Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Dark City (1998)



Reviews and Comments

The opening moments of Dark City are brilliant for the atmosphere they build. A man wakes up in a bathtub and doesn't remember anything. The walls are dank. The light is swinging. There's blood on his forehead. People are chasing him, and a doctor calls to help. Slowly he pieces together the puzzle, as do we, and it's unlike anything we might have expected.

I've seen movies about amnesia victims readjusting to life before. It's a plot line that isn't (comparatively) difficult to turn into a compelling drama, but even the good ones utilize scenes that are familiar to us. Familiarity is exactly the feeling we don't want in a movie whose main character is suffering from amnesia. In Dark City, not much is familiar. We learn about the world around him as he does, and it's a fascinating -- and terrifying -- puzzle.

The set design is ingenious. I have not seen a movie with such inspired set design. The cinematography and lighting are similarly brilliant, bringing the sets to vivid, surreal life. The movie's genre is "science fiction comic book," but I dislike the term, because it carries all sorts of negative connotations for those who are not avid fans of the genre. This movie may not have much universal appeal, for its unconventional structure and tone may only be accepted by fans of science fiction or comic books, but its theme has broader application. I say no more, lest I hint too strongly at Dark City's secrets.

If the movie has any flaws at all, it's with its conclusion, but that point is arguable. Some may find it corny, while others might suspect that things might not really end as we are told. But "corny" does not have an absolute definition but is relative to one's culture, and when a moderately open-ended conclusion is done right, it can be much more satisfying than those where all threads are neatly tied.