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Dark City (1998)

Dark Empire, Dark World

They built the city to see what makes us tick. Last night one of us went off.

Directed by:

Alex Proyas

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 100 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

If you possessed the ability to physically alter the appearance of the world around you, wouldn’t you try to make it look fairly nice? Perhaps a couple of pot-plants here, a splash of colour there – maybe even some tasteful artwork hung on a few walls? Unfortunately, though, aesthetics are not a priority for “The Strangers”, the race of slap-headed aliens who arrive on Earth to get up to all sorts of nastiness in Alex Proyas’ intriguing sci-fi noir ‘Dark City’.

Set in a self-consciously unrecognisable city of the future, it stars Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch, an everyday sort of bloke trapped in a not-very-everyday scenario. He wakes up in a bathtub, not knowing where he is or how he got there, his only company a dead prostitute. It seems the cops (led by a sleuthing William Hurt) want him for the murder of a total of six prozzies, and even more worrying is that The Strangers are after him too. What’s going on? What can it all mean? Is he really a killer? And why is that bloke who used to present ‘The Crystal Maze’ (Richard O’Brien) seemingly obsessed with him?

Like an old fashioned whodunnit crossed with the comic book setting of 2005’s ‘Sin City’ crossed with an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, this eye-popping romp displays an incredible richness of thought on Proyas’ part. Not only is the set design and cinematography out of this world, but there’s a story here too: a story that may well take at least a couple of viewings to truly get to grips with. Without giving too much away, it’s about what makes us what we are and – more importantly – why that makes us much better than any lousy aliens (and yes, Mr O’Brien, that includes you!).

My only significant problem with the film is Sewell’s inescapable feebleness as a leading man. He’s too weak in both performance and stature to make any sort of impact against the visual splendour of Proyas’ world, and as the flick’s focal point he’s overshadowed in more ways than one. That aside, it’s impossible not to admire a movie like ‘Dark City’. While performances aren’t its strong point, originality most certainly is, and even those who may not find it to their own individual tastes will surely be bowled over by the sheer ambition of the project – I know I was.

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It's Got: Kiefer… Sutherland… talking… like… this. It… gets… quite… annoying… actually.

It Needs: Some aliens with a bit more of a flair for architecture and décor. C’mon lads, would it kill you to spruce the place up a bit?

DVD Extras Dark times indeed if you were hoping for a decent range of extra features: here, you only get a trailer and a five-minute ‘making of’ featurette (and, as you might expect, it’s impossible to truly do the film’s behind-the-scenes work justice in a measly five minutes). Version reviewed: Dark City (Entertainment in Video) DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Summary

Creepy baldies from space and lots of sad faces bring a new meaning to the term “city break” in this marvellously shady piece of sci-fi.

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