Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Darker City

One of my favorite movies, Dark City, has been given the director's cut treatment - with mixed results. Hereafter, expect plenty of spoilers.

Visually, the film is more stunning than ever. Even the muted palate pops off the screen, and the climactic showdown (with some cool new effects, this time) is much more clearly articulated over the original. We even glimpse more spiral imagery this time -- thumb prints and the swirling of coffee creme -- to illustrate the maze-like reality of the city.

Narratively (at first), the film benefits from a generous application of a "less is more" philosophy. Director Alex Proyas's decision to remove the "Help! The audience is too dumb to understand this movie" intro monologue means that you no longer must mute the audio until the doctor opens his stopwatch when showing Dark City to first-time viewers.

Unfortunately, Proyas chose to add some heavy-handed dialogue between Mr. Hand and Emma that, true, makes the Stranger's "There used to be a ferry" exchange even more crafty and cruel. But the extended scene also weighs the movie down with too much exposition of what we already know.

And then there's the soundtrack, which is not improved this time around. The original version is far more prodding and orchestral, perhaps a sop to audiences at risk of drifting off. I loved it all the same. The new one is too restrained. I suppose that choice is a sign of the director's confidence in his material, but I miss the constant sense of dread produced by the gorgeous music in the original.

And don't get me started on Proyas's inexplicable choice to use Jennifer Connelly's original vocals in the film's two nightclub interludes (one, extended in this version). The first cut made use of Anita Kelsey's lovely voice. This version: not so much. Jennifer Connelly may possess many talents (acting, itself, a debatable issue in this film), but she can't sing.

One final note: The addition of a scene in which John Murdoch uses his psionic powers to torture Dr. Schreber seems to be both unnecessary and yet useful to understanding the "darker" truth of this film. Its protagonist, a character with which we initially relate and sympathize, risks losing the same humanity that the Strangers never had when he becomes the God of this "world."

Now, even the happy ending of Dark City is a little bleaker.

Learn More: This year I published a book chapter entitled "'Small World': Alex Proyas' Dark City and Omnitopia" in an edited collection called Sith, Slayers, Stargates and Cyborgs: Modern Mythology in the New Millennium. If you wish, you can read an excerpt of the chapter and contact me (wooda AT to get the entire piece.

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