Cyberpunk Review » Dark City

January 14, 2006

Dark City

Year: 1998

Directed by: Alex Proyas

Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, & David S. Goyer

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • John Murdoch: Rufus Sewell
  • Emma Murdoch/Anna: Jennifer Connelly
  • Inspector Frank Bumstead: William Hurt
  • Dr. Daniel Schreber: Kiefer Sutherland
  • Rating: 8 out of 10

    Dark City

    Overview: Dark City was another one of those movies I was on the fence concerning whether it was cyberpunk or not. Yes, it has the visuals in spades, but what about the rest? After watching it again, I decided the answer was an emphatic Yes. Although we don’t really have computers or cyborgs, we certainly have machinery controlling human life - we have invasive and negative impacting technology, an underground, and truly, the strangers have ubiquitous accces to information. Also, Dark City fully exploits cyberpunk’s film noir roots.

    But what really sold me was the whole focus on transforming the memories to get at the root of what humanity is. These strangers, or aliens, if you will, are engaging in virtually the same excersize we see from cyborgs in many a cyberpunk film - they want to understand humanity for the expressed purpose of being, or at least acting human.

    And WOW! What a great film this is. I end up watching Dark City at least once or twice a year, and always end up loving it all over again! This film has awesome style, great acting, terrific suspense and truly interesting and deep ideas!

    ~See movies similar to this one~

    Tags: cyberpunk movie review

    This post has been filed under Awesome Cyberpunk Themes, Memory Modification, 8 Star Movies, Awesome Cyberpunk Visuals, Alien Movies, Surreal Cyberpunk Movies, Cyberpunk movies from 1990 - 1999 by SFAM.


    January 14, 2006

    Katrinaro said:

    I like the layout! I would change the titles “Writer” and “Director” to “Written by” and Directed by”, because I think it sounds better and is more correct when dealing with collaborations or multiple credits (this entry, for example).

    Also, there is an image in this entry that is not showing up.

    SFAM said:

    Great idea Kat! I agree that written and directed by sound better. I think I can do this pretty easily. Let me look at fixing the graphic too.

    EDIT: The written and directed by should be done now. :)

    EDIT 2: Graphic should be good.

    Mystic Flame said:

    Yes yes yes! God yes! What a fab-o-lus movie. Good review.

    SFAM said:

    Thanks Mystic :)

    Many more reviews to come.

    February 9, 2006

    Simonf said:

    Agreed, another of my favourite Cyberpunk movies, and one with a lot of critical respect too. I remember being a bit unsure of it the first time I watched but given a second viewing it definately shines through.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Simonf, I gotta go back and take more screencaps of this movie. Dark City truly has some terrific visuals, and a wonderful story line. Not to give anything away though, but have you seen Beautiful Dreamer by Mamoru Oshii (still to be reviewed)? If you do, you’ll know where Proyas got some of his ideas :)

    February 11, 2006

    Simonf said:

    Aha! No I hadn’t thanks for the tip though!

    February 13, 2006

    k said:

    yeah, this is cool, serendipity rules because i was browsing this friday arvo and lo there it was being screened on one of our channels late saturday night; missed the beginning but v cool; sort of goth blade runner meets nanotech love it :)

    SFAM said:

    Hi K, I gotta take more screencaps of this. I agree - the visuals are terrific, and the story works as well.

    June 23, 2006

    Dixie Flatline said:

    While I love this movie and would give it a 9/10 I still have my doubts whether or not it qualifies as cyberpunk. It can be much better described as a Neo-Noir (like Bladerunner) since it is so deeply immersed in Film Noir elements. Everything in the movie is pure noir - the cinematography, the sets (e.g. the Automat), the props (vintage cars, guns), the characters (the detective wearing a trenchcoat and hat, the femme fatale who sings at a nightclub, the ambiguous anti-hero of John Murdoch)…

    I highly recommend listening to the Roger Ebert commentary track on the DVD. While he may not be the best film critic, he has tremendous knowledge about film and film theory and has a lot of very interesting things to say about Dark City.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Dixie, I would certainly agree that if I were making “,” both Blade Runner and Dark City would be among the movies I reviewed. However, this doesn’t preclude either of them from being considered cyberpunk as well.

    As for whether this should be considered cyberpunk or not, as short as my review is (some of my earlier reviews were far shorter than more recent ones - something I intend to go back an update at some point), I think I explain my reasons for inclusion here.

    August 7, 2007

    Jon said:

    I agree to some point that Dark City is a great movie, exept on one very vital point: The cutting is imo horrible, which makes the pace of the movie disturbing and irritating. The seventh time i saw it, it got too much and i haven’t seen it since. Which is sad, cause i love the characters, the sets and ideas. And the ending :-)

    Klaw said:

    An interesting side fact, much of the early scenes in the Matrix were filmed in Australia… right next door to Dark City as it was filming. They in fact shared some sets… I believe the opening Trinity rooftop chase was filmed on the same set as DC. Not surprisingly, both movies share some similar themes. I don’t feel DC holds up as well as the original Matrix, and the I agree with the previous posters comments about the editing… overall still a very fascinating story, and definitely a cyberpunk-horror classic. The Aiens reminded me of the Harkkonens from Dune, and Pinhead from Hellraiser.

    September 1, 2007

    Re:Boot said:

    God I love this film

    October 2, 2007

    gisela said:

    queria ver algo mas del vestuario de este film ya q tengo q hacer un trabajo con ello y en el film y q esta tan oscuro no se ve nada

    November 1, 2007

    Anon said:

    Not sure I agree on the “Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals” rating being “Very High”.

    It’s the human/computer technology blend that characterizes cyberpunk, and the majority of the technological visual concepts in the human “environment” of Dark City are more steampunk than cyberpunk, especially given its retro feel.

    The technologically-advanced alien civilization is kept entirely separate from the human environment — the only crossover is Kiefer Sutherland’s character, whose surgical equipment is characteristically steampunk. So, without calling every “futuristic alien movie” ever made “cyberpunk”, I don’t think you can really say there’s a strong cyberpunk visual element to Dark City.

    Not that I disagree with the movie’s inclusion in this site. Some of the concepts — heck even the obvious association of steampunk and cyberpunk — clearly qualify it for mention here. But the visuals are certainly not predominantly cyberpunk-oriented… beyond being gritty, dark, and urban (which you’d probably gather from the film’s title!)

    April 7, 2008

    jmalmsten said:

    Well… as cyberpunk I think it has all that it needs to be called that… but as a masterpiece movie it has one serious flaw that few people seem to acknowledge.

    The whole plot is spoiled by the first 5 minutes of narration and explanations… I saw this film on television and missed the first minutes and thought it was a terrific film… Then I got the dvd and was shown the spoiler-ridden first minutes and it has totally ruined subsequent views. There’s no mystery left after that spoiler. And all I could think about was the insane cutting-style that irritated me thereafter too. So for me to call it a masterpiece is like saying mona lisa is a terrific painting if you just block out the aliens in the top half of the picture…

    I also am surprised that no mention is given that it is in fact loosely based on the writings of a raving madman, Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. Written by the then institutionalized Daniel Paul Schreber. Worth a read that one too;)

    a comparison was made here:

    April 8, 2008

    Carpe Mortis said:

    In his commentary track Proyas notes that the intro narration was the only thing imposed upon him by the studio, and calls it “unnecessary.” The site is down now, but a few years ago i stumbled upon a site with instructions on how to re author the DVD with an edited Audio track that omits the narration (and all other sound during that section). I think that’s overkill, since I have a mute button. Unfortunately this is the nature of the beast. You need money to make a movie, and that usually brings some strings with it. While I admit the narration is detrimental, I see it as a small price to pay for the studio leaving the rest of the film alone.

    April 9, 2008

    jmalmsten said:

    ah… now that’s the first time I have ever heard a word from the guy himself on the subject. And since I have yet to find a Directors Cut of the film I just assumed that he had “final cut” on the picture for it’s release. Thanks. Now I know he’s just as back-tied on the matter as Kurt Wimmer is with the mangled mess that became Ultraviolet.

    And for the whole “remaster with edited soundtrack” and all… I’ll just use the skip button to the point where he awakens in the bathtub. Because even the visuals is a dead givaway of a major plot-twist.

    I hate how the “exec’s” think on these things though… it’s like taking the matrix and spelling EVERY single plot-twist and turn out and explaining the nature of the matrix, the agents and everything else in a 5 minute monologe before the movie starts… because that’s what I like about the first Matrix… it’s like an ongoing series of explorations. And to ruin that part of the movie is just as bad in the matrix as in Dark City.

    I hope a real Directors cut of Dark City eventually will surface with the beginning as it should be seen so we can judge the film for what it actually is instead of guessing around what Proyas may have said once or something like that. Just give us DC:DC ;)

    Kovacs said:

    A Director’s Cut may be on the way sooner than you think:

    April 10, 2008

    jmalmsten said:

    “it looks like the Strangers (er, well, Alex Proyas and Co.) are giving Dark City a make-over (both in special effects and sound design)”

    This bit worries me… because I have never liked the star wars SE or the THX1138 “Directors Cut”… since it’s too much of a “oh, I changed my mind over these things” and kills the feeling of the painstakingly made effects of the time…

    On the other hand… Ridley Scott really showed how to use these techniques to ONLY mend the broken parts with the BR-FC…

    But then again… GL had some final cut on the starwarses so he shouldn’t complain, RS didn’t get a chance to give BR it’s final cut it needed.

    If they are going to give it a “Directors Cut”-approval and the beginning part was really the only thing imposed from above during it’s making… then… to make it directors cut it should only be a matter of removing the imposed part wouldn’t it?

    July 31, 2008

    Ania said:

    Incredibly awesome. [ 2337 \/\/0|2k ]
    This movie is interensting and original.
    Is definitely CyberPunk, but is different from other Cyberpunk movies…which makes it attrattive to the eye.
    The shots and images are just great.

    Nice review. BTW.

    December 8, 2008

    Aphex said:

    I love the sultry, pre-war jazz style version of ‘Sway’ in it too.

    And Mr. Sleep, Mr. Trick et al are fabulously creepy (I do like Richard O’Brien…).

    Great film, and one that I, too, have to watch at least a couple of times a year (usually with my mother and my brother, who love it as much as I do).

    July 12, 2009

    Wil said:

    Great work with this site! Thanks for defining what cyberpunk is. I always thought that it had to do with hackers and computers but it’s much more than that. I always wanted to see more movies like this but don’t know how to grasp the genre. I now know what genre of film I like best and that list of movies really help. There are already a number of movies that I have watched on that list and I have lots more watching to do! I just finished The Thirteenth Floor and it was awesome. Kindda like the Matrix but without the philosophic side to it. Would Fight Club not be considered cyberpunk? It’s not exactly the future of dystopia but the ending kindda lead in that direction. It’s an underground organization that is rising up against the corporation so it’s a bit relevant.

    August 11, 2009

    comp. trash said:

    My girlfriend bought this on vhs a couple of years ago. I don’t remember anything of this movie. I never watched the ending cause I fell asleep halfway the film. Maybe should give this another try…

    September 9, 2009

    ikiru said:

    While Dark City is a melding of many genres (due to the antagonists’ experiments), I feel that it is closer to Steampunk than Cyberpunk due to the lack of the melding of technology and humanity. There are Cyberpunk ideas present, namely the dystopian nature and the existential quest for reality, but the use of ‘organic’ means (the chemical melding of ‘human experiences’) as opposed to technological means (hooked to a computer) to alter reality leads me away from classifying this as total Cyberpunk. Plus, the Steampunk visuals are more dominant (the big machine, the huge pipes at the end of the movie, the design of the tools used by the doctor…)

    However you classify this movie, it is a wonderful movie!

    September 27, 2011

    Chris said:

    I’m always glad to see anyone write about this movie. Is it cyberpunk? I don’t know. I’ll take your word for that it is. Me, I’ve always seen it as a straight up allegory of humanity’s rise from archaic thinking, done in a neo-noir style. John is ‘born’ from his watery womb at the beginning; like us, dumped naked into a world he didn’t ask to be in and must make his way the best he can. The powers that be (the strangers who here are the agents of the archaic mindset) attempt to stain him with original sin (murder in this case) but he evades it. Because of this he’s free to seek the truth unencumbered by guilt. He becomes a Galileo figure who ultimately breaks through the shell (beach) of ignorance and is able to understand our true situation: we’re not at the center of the universe, we’re floating on a sphere in some nondescript corner of said universe with no discernible way off and no easy explanation how we got here or what it’s all about. Cold comfort to be sure, yet this knowledge represents enlightenment nonetheless (Enlightenment here is represented by the arrival of the sun) and is the beginning our liberation from archaic thinking, the need for which fades away, as do the strangers in the film once the truth is revealed.
    The art direction is sublime. Somewhere Edward Hopper is popping a stiffy.

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