I watch a lot of science fiction movies. But I run out of them. So, I go hunting in the internet nooks and crannies. Not always, but occasionally I find ones that I missed completely from years ago. Sometimes, they are underrated. Dark City (1998) is a good case in point.
Dark by name dark by nature. Everything is dark in this movie. From the sets to the plot and even the reveal. Makes sense though as it is categorised under the neo-noir movie genre.
Some underrated sci fi movies are underrated for a reason but director Alex Proyas‘ Dark City is not one of them. Not going to lie to you, I found the beginning a little slow. Still, I was intrigued enough to want to know more. Plus, even though it is not a comedy there were some funny lines. I’ll give you a couple of examples at the end.
Ominous music is playing as a man (Kiefer Sutherland as Dr. Daniel P. Schreber) wearing a suit and trilby half hobbles and half limps out onto the gloomy street. He hunches over and pulls out a pocket watch. He stares down at it. One minute to midnight. Tick, tick, tick. It turns midnight and looking up he furtively looks around.
Rufus Sewell‘s character (John Murdoch) wakes up horrified. Naked and in a bath tub of water he jolts out and walks over to the bathroom mirror. Dark and dingy a light swings back and forth scanning the bathroom. Looking in the mirror he sees someone else’s small drop of blood on his forehead. A pile of neatly folded clothes and shoes sit on a chair.
Having dressed in the clothes and visibly shaking he walks out the bathroom. He slips on the wet floor and bumps into a table smashing a goldfish bowl. The fish flaps about on the floor but he gently picks it up and places it in the bath water.
Briefly seen by the audience but not by John a strange looking objects lies on the floor.
Putting the shoes on he notices the soles are brand new. A brown and white suitcase embossed with the initials KH is on the bed. He finds clothes and a postcard: Greetings from Shell Beach. Staring down at the postcard he has a memory of being a young boy at Shell Beach and running out onto the sand. But the remembering is interrupted when the phone starts ringing.
In The Dark
Speaking quickly Dr. Schreber urgently says, “You are confused, frightened”. “That’s alright, I can help you.” He goes on to tell him that he is a doctor and there was an experiment. Something went wrong. His memory was erased. Already in the dark and even more so now John cannot understand what the doctor is telling him.
Schreber tells him there are people on the way and insists that he leave the hotel room now as they must not find him.
Dropping the phone John begins to understand why he must leave now. He spots a dead woman at the side of the bed. Partially clothed she has three swirls painted on her body in blood. Backing away quickly he slams into a table and a knife covered in blood drops to the floor.
He grabs the suitcase and runs out of the hotel room. Noticing the lift coming up to his floor he runs the other way.
Three men with long, thick dark coats, trilbies and black leather gloves glide out of the lift. It is midnight.
Frozen In Time
Making it down to the hotel lobby he finds it deathly quiet. Leaning inside the lobby phone booth a woman is on the phone. The phone is wedged between her chin and shoulder. But she is not talking or moving. A group of men are sitting together un-moving like statues. Similarly, the receptionist is slumped over his desk. It is as if time has frozen as he looks round at the motionless people. It is still midnight.
Dong! The clock unfreezes. Coming out of their stupor after the clock chimes they come alive again. Consequently the woman flops out of the phone booth onto the floor and gets up like nothing strange has just happened. Similarly, the receptionist also continues unaware and shouts to John he is three weeks overdue paying his bill. He also tells him that he had a call from the Automat and left his wallet there.
Sinister Bald Headed Guys With Trilbys
Utterly bewildered John leaves and flings the suitcase in the river.
Inside the hotel the receptionist mutters and moans about overdue bills as he steps into John’s room. (Big mistake.) The three sinister bald headed guys with trilbies are there. With pale faces and dark rings under their eyes one grabs and holds him by the face against the wall asking where John is.
Finding out that he has no idea of John’s whereabouts one of the trilby guys Mr Hand (Richard O’Brien) holds a gloved hand over his face and says, “Sleep now”. He slides to the floor, knocked out cold. One of them picks up the strange object. (Did they leave it there by mistake? How did that happen?)
Stepping into the frame we see there is more than there strange men. A mini-me version of the trilby headed guys appears. But despite his size he looks no less sinister.
In that first ten minutes or so the movie gives us a lot of strange mysterious happenings with a lot of questions. Intrigued I had to know more. If you read my blog regularly you’ll know I’ve got a thing about time so that element alone kept me watching. Oh, and the dark humour. (Well at least I think it’s meant to be funny?)
There are a couple examples of that humour that happen early on in the movie. Explaining that John has had a psychotic break and is delusional Dr. Schreber says, “Wherever he is, he is searching for himself. On finding the murdered girl in John’s room, William Hurt (Inspector Frank Bumstead) states, “Wow looks like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed“.
Dark City is one of those underrated sci fi movies out there but I don’t know why. Maybe taking a while to get going people stop watching before giving it a chance. Perhaps the dark scenery makes it difficult to watch. Don’t let either of those things put you off. The big reveal alone is well worth you watching.
Comments welcome below, dark or otherwise 👽
Are you going to watch the movie after reading this little taster? If so, why?
Or did you see it ages ago? Do you think it is underrated? Would you watch it again?