discover just what’s happening to him and the mysterious city around him. With the mysterious telekinetic beings also chasing him, Murdoch is forced to seek refuge with a wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly), that he barely remembers.
I did an absolutely horrible job at describing the film and made it much more serious and less sci-fi than it sounds, but that’s honestly how I went into the film upon my first viewing of it. Like a lot of films that I’m recommended by people, I don’t do much research and as a result I can only go by what I read on the front cover (I rarely read the back; more often than not subtle plot points are dropped). When the whole sci-fi/floating world in space element of Dark City was revealed in the film I felt somehow betrayed by what I was watching…although I’m not entirely sure why, as the rest of the film was just as quirky.
Although I enjoyed the film, I didn’t feel like I’d ever want to watch it again and quickly sold the $2 copy of the DVD for the same amount I paid for it. When the director’s cut was announced, I was intrigued and opted to give it a chance again (I’m always willing to be proven wrong by my initial viewing of a film). While the new director’s cut isn’t anything quite as drastic as, say, the Daredevil director’s cut, its differences are subtle enough so that I could enjoy the film on a much more…intellectual level. The opening monologue by Dr. Schreber is cut, which immediately makes the film less “dumbed down.”
The thing about Dark City is that while the film is definitely made to make you think, the opening of the film almost holds your hand in such a way that you feel that you should get the same level of explanation throughout the film. When this isn’t offered you become disoriented, confused and bewildered by what’s going on as you expect everything to be handed to you on a golden platter. With the director’s cut this is removed from the film and you’re given a sense of loss immediately, so you have no idea what’s going on and you’re much more likely to pay close attention.
Although I’m not sure if that’s what the director was going for in this new cut, it’s what I gleaned from it. The rest of the changes, around ten minutes of additional sequences, aren’t quite as drastic and I honestly didn’t notice much “new” content being tossed about. The film was still as dark and slightly confusing as ever, but it was just a lot of fun to watch and decipher. I’m making it sound much more confusing than it actually is, but this isn’t your typical kick-back and enjoy film; it will screw with your head a bit and leave you thinking more than your average sci-fi film. At best I can describe it as some sort of mash up between Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Matrix and Equilibrium. An odd mixture, but there surely isn’t another one around quite like it.
The film is truly one of the most memorable sci-films in recent years and its dark hue, unique camera work, set designs and characters leave you thinking long after the films ended. It’s not something you can sit down and quickly watch; it requires you to pay attention, but the rewards for doing so are bountiful. Despite being a tad strange at first, Sutherland’s performance as the doctor is one of his more memorable and the end of the film when he “inserts” himself into Murdoch’s memories is quite possibly one of the strangest and coolest sequences in sci-fi films I’ve yet seen. Sewell’s role as Murdoch is also brilliant and it’s a shame he hasn’t shown up in more films. He hasn’t been in much that I’ve seen, although his physical appearance in this film in this film is quite different than what his IMDb profile is showing off, so it’s possible he’s been around more than I realize.
What make this film so memorable are the visual elements. Whether it’s the CGI which still works to this day (although the final sequence is a bit obvious) or just the visuals of the city, Dark City is truly just a fantastic film that will stick with you in more ways than one. It’s definitely not for everyone, but those who are a fan of Proyas’s other films, including the equally dark and entertaining The Crow should definitely check out Dark City. The director’s cut is a slight step above the original theatrical edition, although both come Recommended.
With the original edition of this film having last received a DVD release in 1999, this new edition is long overdue. Although, having said that, the previous DVD edition honestly wasn’t poor by any means; but this new edition certainly knocks it out of the park in terms of bonus features and content. The set itself arrives in a two-disc Blu-ray case (second disc includes the digital copy), along with inserts with the digital movie code, and a notice about keeping your player up-to-date. Disc art are same for both and mimic the front cover, which is a drastic change from the original 1999 DVD release—almost too drastic, as they’re pretty much unrecognizable. The cover alone is brighter than the entire film. Menu’s are simple and easy to navigate, although the special features menu is slanted away from the viewer, making some of the text hard to read. I don’t care how big TV’s are now-a-days, if I’m sitting eight feet away from them and the font is super tiny, I can’t read it all that easily. The menus are also split into two editions, a “Director’s Cut” and “Theatrical Cut” side which you choose when the disc first loads. You can switch between the two easily and menus for both sides are the same, with only the content being different.
Newly remastered for this Blu-ray release (as well as a separate two-disc DVD edition), Dark City arrives with a VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 video transfer that is…well, it seems silly to repeatedly use the word “fantastic” to describe Blu-ray transfers, but the majority of the releases I’ve seen have been nothing short of that. The new transfer has deep blacks and an amazing level of clarity; although character faces and close-ups are often a bit soft in appearance. Nothing that drastically takes away from the film, but this isn’t a completely perfect video transfer….but if you were to even play it against the original 1999 DVD transfer, of course, it would be nothing short of a difference between night and day. Similarly, the audio, presented in a thunderous DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, encompasses the room and sends it rumbling throughout the entire feature. At times I got a bit tired of the constant rumbling and wondered if my subwoofer simply gave up trying to decide when to push something out and just decide to go hog wild, but it did calm down for the quieter sequences. Be prepared to grip your seat during building shifts and the action packed finale, however; it’s a room shaker.
Moving onto the extras we have….five commentaries. I’ve seen some excessive use of commentaries before, but this is just about the craziest amount I’ve ever seen for a single film. While two of the commentaries repeat elements (directly; more on that lately), the majority of them are all unique. On the director’s cut side we have a solo track with director Alex Proyas, another with Roger Ebert and a third with Writers David Goyer and Lem Dobbs. This is a great mixture of talent to listen to for the film and Ebert especially is excited about this directors cut. Obviously it was recorded some time before his recent health complications, but when paired with his original commentary for the film, he really makes you appreciate this film for what it is. Proyas track is also a fantastic listen, while the Goyer and Dobbs track is actually a repeat from the original DVD release. How is this possible, you ask? Well the original DVD commentary with the pair also included three other men, who recorded their portion separately. This time around Goyer and Dobbs go solo the entire film and all of their comments are left in, as opposed to being cut up and fitted in with others. Of course this can leave for some uneventful and dead moments, but it’s still an informative track.
Onto the other extras for the “Director’s Cut” side of things is a series of new documentaries for the film. Despite being newly recorded, they aren’t in HD. The first is “Introduction by Alex Proyas” (4:50), which actually has Roger Ebert talking about the film longer than Proyas. Next is “Memories of Shell Beach” (42:54), which is the making-of the film, complete with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and chatter from the crew. Due simply to the complexity of the film itself, the material here is a bit involved and cumbersome to sit through, but fans will no doubt be intrigued by it. “Architecture of Dreams” (33:40) is a featurette dedicated solely to the fantastic sets and city designs used in the film, as well as the costumes and special effects used in the film. For such a quiet film in terms of its box office impact, it’s quite amazing how much effort was put into the sets and effects for the film.
Something fans will want to turn on when watching the Director’s Cut the first (or second) time is the “Directors Cut Fact Track.” It points out all that is new to this cut and while Proyas also points all of this out during his commentary, this is a nice “cheat sheet” for those that want to watch the film with its thunderous 7.1 track enabled. A production gallery is also included, which wraps up the “Director’s Cut” portion of the extras.
Moving to the “Theatrical Cut” side we get an almost exact replica of the extras presented on the original 1999 release. The two commentaries, one by Roger Ebert and another with Alex Proyas, Writers David Goyer and Lem Dobbs, Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski and Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos return from the DVD and are an informative mix, as always. As with his Director’s Cut commentary, Ebert is the most fun to listen to, even if he is talking about it purely from a fans perspective, which, in many ways, is what makes it fun. He’s just talking and telling us all about what makes the film so great and we can sit and gleefully nod in unison with everything he loves about it.
Other extras that return are the The Metropolis Comparison Photos and a text-only menu page with Neil Gaiman talking about the film (remember, this is from the days when a DVD was 4.7gb—no room for video extras!). Finally a theatrical trailer (2:22) is presented, which, strangely enough, is in 1080p.
Overall this is an absolutely fantastic and exhaustive release for Dark City. While the featurettes aren’t quite as overpowering as other recent special edition efforts by Warner Home Video, the five commentaries more than make up for any weak link in the extras content. Not to mention this Blu-ray release is an absolutely amazing step up from the 1999 DVD release, which should go without saying. Regardless if you own the original release or not, this Blu-ray edition of Dark City is absolutely, in a word…fantastic. Highly Recommended.
Dark City: Director’s Cut is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.