My, how times change. Today Kiefer Sutherland is a lovable, torture-prone spy, while Rufus Sewell is best remembered as a bad jouster who tackled the Joker, after which he was a bad vampire tackling Abe Lincoln. But both starred in one of the most remarkable movies of the Nineties – one that showed there is substance to special effects.
If you can cast your mind back roughly fifteen to twenty years, you’ll find yourself in a decade that loved special effects, mainly because the movie world had gotten really good at it. These were the halcyon days after Jurassic Park, before we took modern SFX for granted. Michael Bay still made movies about cops, but was about to release Armageddon. Yet his help wasn’t needed: movies with special effects were already vapid and storyless, caught in the agreeably fun grasp of candyfloss films like Independence Day.
Enter Dark City, a film that smartly combined Film Noir with Science Fiction, bringing a lot of depth to both genres. It starts in an appropriately mysterious fashion: a man wakes up in a bath. He has no memory, made all the more worrisome with a dead prostitute in his room. Her demise was not natural: did he do this? What’s going on? The story folds out into an interesting detective tale that goes well-beyond tall blondes and jaded detectives. And here is where Dark City shines: while other films used special effects to make things prettier, Dark City employs mind-bending visuals to tell the story. It would have been impossible to pull off before the advent of computer graphics, making this one of the first films to use CG for more than a gimmick.
Dark City also has a pretty damn good story and stands as solidly alongside the likes of Miller’s Crossing as it would compare to The Matrix. Directed by Alex Proyasm it shares DNA with his other masterpiece, The Crow, though with a more serious attitude and, sadly, no Michael Wincott. But Sewell’s protagonist is the perfect underdog in a world of underdogs, while the shuffling doctor played by Sutherland definitely stands as one of his career’s best roles.
Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.
Last Updated: June 12, 2013