Sometimes, we get another chance to make things right. Not often. But every now and then. It was fitting that a movie about a sort of eternal return on a daily scale would get such a chance to begin anew. Dark City, a wonderful hybrid of Sci-Fi, Film Noir, and Existential drama, got just that second chance last year, when its director, Alex Proyas, made his special cut for DVD. It’s now a much better film. Tighter, more thought-provoking, more of a piece. Gone is the unnecessary narration to start the movie. Unnecessary because people can figure things out on their own, and delaying certain information and exposition builds suspense and deepens the experience of the movie. Scenes have been extended. We have more chance now to revel in the cityscape, its shadows and neon, its Edward Hopper-like images, its strange mix of several stylized decades, residing primarily in the 1940s.
We also get to listen to Jennifer Connelly sing her own torch songs. They aren’t dubbed in the new version, and that makes it more real, even in the midst of the surreal. There are other subplots that extend the world and make the murder mystery aspects stronger. It’s a much better film now and it should be re-released in the theater.
Dark City is the story of John Murdoch, who wakes up one “day” in a Kafkan nightmare, in his tub, with nearly complete memory loss. He sees a murdered woman on the floor, receives a call from a doctor Schreber, warning him to flee. Three men are coming to kill him.
As Murdoch tries to piece together his shattered memories, we learn more about his world, his alien world, and the Strangers who pull the strings. The city changes at midnight every night. People change. Their lives are remade again and again. Their surroundings, too. Why? Why do we never see the sun? A detective hunts Murdoch, thinking he may be guilty of killing at least six prostitutes. Little by little, both men discover the secret at the core of their universe. Murdoch discovers his own abilities that rival those of the Strangers. He can “tune”. He can change the shape of the Dark City.
In the DVD extras, we learn a great deal about the making of the film, the philosophical underpinnings, the cultural influences, and technical innovations. The impact of the budget. The strange inverse relationship between huge budgets and loss of freedom. We’re told that the film takes much from silent classics like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, M, and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. We also learn that Johnny Depp was a possibility for the role of John Murdoch, which eventually went to Rufus Sewell. Tom Cruise was another possibility. The best takeaway for me, however, was learning about some of the psychological supports for the film. The character of Daniel Schreber, played by Kiefer Sutherland, was named after Daniel Paul Schreber, who wrote a book that influenced both Jung and Freud: Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903).
It’s a very strong film, made stronger and more enjoyable by both the new editing for the DVD and the special features.