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"Dark City: Director's Cut" (Blu-ray and DVD)
Reviewer:
Wayne A. Klein
Studio: New Line Home Video
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
7/29/08
Special Features:

Two commentary tracks, three documentaries, stills gallery, PC version of the movie, trailer, Director's Cut Trivia Track, text essays, review by Neil Gaiman, introduction by Director Alex Proyas

Review:

"Dark City" was ahead of its time which may be one of the reasons the film didn't find the huge audience it deserved. It was a year ahead of its time to be precise. Convergent evolution suggests that many creatures can develop the same advances along a similar time frame because it's a logical extension that adds to their survival. I propose that we have something similar in films and the arts in general what I like to call convergent artistic development where similar themes, looks and approaches reach a sort of critical mass that results with more than one project have a similar look, plot, etc. It certainly would explain how "The Matrix" which tackles many of the same themes and has a similar "look" to the costume designs could come out within one year of "Dark City". Both films had been in development to some extent for years with the Wachoski brothers probably unaware of Alex Proyas, Len Dobbs and David S. Goya' similarly themed film. Ironically, "Dark City" was named the Best Film of 1998 by Roger Erbert but virtually ignored by moviegoers while the rest of the critical establishment ignored it or panned it at best. Ebert as usual was on to something. When I saw "Dark City" in theaters I knew that Proyas (who has previously directed "The Crow" among other films) had something. Although the original theatrical release was flawed by an extraneous voiceover introduction by Keifer Sutherland that gave away key plot points and pandered to the least intelligent members of the audience, bits of clunky dialogue and the film's musical score was often overbearing (flaws that were ironically mirrored in "The Matrix" as well with the exception of the use of a voice over), it clearly was an exceptional film. Proyas has continued to examine the theme of identity and how we define who we are as well as our humanity (a favorite theme of writer Philip K. Dick who penned the novel "Blade Runner" was based on which suffered the same post-production meddling as "Dark City") in other films including "I Robot". Goya has likewise continued to excel penning stories for "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight" and other comic book adaptations that tackled edgy subject matters. The big difference between "Dark City" and "The Matrix" is in the form of the lead actor. Rufus Sewell has much more depth as an actor and easily tackles the much more complex role of John Durdoch in "Dark City". That isn't to slight Keanu Reeves who also gives a terrific performance albeit in a much more limited, less complex role in the first film of "The Matrix" trilogy. He certainly IS up to the task of playing Neo however Sewell's character of Murdoch has a much more complex relationship with the audience AND the other characters in the film. ***

Alex Proyas' "Dark City" looks at the nature of memory and its definition of our humanity. John Murdoch (Sewell) awakens one day in a motel bathtub without any memory of who he is, how he got there or any clue to his past. He isn't alone. The body of a prostitute occupies the room as well her partially nude body decorated with a bizarre spiral design carved in her flesh. Murdoch receives a phone call from a mysterious doctor (Keifer Sutherland) telling him to clear out because a duo of bald, pasty faced well dressed men and a boy (with bizarre names like Mr. Hand (Richard O'Brien) or Mr. Face )are on their way up to retrieve him. Murdoch must unravel why these mysterious strangers are after him, if he is the serial killer carving up prostitutes throughout the city and, if not, who is and evade a sharp police detective (William Hurt). He also must discover who the woman (Jennifer Connley) that claims to be his wife really is and how she fits in this fractured, distorted puzzle made of glass that threatens to shatter at any minute. ***

While Proyas elaborate murder mystery threatens to unravel at times in this ambitious multi-layered plot he, his co-writers and cast manage to keep it all together pulling the film to a satisfying conclusion. Visually stunning and rivaling the work of Ridley Scott as well as contemporaries like Guillimero Del Toro but with its own unique flair, "Dark City" had one previous DVD release as a flipper with both the widescreen and full screen versions on home video about a decade ago. The film came with a terrific, intelligent commentary track, deleted scenes but little else in the way of extras. This deluxe edition corrects that situation and finally gives this influential film its due. ---

Image & Sound:

The Blu-ray looks quite good although there is an overuse of Digital Noise Reduction to eliminate the film grain (something that is an important part of the "look" of the film as much as the color scheme is for "The Matrix"), the images are crisper with a great deal more detail than on the previous DVD (having seen a DVD rental copy for comparison the DVD looks quite good as well) but some fine detail does occasionally get lost in some of the darker more noir sequences of the film due to the overuse of DNR. Still, it is a step up from the previous DVD edition which looked quite good for its time. It doesn't look as bad as "Patton" (where complexions had a waxy, pasty sheen to them and, again, fine detail in the faces were often lost)but looks better than some digitally over processed films. The Blu-ray has both editions of the film--the original theatrical cut and Director's Cut of the film both subjected to DNR to about the same degree,while the DVD has ONLY the "Director's Cut" of the film. It's a pity because the original DVD certainly is in need of a decent upgrade. ***

Audio sounds terrific with a great Lossless transfer that makes fine use of the home video theater experience. There's lots of detail spread around the home video system with great use of ambient sounds even during the quieter sequences of the film. Dialogue comes across crisp and clear throughout the mix.

Special Features:

Both the Blu-ray and DVD editions come with a Digital "bonus" copy of the film on a separate disc. Quite frankly, I find these to be useless unless I'm going to watch the film on my PC (which I might do once or twice when reviewing special features but rarely for the film itself). It's an "added value" designed to make you buy the set vs. renting it or burning a copy. The sooner this trend ends the better since often these discs (and this includes THIS edition as well) don't play on Apple MacIntosh computers and are not iPod compati that is Windows compatible. ***

The new edition comes with the original commentary track with Roger Ebert and Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos as well as a commentary track by Proyas, co-writers Len Dobbs & David S. Goyer along with Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski. Some special features are in 480i while some others are in 1080p and these include a new documentary "Memories of Shell Beach", "Architecture of Dreams", a production gallery, introduction by Director Proyas, text essays, a review of the film by Neil Gaiman and a "Director's Cut Fact Track" that is a pop-up trivia text extra that notes differences in the "Director's Cut" vs. the theatrical version of the film, various subtle changes, etc. ***

As to whether you like the "Director's Cut" or the original theatrical cut that depends on you. I personally preferred the DC because it adds footage (including some alternate angles of shots that Proyas prefers)while subtracting the distracting narration that Keifer Sutherland had to read (it was forced on Proyas by New Line and he never liked it feeling it gave away too much of the plot of the film and was somewhat like the "Blade Runner" narration--it's not THAT bad but it doesn't add to the enjoyment of the film for me). We get the original theatrical trailer as well. ---

Final Words:

A well crafted, at times brilliant film "Dark City" may be flawed but those flaws recede into the distance once you are drawn into the story. Proyas does an exceptional job of making a film that tackles a number of challenging themes and yet stays true to many of its pulp roots. The Blu-ray and DVD editions are not perfect however as New Line has allowed the company they've hired out to clean up the film to digitally scrub off as much grain as possible for a "digital" look which results in excessive use of edge enhancement to sharpen the image with a resulting loss of fine detail. Although it isn't as much of an abomination as, say, Fox's "Patton" Blu-ray, New Line and other companies really need to take a hard look at how they are ruining these films. Grain is an inherent part of anything shot on film and it adds texture, atmosphere and is often intentional on the part of the director. Removing it is altering the film for the worse resulting in a degraded image quality that COULD and SHOULD be better. Still, "Dark City" looks better than ever in its first Blu-ray and updated DVD release. Recommended.

 

 
 
 
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