“Nobody *ever* listens to me!” -- Dark City
Dark City is a science fiction masterpiece that easily rivals The Matrix in magnificence. The two share many similarities (including some sets that The Matrix reused), but at the core they are fundamentally different movies that are great for different reasons.
Dark City starts with a lame voice-over by Kiefer Sutherland’s character Dr. Daniel Schreber giving some plot exposition. Apparently, the studio thought that the movie was too hard for audiences to understand and forced the director to add this. Shmucks. Anyway, the basic premise is that this dying alien race called The Strangers has taken control of the city and is manipulating everything and everyone in it in a series of elaborate experiments designed to find exactly what makes humans unique. John Murdock, our protagonist, wakes up in a bathtub without any coherent memories. He looks around his motel room, gets dressed, finds some clues here and there, gets a call from Dr. Schreber telling him to get out, and quickly leaves the room (spotting a gruesome murder by the bed on his way out, by the way). He eventually finds out his name and starts following the breadcrumbs. To tell more would be to spoil it, so I won’t.
Visually, this movie is nonparallel. Shot in Film Noir style (and heavy on the dark tones), it has a look similar to, but less grainy than, Blade Runner. The special effects, which are relatively scant, work very well, very rarely seeming trite, lame, or overdone. The cinematography is also pretty good; the camera angles are interesting and clever. Likewise, the music was form-fitted to the razor-thin mood changes. There’s not a lot to fault the movie on here.
You’re either gonna love or hate the acting. The movie’s characters have been attacked as “flat, one-dimensional, emotionless, and cliché,” and this is true to a certain extent. However, as you learn more about the world of the movie, it starts to become apparent that this was a stylistic decision the director made based solidly on the plot. Just try to keep in mind that the actors are competent, the director does know what he’s doing, and the producers did give the movie sufficient time and money. Kiefer Sutherland in particular has a polarized following: he plays his doctor as slightly mad with badly halting speech barely above a whisper. I kinda liked it: odd, but not too odd; strange, but not so strange as to be utterly unlikely. You may disagree. To each his own.
But in the end, Dark City is science fiction, and science fiction, is an asker of questions in its heart of hearts. Good SF focuses on the characters over the SF elements, and the movie indeed does that, but the characters are merely a means to an end, case studies meant to help us get answers: What is it that makes each person unique? Are we merely the sum of our memories, or is there something else? In many ways, we the audience are meant to act like The Strangers, overseeing their experiments to “find the human soul.” Like all good science fiction, however, the movie never definitively answers these questions (oh sure, John Murdock does at the end with easily the most profoundly lame sentence in the entier movie, but the film itself leaves the answer unbubbled). It merely provides a new way of asking the questions, but leaves the ultimate answers to you.
Acting: 3.5/5 chalk spirals (Although I feel the acting fit the movie very well, none of it was in and of itself particularly notable).
Sound: 4/5 forehead syringes (This movie had very small variations in tone and emotion, and the sound captiured these minute changes very well).
Visuals: 4.5/5 Automat meals (Definatelly one of the better parts of the movie, the visuals have some serious kick).
Story: 4/5 postcards (I am thouroghly satisfied with the storyline. Events flow reasonably).
Philisophical Merit: 5/5 goldfish (As I said, I first watched this in a philosophy class. It completely belonged there).
SF Elements: 3/5 subway trains (Although there did what they were supposed to do and they were visually beautiful, I feel that the SF elements of this movie are more fantasy, or “soft,” than I would like them to be).
Overall (not necessarily determined by the above categories): 4.5/5 dashes of teenage rebellion (This movie ranks among my favorites, right alongside 12 Angry Men, K-PAX, The Matrix, and LotR).