The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Losing my heart to Dark City

with 20 comments

dark city
Falling in love isn’t necessarily an altogether pleasant experience. At least not if the object for your affection is a book or a movie. When you’ve read the last page in the book, when the text credits start to roll, you know there’s no return. It’s over, irreversibly over. And you’re thrown into the void where nothing else is even remotely interesting. You have nowhere else to go.

When I was a child the solution was simple: I played it again right away.  I remember distinctively how devastated I was the first time I had finished the (at that point) Foundation trilogy. My only consolation was to start from the beginning again. I knew the twists, but I could still enjoy the ride.

Nowadays this condition doesn’t occur quite as often. Maybe I’m a little bit more jaded. I often get enthusiastic about movies I watch, but not to the extent that I can’t consider watching anything else after them.

But once in a while I feel the same old surge of love. It happened to me the other night as I watched Dark City, a science fiction movie from 1998, which has escaped me until now. It wasn’t a day too early that I watched it.

Confusing start
As the title implies, there isn’t much of sunshine in this film. It begins in the darkest possible way where a man wakes up alone in a hotel room. He has lost his memory and finds out that he’s wanted for murders. Soon he’s on the run from the police as well as from something else. On his search for the truth he encounters a scientist who claims to be his psychologist. He seems to know something. But is he a friend or a fiend?

I honestly don’t want to give away much more than that of the story. A first time viewer might find the film a little confusing and hard to get a grip on for the first half hour or so. (Actually this made the producers insist on including a voice-over right at the start. If you ask me I don’t think it helps the viewer in the process of “getting it”. It’s just ugly and annoying and I can understand why fans of this film have chosen to hold their hands over their ears during this little speech at repeated viewings.) But don’t let the confusion let you down. You will get the full picture, eventually, in due time. Relax and enjoy the sceneries and the atmosphere while you’re putting the pieces together.

Sci-fi classic
It’s inevitable to compare this to some other classics in the genre. The Matrix comes at mind, but mind you – Dark City came out the year before the first movie in the series, so if there’s any influence to speak of, it should logically be Dark City that has influenced The Matrix, not the other way around. The Truman Show from the same year also feels like a remote cousin.

The third association is Inception, which came out twelve years later. While Inception has a multiple times bigger budget and probably access to a lot of computer technology for the special effects that wasn’t invented in the late 90s, I wouldn’t say that Dark City has anything to be ashamed of. Whatever it may lack in raw computer power, it compensates in style.

Nothing can fill me with joy and wonder and excitement the way that a great science fiction movie can. So why do I bother to watch anything else? The question came to my mind after finishing Dark City.

I was an empty vessel, lost in space. Where next?

Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

February 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Posted in Dark City

20 Responses

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  1. You could always watch the director’s cut next, there’s probably a strong possibility that they removed the voice-over in that version. I haven’t seen it in such a long time it would almost be like watching it again for the first time, What I do remember is loving it.


    February 19, 2013 at 1:18 am

    • I would love to see that version as well as the one with the commentary by Roger Ebert I’ve heard about. A wonderful movie I’m sure I’ll return to in the future.


      February 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    • Yeah, the directo9rs cut removes a lot of the explanatory voice-over, which makes the films opening that much more bizarre and WTF… Which only adds to its allure, if you ask me.


      February 22, 2013 at 7:43 am

      • I’m really looking forward to see it without the voiceover.


        February 23, 2013 at 6:33 pm

  2. Glad you liked it, I’m just amazed that you hadn’t already seen it like a hundred times…


    February 19, 2013 at 6:00 am

  3. This is an amazing film and glad to hear you discovered this as well. It’s been on my rewatch list for a while now and reading your thoughts about it reminds me why I should rewatch it again 🙂


    February 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    • This is the movie that brought Vicki and I together. We were on the old Dominion Board of the SF Channel, and we bonded through our love of “Dark City”. I absolutely consider this the best SF film of the 90’s….It harkens back to written SF with it’s concern for the individual choices we make in life, and of course, what makes us human….which again points to Philip K Dick, who is my favorite SF author.

      The Director’s Cut is great…the narration is gone, and it makes it the viewer’s responsibility to figure out what’s going on, instead of spoon feeding the audience like the studios insisted upon in the theatrical cut….but nonetheless, the beauty and majesty of this film comes through….and the final sequence…WOW!!

      Karl Kaefer

      February 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      • What a sweet story! Honestly I threw a thought at you guys, imagining that this movie might be something you liked as well. As you say there are connections to written sci-fi and Dick, so no wonder that I enjoyed it so much, that’s where I come from too. I absolutely love the ending. You know how it is when you’ve seen a great movie and you wonder if they’ll keep it up to the very end. And for sure they did in this case. Just love it! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your love for this film!


        February 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    • Go ahead and do it! I’m sure it will hold up for several rewatches.


      February 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm

  4. One of the greatest sci-fi films of all-time in my opinion. Complex, intriguing, atmospheric…amazing. I want to watch it again right now!


    February 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    • It’s high up in the ground. I’m afraid Blade Runner is hard to push away from the position as my favourite sci-fi movie, but it’s way up there giving it a good fight.


      February 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

  5. It does my scifi soul good to know you not just watched this film but thoroughly enjoyed it. As Karl mentioned above he and I have a special connection with this film, yet beyond that, this film is in my top 10 of best science fiction film ever. It changed the way I looked at so many aspects of film and story-telling, plus the story itself is epic. If you do not get lost in this film’s story and noir art then scifi and its mind-bending question of “what-if” just isn’t for you.
    Jessica, your review does this film a great honor and I hope many folks that read you will now search this out and watch it for themselves. It is nothing less than an “experience.”

    Vicki Love

    February 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  6. Jessica, I’m glad that you were able to check out this great film. I saw it originally in the theaters and wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I revisited it a few years later on DVD and liked it a lot more. I picked up the Director’s Cut when it came out on DVD, and it just keeps moving up the list. The Roger Ebert commentary is definitely worth hearing, as it adds so many layers to the experience.

    Dan Heaton

    February 20, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    • I watched it in 2007 when the deluxe DVD came out and I really enjoyed the Roger Ebert commentary as well.


      February 21, 2013 at 12:11 am

      • A delux DVD! That sounds like something. Need to see if I can get hold of that.


        February 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm

  7. One of the truly great sci-fi films ever, IMO. Glad you’ve finally seen it, Jess, and I’m equally glad you enjoyed it, and are now spreading the word. It’s just a shame one can only enjoy a film like this for the first time, once.


    February 22, 2013 at 3:11 am

    • I love to spread the word! And indeed, the first time you watch a movie like this is great. I hope I have a few more discoveries like this one to do.


      February 23, 2013 at 6:31 pm

  8. I have seen this movie a few years ago, after noticing that it’s a SF movie that got a “great movie” rating from Ebert. And I have seen it again a year ago. Since I rarely rewatch movies that means it’s conquered a place in my heart.

    I like the underlying theme. Sitting in darkness, trying to find the one place where there’s light, Shell Beach. It’s the longing to be happy in an unhappy world.


    February 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    • Ebert is rarely wrong. I’d love to watch the version with his commentary track. I can imagine it holds up well for a rewatch. I’m trying to convince my husband to see it and I’m most likely to join him if he does.
      It’s indeed a dark movie, but yet somehow bittersweet, with a silver lining. I love it.


      February 24, 2013 at 7:34 pm

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