Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Dark City

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, September 21, 1999

Hey, do you happen to know the way to Shell Beach?

Special features

Art Of5
Cast Information4
Commentary Track8

Kind of a cross between “The Matrix” and “The Truman Show” (but coming out before each of them, in early 1998). There is also a Giger-esque feel to the entire thing, especially apparent in the “Set Design” drawings included on the DVD. One of the executive producers--Andrew Mason--was also a producer on “The Matrix”. How much that influences things, I don’t know. After all, it also has a Detroit Rock City connection. Both producers Brian Written and Michael DeLuca were producers on the KISS fest. Still, Mason also did special effects for both films, which is likely to have more influence.

DirectorAlex Proyas
WritersAlex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Movie Rating5
Transfer Quality8
Overall Rating6
  • Enhanced Widescreen
  • Pan and Scan

There are not one but two commentaries on this disk: one by Roger Ebert, and one by everybody else involved in the creation: director Alex Proyas, writers Lem Dobbs and David Goyer, director of photography Dariusz Wolski, and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. Ebert’s commentary is interesting from a vaguely scholarly point of view, although his emphasis on the “breakthrough” nature of the film is in my opinion quite overdone, and he annoyingly starts talking about “Seal Beach” for a few minutes partway through the movie. It is actually “Shell Beach”, which he gets right for most of the commentary. I suppose it is nice to know that his commentary is fresh and unscripted, but perhaps some editing would be useful.

The creator commentary is also quite interesting, pointing out a few of the tricks in the film, talking a bit about each actor. As in Blade Runner, whose city Dark City resembles, there was a studio-imposed voice over, although in this case it was only over the opening scene. Alex called this the “only studio imposition” and “unnecessary”, which in fact it was.

Some of the other extras are less inspired. Neil Gaiman has a two-page text piece. There is also a set of text items comparing “Dark City” with “Metropolis” and hailing it as a landmark film. Sorry, I don’t see it that way. Roger does, however. He called it “a very important landmark in the history of visionary film” on his commentary.

Richard O’Brien—you might know him as “Riff Raff” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show—is brilliant as usual as “Mr. Hand”. “No special effect is going to live up to Richard O’Brien,” said one of the creators on the creator commentary track. Jennifer Connelly is sizzling when on stage, less so off. William Hurt, according to the director, understood the movie more than anyone else, even himself, and it showed. He really went off as a guy who has no memories but pretends he does. Everyone here is recreated every couple of weeks.

The movie starts out biblically in John 6:14. John Murdoch, the main character, is in room 614 and steps naked from the bathtub after something has happened in the room. Soon the police are after him for murder, he can only barely remember his life—including his very hot wife Emma played by Jennifer Connely, and Kiefer Sutherland keeps following him around pretending to be Peter Lorre.

To twist matters further, Mister Hand—Richard O’Brien—begins to act out as a psycho murderer halfway through the film and is quite brilliant at it. The kids loved him. (The child Stranger was played by twins.) He supposedly wrote and sang songs on the set from “Dark City: The Musical”. Now that would be a kick-ass alternate audio track.

The cast credits are pretty bland. A little text describing the main actors, as well as a filmography for them. Oddly, O’Brien is listed as having been in “Cinderella” in 1998, which was probably “Ever After”, since he was in that with Drew Barrymoore. Probably the DVD went to press just as “Ever After” was coming out; it is a retelling of the Cinderella story, and may have been originally called that. Disney may have balked…

The scene selection on Dark City is both lame and extremely cool. The layout of the scene icons is very hard to follow. However, each icon has both a “go to” and a “play” button—so that you can play the movie without leaving the scene selection menu! The movie plays in the icon for the scene, allowing you to verify that this is the scene you want. That’s a very useful feature.

The movie’s ending, while fun and good, is more traditional and even clichéd than the rest of the movie. If you like good retro sci-fi, I strongly recommend “Dark City”. You’ll probably really like it. Even if not, you’ll probably still get a kick out of the dramatic mystery inside the science fantasy.

Recommendation: Rent

DirectorAlex Proyas
WritersAlex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
ActorsRufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Richard O’Brien
Spoken languagesEnglish, French
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeaturesArt Of, Cast Information, Commentary Track, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Dark City…

For more about cyberpunk, you might also be interested in Pi, The Matrix, Blackout, The Futurological Congress, and The Heretic.

For more about David S. Goyer, you might also be interested in Blade.

For more about Richard O’Brien, you might also be interested in Flash Gordon and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For more about William Hurt, you might also be interested in Altered States.