Dark City: How the future looked in 1998
“Dark City” is one of those films that did not have much importance for the box office, but for fans of science fiction cinema it is a breakthrough classic.
There is a rather sad story behind this film, made of unfortunate coincidences, one in particular: only a year after its release in 1998, what will become one of the giants of the cinema of the 90s and not only in cinemas, “Matrix” was released.
Although the two films were released just one year apart, they seem to belong to two very distant times.
Nothing to do with the Wachowski brothers’ latest-generation film technology, aided by bright, shiny colors and futuristic-cut costumes; Alex Proyas’ film has the characteristics of a melancholic and dreamlike tale, of a science fiction tale, rather than a sensationalistic film full of special effects.
The comparison between the two films came naturally to many, because of the same story frame they have in common: a dystopian universe in which the fate of mankind is threatened by non-human entities.
And so, due to a confrontation from which “Dark City “comes out as the loser, it has not gone down in history as the innovative groundbreaker title that it deserves.
But, despite the theme in common, the two films can not be compared in any way and certainly “Dark City” is not to be considered as a B movie.
Because, as we said, the one told by Proyas is a black fable, a gothic tale, infested by dark creatures, who hate the sunlight, who make strange experiments with human memory, using the city they haunt as their playground of monstrosities.
It is placed in an undefined time, which could occur in the distant future, or has already happened in a past that has been lost.
The scenography is visionary and evocative: halfway between Gotham city and the black and white setting of some 50s American films.
Some scenes look like the pages of a vintage comic book in which the main character goes around at night in dark trough smoky alleys.
To make everything darker there is the stratagem that allows the director not to use natural light: the alien parasites hate the sunlight and therefore decide to raise high walls all around the city, in order to totally obscure the light; until, of course, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) will not reveal the deception, making the walls of that immense prison collapse.
Some aspects of the film seem a bit taken lightly and concluded too quickly: as the hero that solves the situation in a few scenes by saving the entire human race or the figure of the pseudo John Murdoch’s wife who seems to have a purely functional role in order to unveil some of the protagonist’s facts; a Jennifer Connelly that seems to there by chance and that gives no vitality to a character already quite boring in itself.
However, beyond some flaws in the development and in the story, “Dark City” is a film that can be enjoyed from many points of view.
The set design of George Liddle and Patrick Tatopoulos, as already said, is a shrewd marriage between past and future: everything, both external and internal, gives the idea of desolation and abandonment, precisely by the men who do not govern their own life’s or spaces anymore.
Even the costumes, by Liz Keogh, would remind a little of those of the “Matrix”, were it not for the fact that they went out to the cinemas a year earlier.
The story is very interesting, despite the small flaws that do not fully satisfy the curiosity of the spectator.
But maybe “Dark City” is just beautiful as it is: it leaves open many questions and must be seen without prejudice and without having read anything before.
Words by Federica Diaz Splendiani