#justwatched Dark City (1998 dir. Alex Proyas)

(Dark City, 1998 – New Line Cinema)

It would be rewarding to undertake a philoshopical study of Alex Proyas’s Dark City, as the plot can clearly be linked to the idea of Plato’s allegory of the cave. However, other than this thought, it is difficult to find many merits in the film in 2017. When the film was released it recieved positive reviews, but time hasn’t been favourable to this film in any sense. It’s a shame really, as the film’s premise is so enticing, and it holds a feeling not too dissimilar to The Matrix which came out a year later. Unlike The Matrix (1999), which seems to have a continued life out of the nineties, Dark City has suffered and is definitely now a relic of the time.

The film follows a man (played by Joaquin Phoenix) as he wakes up not knowing who or where he is, whilst being accused of the murders of several  woman. He becomes fixated with reaching Shell Beach, a place he holds many memories in. However the way it is told is riddled with problems. There are so many cringeworthy moments, from bad writing to random camera movements. Through these movements, it is clear the film is from a time where wild camera movements was popular and prevalent and while this is fun and increases pace, Dark City’s pace is stupidly fast – in fact it holds the record for shortest average cut length in narrative cinema. Static shots would have helped the pacing, as sadly the plot becomes a slave to the films fast paced form.

The look of the world is also unusual and attractive, a clear mashup of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). These inspirations are clear and on the nose, specifically as the antagonists look like Nosferatu. However, due to the poor writing and dated CGI, they hold a camp aesthetic, it becomes amusing and subverts the original meaning. While the camp aesthetic isn’t a bad thing, here it just feels out of place. The ending doesn’t hold the poignance of The Truman Show which deals with similar themes.

I saw this film in 35mm as part of the Berlinale Restrospektiv series and was pretty disappointed by the outcome, though the cinema was pretty cool as the screening took place in a museum.

Luckily years later Alex Proyas created I:Robot -a much more grounded and intelligent film with stronger story and a greater world that feels its own. Although this film also is not without flaw.


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