Friday, October 19, 2012

Ten Statements About....DARK CITY (1998)

Sometimes psychiatric methods take really, reall weird turns...
"These do bring back memories. This one is still warm. What is it? The recollections of a great lover? A catalog of conquests? We will soon find out. You wouldn't appreciate that, would you, Mr. Whatever-your-name is? Not the sort of conquest you would ever understand. Let's see, a touch of unhappy childhood, a dash of teenage rebellion, and last but not least, a tragic death in the family."

1) This is, without a doubt, Alex Proyas' crowning achievement. Forget the goth twittering of The Crow and the work-for-hire stuff he's been trapped in ever since this one crapped out at the box office--this is a truly visionary piece of work that at times is a detective thriller, at times a film noir, at times a horror film, at times a science fiction film and in the end, one of the coolest super-hero films of all time! And that all these disparate elements slide around together seamlessly, not interfering with each other in telling this one single story is astounding.

2) And you know what's really amazing? This is a film where the lack of backstory is woven into the film proper, yet you get a real sense of every character's life out of the context of the movie itself. Part of this is sharp screenwriting by Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David Goyer, but part of this is just the smart acting choices by Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly and others. The performances are so insightful, so intelligent that I believe that, for example, Hurt's Inspector Bumstead had this long career in the police force. Hell, I would cheerfully watch a syndicated television show of Bumstead's adventures.

3) I am fascinated at how Proyas plants these little prescient echoes of future plot developments in earlier scenes, like how the simple act of Sewell's John Murdock placing a dying fish in a bathtub foreshadows where he is going to go to seek sanctuary later on, or the maze in Dr. Schieber's office gives us a visual warning as to one of the film's biggest reveals.

This train may lead you around in circles...that'll lead you
to something you might not want to see....
4) And while we're on the subject of the good Dr....Keifer Sutherland is amazing in this film. While the initial impression is that Sutherland is playing at being Peter Lorre, you realize as you go deeper into the film how Dr. Schrieber's affectations indicate something much more nuanced and, ultimately, much more tragic.

5) No film of this sort can work without a memorable villain, and Richard O'Brien's Mister Hand is more than worthy of the task. O'Brien's physicality just sets the hackles of the back of the neck, and the true irony is how he's even more unsettling the more human he becomes. It's he, and not Ian Richardson's leader, that becomes the Stranger's standard bearer.

Okay, so that little kid who hangs out with Mr. Hand is just as creepy....even more so when we finally hear his one line of dialogue.

6) Make no bones about it--while there are strong suspense and action elements throughout this film, the science fictional elements are not only vital but integral to this plot. There is no way for the film to work without the presence of the Strangers and their experiment. And that gives the film an extra level of flavor to it.

7) ...and the film provides us with a couple of things we never saw before in 1999. Not only that, those things we never saw before are major plot points that move the story forward. The impact of these moments are made all the more impactful by seeing them through Murdock and, later on, Bumstead's eyes--since we emphasize with these characters, their wonder and shock are transferred to us.

I know she looks half-asleep...but trust me, it makes sense.
8) I appreciate how the characters around Murdock seem to gain more awareness the more information Murdock gets. Hurt, Connelly and the others seem positively asleep in the first act, only for them to become more vivid once the layers of the mystery is revealed...

9) ...and while we're on the subject of Jennifer Connelly's Emma, I love the fact that the fate that happens to her at the top of the third act is not a complication, but a way to give Murdock something he truly wants when he achieves his full potential and provides a wonderful coda to the film as a whole.

10) And thankfully, the CGI here is used not in making crazy creatures (the Strangers' true nature are used very sparingly), but in creating the effects of the 'tuning'--which in turn opens up Proyas' creativity, resulting in some innovative fight and chase scenes that take advantage of the mutable nature of the titular Dark City. I know some people might grouse about some similarities to Inception...but Proyas was here first. of the most brilliant science fiction films of all time, a personal favorite, and must-viewing for anyone who wants to see how you can successfully infuse the genre with elements from other styles without obscuring it. Well acted, well written and contains something I promise you'll never have anticipated seeing.

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