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Case Number 00113

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Dark City

New Line // 1998 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // September 4th, 1999

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Dark City (Blu-Ray), published July 29th, 2008, is also available.

The Charge

Forget the Sun. Forget Time. Forget Your Memories.

Opening Statement

An interesting combination of film noir with science fiction that fans of either will enjoy watching.

The Evidence

The story begins with a narrative statement by Kiefer Sutherland (Young Guns, The Vanishing, Flatliners) as Dr. Daniel Poe Schreber. We are told that first came the Darkness and then came "The Strangers," a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology: the ability to alter physical reality by will alone, by "tuning." However, they were a dying civilization in decline so they abandoned their world, seeking a cure for their own mortality. They found a small blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy where they found what they thought that they had been searching for. At this point Dr. Schreber admits that he helps The Strangers conduct their experiments, betraying his own kind in the process. Dr. Schreber then pulls out his pocket watch, and we see the time approach midnight and slowly all activity in the city comes to a total standstill and all the people fall asleep. Inside one room we see a man asleep in a bathtub suddenly awake. He has some blood on his forehead and he quickly gets dressed. On his way out of the bathroom he breaks a fishbowl, but takes the time to save the fish by putting it in some water. Searching the room reveals an odd object on the floor (we will later realize that this is a syringe), some keys in his pocket, and a suitcase in the closet containing clothes and a postcard of "Shell Beach." The phone rings and the man finds himself talking to Dr. Schreber, who informs him that he has lost his memory because something went wrong, but that he can be helped. He is told that people are coming and that he must leave quickly. He takes this advice, and on his way out he sees a woman lying dead on the floor with spirals carved into her skin. He manages to leave the room just as The Strangers are arriving and notices that everyone else that he passes is asleep. When he finally makes it to the lobby he sees everyone waking up and he is told by the night clerk that his name is "Mr. Murdock" and that his wallet was left at the automat. Welcome to Mr. Murdock's world…

Rufus Sewell (The Woodlanders, Dangerous Beauty) plays John Murdock; a man with no memory, an estranged wife and a possible homicidal past who for some strange reason stays awake when everyone else falls mysteriously asleep at midnight. Dark City is the story of his self-discovery, which also leads to the explanation of everyone's reality. Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth, Mulholland Falls) plays Emma Murdock; a woman who cheated on her husband but still loves and believes in him. Individually they are pursued by Dr. Schreber, who is looking for John Murdock in order to help him against The Strangers who have telekinetic powers. Throw into this mix William Hurt (The Big Chill, Lost in Space, One True Thing) as Inspector Frank Bumstead, a detective investigating a series of murders who believes that John Murdock might be his man, and you have a suspenseful story with lots of special effects. The plot twists and turns right up until the very end.

Dark City is an interesting combination of two separate genres. You have the mystery and props from the film noir genre mixed with futuristic abilities and special effects from the science fiction genre. This tends to make the viewer feel comfortable when the surroundings (things like cars and phones) are from a time gone by; in turn, this makes the unbelievable events (things like flying people and transforming buildings) feel all the more possible and real. You also have the story all taking place during the night, with rich colorful objects looking all the more real and beautiful against the darkly lit backdrops.

The picture is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio (and it is enhanced for widescreen TVs) as well as in full screen. Even though the subject matter was very dark it was easy to tell what was going on and everything was about as clear and sharp as it could be. There were many extras included with this DVD, which is pretty consistent with the New Line Platinum Series. We are treated to two commentaries (one by film critic Roger Ebert and another by the director, writers, director of photography and production designer), a "Find Shell Beach" interactive game, cast and crew bios and filmographies, comparisons to Metropolis (including H.G. Wells 1927 review and the original weekly Variety review), Neil Gaiman on Dark City, set designs, and really fabulous animated menus. Some real time and effort went into the menus on this DVD. The transition from one main menu to another morphs one character into another and the chapter search menu has the ability to play the chapter within the small menu window so that there isn't any guessing about what's going on at a particular point in the story. High marks for the extras on this disc.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There really isn't much to find wrong with this movie or disc. Some people might find that the sound could have been a little richer, but given the visual treat any small thing lacking in the sound department wasn't noticeable. Further…Kiefer Sutherland's performance may be seen as somewhat annoying by some, but I felt that the battle he had speaking and moving his body was sort of a way of expressing the battle that was raging inside of him given what he knew and what he was trying to do.

Closing Statement

If you're a fan of either film noir or science fiction then you owe it to yourself to at least rent this movie. If you enjoy both genres then you should go straight away and buy this one for your collection.

The Verdict

The film and everyone involved is acquitted.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 94
Audio: 85
Extras: 100
Acting: 88
Story: 87
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Film Noir
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• Fully Animated Interactive Menus
• Audio Commentary by film critic Roger Ebert
• Audio Commentary by Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David Goyer, and Patrick Tatopoulos
• Biographies / Filmographies
• Comparisons to Fritz Lang's Metropolis
• Theatrical Trailer
• Set Designs


• IMDb

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