Reality is a dangerous thing to screw with. Even those who like to chemically change their own for an hour or two at a time always like to come back to what they know. Up is up, down is down. Regardless of anything else that happens, you know how time works. You know how gravity works. You know who YOU are.
But, what if all those things were wrong? What if everything you know is wrong? What if reality as we know it, wasn’t reality? Like The Matrix and Men in Black, Dark City explores these possibilities.
The story begins with John Murdoch waking up in his bathtub, the hanging bathroom light swinging. He is bleeding from the forehead. There is a strange instrument (what looks like a needle) on the bathroom floor. Oh yeah, and there’s a dead prostitute in the living room of his apartment. On top of all that, John can’t remember anything before when he woke up in the tub. The phone rings, and a voice on the phone warns him that he is in danger, that “they” are coming for him, and to get out. As John slips out of the apartment, three strangers slip in, and the adventure begins.
Most of the fun comes from the unraveling of the story. There are clues here and there, and you as a viewer get to put them together as John does. Unfortunately, “they” (the film studio) decided that the story was too complex and confusing for the average person to follow, and so they added a two minute introductory speech. The speech, which is tacked directly on the beginning of the film, explains the entire plot, from beginning to end. It totally changes the film from being a mystery/adventure, to being just a story. Most fans of the film (even new ones, like myself) prefer the alternate way of viewing the film – pressing mute on the television until you see Kiefer Sutherland on the screen.
I’ve purposely avoiding telling too much about the movie’s plot. The best part of this film is figuring out just what the hell is going on. It’s purposely disorienting. And just when you think you know what’s going on, something comes along and you just shake your head and say, “what the hell?”
The DVD version of Dark City comes with some great extras. For those of you who like commentary tracks, this disc has two of them. One commentary has directory Alex Proyas, writers Lem Dobbs and David S. Goyer, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. It’s okay, but the star of the disc is commentary two, a commentary by Roger Ebert. Ebert had just taught a film conference, and used this film as his subject. His knowledge of the subject material shows, and you get the idea he could dish out details for another hour or two after the film was over.
The disc also contains production notes, theatrical trailers, a comparison to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), set designs, “Neil Gaiman” on “Dark City”, and a DVD-Rom Interactive game “To Shell Beach”. The disc also contains both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film, one on each side. It’s also got a nice 5.1 DD soundtrack to boot.
Dark City is one of those “what if” films that lets your imagination run wild. It made me take a step back and think about reality. I’m pretty sure that I “know what I know,” but stories like this allow you to wonder. Dark City is a story about the human spirit rising and triumphing over all. Unfortunately, in a “city” such as this, people, places, and things aren’t always what they seem.