Dark City: Director's Cut

DVD Rating: ****1/2

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Read Scott Macdonald's film review of Dark City: Director's Cut
Dark City

The director's cut of Dark City is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and the video transfer is excellent. The exacerbated and heavily stylised lighting comes through perfectly; the splendid colour schemes of the city and the Strangers underworld come through without a hint of noise, oversaturation or excessive video processing. Detail is pin-sharp, with faultless clarity and the shadow detail, which is essential for such a richly photographed film, is also splendid, suffering none of the expected digital video compression issues. Top marks!

The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1, with back channel EX support. It is a lively, engaging remix of the original 1998 six track digital master. The voice work is often the weakest area, sounding obviously dubbed and reverbed to give the impression of 3D space. The rest of the track is good. Frequency span for the sound effects is very wide, crisp highs and beefy lows. The musical score by Trevor Jones is mixed in heavily and sounds terrific, blending well with the acoustical qualities of the track. Fans will appreciate the effort. There is also an optimal Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track provided for those without the discrete 5.1 surround equipment.

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There are three commentaries, one by writer/director Alex Proyas in a solo effort, which occasionally delves into straight-up narration, but often provides an interesting perspective about how a filmmaker can second guess himself, and visually using space to unsettle the viewer and draw them into the mystery. He also enjoys discussing character motivations and filling in some of the blanks that viewers have challenged him with. A worthwhile listen.

Film critic Roger Ebert, who named Dark City as the best film of 1998, also provides a helpful scholarly alternative. This is a mixture of his commentary for the original New Line Platinum Region 1 DVD and newly recorded audio pertaining to the director's cut. His enthusiasm for the medium, obvious from this and his other commentaries for Citizen Kane and Casablanca is apparent. He speaks simply, eloquently and often enjoys discussing the sheer elegance of the movie. His commentary dates the director's cut somewhat - Ebert fought with cancer for most of last year and can no longer speak, although still writes online and for the Chicago Sun-Times - so his commentary snippets which discuss the director's cut changes must have been recorded prior to his hospitalisation in 2006. The track does not mention the newly remastered visual effects, so it would probably be assumed that the cut he discussed was not with those shots. Either way, it's a great listen, and sure to enrich an appreciation of the piece.

The final commentary track is by the other writers David S Goyer and Lem Dobbs, who enjoy discussing their own theories about unexplained plot elements. They are recorded separately and edited together. Each of them clearly enjoyed working on the script, telling their own interpretations and additions to the final version. They cover their writing styles and how the collaboration enriched the script and storytelling. Again, it's a pleasant and informative listen.

The three documentary pieces - with a helpful "Play All" (totalling over an hour of video material) - are excellent. The Introduction featurette would be ideally placed before the movie itself and has Proyas discussing the newly edited print as his preferred version. It also includes Ebert as one of the champions of the film, with his highbrow reasons for doing so.

Memories Of Shell Beach takes the viewer into the genesis of the project, back when Proyas shopped his original script around the studios (Disney and Fox are named) and resisted any attempts to "dumb down" - an expression used in his commentary with some disgust - while test screenings supported the studios desire to make it marketable to a wide audience, which ultimately failed. There are also some great stories about how pre-production was put on hold while they courted Johnny Depp and (whisper) Tom Cruise in the lead role of Murdoch. Richard O'Brien also enjoyed discussing how he was involved in such a "groovy" project. Finally, we learn just how much of a photography geek Rufus Sewell really is, spending hours onset snapping away with his camera until "everyone got really pissed off." A selection of these images closes the feature.

Architecture Of Dreams takes a heady approach to the film and manifests itself as a five part essay about the scholarly themes and sources of imagery brought out in Dark City, using the filmmakers, psychologists and scholars. Writer Dobbs speaks skilfully and eloquently about the post-modernist influences of the film, citing the recent past influencing modern art and mingling the idea of an alienated (in both senses) city and dwelling in modern times. Professor Vivian Sobchak from UCLA discusses how she uses Dark City to teach her students. Ebert discusses an idea of a "city as it exists in the mind of an architect," using the works of Sir John Soane to reinforce the idea of the folding and reconstruction of the dense city of ideas. He also, in closing, discusses the nature of film as a "meeting of the minds," again using simple and direct language. What is interesting about this documentary is the lack of any visual effect deconstructions and/or explanations of the newly created material for the director's cut. With an abundance of DVDs, explaining away the magic, this reinforces what is important. It is not how the wizardry is accomplished, but what escapes from the creators imagination in the first place and why.

Finally, photo galleries and a truly awful trailer – is this the best the marketing droids at New Line could come up with? - complete the disc.

The real pleasure of the terrific triplet of documentaries and extras is the benefit of 10 years hindsight, with unvarnished feelings of what might have been, spoken frankly and without pretence. Ultimately, Dark City found its audience on home video - and the director's cut is my preferred way of seeing it.

The Blu-ray edition also boasts the original cut and director's cut in full high-definition 1080p video, a lossless DTS Master Audio 7.1 surround track and all of the original R1 New Line Platinum Edition extras, aside from the extraordinarily silly Shell Beach menu remote control game. The ported extras are the original commentary tracks (Proyas and crew on one, with Ebert on the other) and text-based material, such as Neil Gaiman's 1998 review of Dark City.

Reviewed on: 09 Aug 2008
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Dark City: Director's Cut packshot
Extravagant sci-fi fantasy about a hunted man struggling with his memory gets a directorial polish.
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Product Code: EDV9596

Region: 2

Ratio: Anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1/Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround

Extras: Audio commentary by film critic Roger Ebert; audio commentary by writer/director Alex Proyas; audio commentary by writers David Goyer and Lem Dobbs; Introduction by Alex Proyas; Memories Of Shell Beach mini doc; Architecture Of Dreams mini doc: production gallery; trailer

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