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TAC Reviews...Dark City


Dark City is a 1998 science fiction film starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly. It was directed by Alex Proyas (who also directed The Crow). The film did not perform well at the box office, however, over the years it has developed a significant cult following and was one of the inspirations for The Matrix.


Dark City Poster


Dark City begins with a voice over in which Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) explains that the city is under the control of a sinister group called the Strangers (in the director’s cut this introduction is removed in order to add more mystery to the beginning of the film). A man (Sewell) wakes up in the bath with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He discovers a dead body in the next room and runs from the scene.


The man is in a hotel and learns that his name is Murdoch. He is married but it seems that his wife Emma (Connelly) recently had an affair which resulted in him leaving her. Schreber contacts Murdoch to tell him that ‘they’ are coming for him. Everyone falls asleep a midnight when the city changes, people’s memories are altered, and when the population wakes up they have no idea that they had fallen asleep.


Murdoch struggles to discover what is happening as the Strangers pursue him, and police inspector Frank Bumstead (William Hurt) believes him to be responsible for a series of brutal murders. The city remains locked in permanent darkness, the night never ends, and Murdoch unravels the mysteries of the world around him. He learns through Schreber that he has developed the Strangers’ ability to change the city, (a power they call tuning) and may be able to defeat them once and for all.


Dark City is an original slice of science fiction in which the audience learns some of the mysteries surrounding the city but is left to speculate on others. Part of the Strangers’ experiment is whether someone is more than the sum of their memories, if someone has the memories of a murderer will they continue to kill? The best films are ones in which the audience will question their own perceptions and makes them wonder if their memories were erased or altered would they be the same person or become someone new?


Dark City was produced in 1998 and filmed at Fox Studios, the same studio in which The Matrix was filmed. Dark City could almost be called a prequel to The Matrix because there are a number of striking similarities. In Dark City Schreber acts a kind of mentor to Murdoch, telling him that he can tune and is able to take control of their machines bending them to his will. Something that Murdoch does not initially believe. In The Matrix Morpheus believes that Neo is the One, and can take control of the matrix which is something that Neo initially does not believe until the end.


Dark City is an excellent slice of science fiction, CGI is used sparingly and the Strangers are pale skinned and look very creepy. Some of the mysteries of the city are revealed but most are not, and in the end the audience is left to speculate on what happens after the credits role.


The cast are all on top form; however, Kiefer Sutherland fans may wish that his character would stop taking a breath mid-sentence and just talk properly. Still, considering that his speech is part of the horrific past the character has endured, he can be forgiven for being a little short of breath.


For being a cult classic that deserves way more attention that it has, Dark City earns itself an easy Thumbs Up.



9/10 - Dark City is a film that deserves more recognition than it has, and any self-respecting sci-fi fan that hasn’t seen it should drop everything and watch it immediately. 


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© Chris Sharman