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October 20, 2008
Dark City Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
6/8/19982/10/2008Reel DVDAlex Proyas
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1MRufus Sewell

THE MOVIE
Director: Alex Proyas (The Crow, I Robot)
Writer: David Goyer (Blade Trilogy, Batman Begins, Dark Knight)
Actors: Rufes Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Bruce Spence.

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Looking across the city landscape.
It reads like a who's who of Hollywood, and with so much talent on offer it may not come as a surprise that Dark City is one of the best sci-fi films of the 1990's. But what makes it so great? The acting? The visual effects? The storyline? Actually everything manages to gel together perfectly which is a rare occurrence in a major Hollywood blockbuster. Before we get into the details, let's get into the story for those that haven't seen this movie...

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in the bath of a strange hotel to discover that he is wanted for a series of brutal murders. He has no recollection of the killings; in fact, he has no memory of anything. A phone call warns him that men are coming to get him. He escapes into the city and plunges headlong into a labyrinth of twisted truths, hideous crimes and heart-stopping pursuits. Murdoch is at the centre of a terrifying nightmare and on a mind-altering journey in the place where everything in controlled - even your memories - Dark City.

This Blu-Ray disc, despite being labeled a "Director's Cut" actually includes both the original Theatrical (100 minutes) version as well as the Director's cut (112 minutes) of Dark City- so we get the best of both worlds. With an addition 12 minutes the Director's cut manages to add in a few extra scenes and extend others. Personally I find the Director's cut the better of the two movies, although the pacing is a little slower. Impressively the disc contains a "Director's Cut Fact Track" which points out differences between the versions.

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Rufus Sewell is brilliant as John in Dark City.
While the main actor in this movie is Rufus Sewell, there are a host of other big name actors including Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt as well as Australians including Bruce Spence, Colin Friels, Melissa George and David Wenham. All the actors are simply superb in this movie, and Rufus Sewell is in the role of his life in this movie as he plays the confused, and tortured, lead character of John Murdoch. He's a very likable actor and really manages to carry the movie. Not to be outdone is the brilliant portrayal of the stuttering scientist Dr. Daniel P. Schreber played by Keifer Sutherland and the very alluring Jennifer Connelly as John's wife Emma Murdoch.

Dark City manages to blend several genres from a crime thriller, to action, to science fiction, to drama and certainly plenty of mystery. The movie takes several twists and turns, but the clues are there from the outset that something is a little amiss and this movie, no matter how many repeat viewings you go through, offers something new, be it visually or through small acting nuances. There's nothing overly violent here, but you may certainly be surprised to see Australia's darling of soaps, Melissa George, strip off for some full frontal nudity!

Where this movie really shines though is the stunning vision by director Alex Proyas to create an society devoid of light, devoid of joy, and devoid of understanding. Colours are muted, and without giving away any major plotlines it fits into the gripping conclusion. For a movie a decade old the visual effects are seamless and at a time when The matrix was still to be released this was, and even today, remains a benchmark. In much the same way as Blade Runner still offers a view of a future society, Dark City offers the same brilliant depth in a future society.

With so much positivity, it was a tragedy then that this movie only managed to gross a pretty paltry $US27 million worldwide at the box office, although it has since gone on to garner a large cult following since its release on DVD. It's easy to see why too with so many of the actors becoming much bigger stars in recent years. Dark City is a brilliant science fiction movie in the same vein as The Matrix and Total Recall. While it doesn't quite have the same visual flare as either of those movies, it provides a tense, mystical thriller that will have you hooked. This is a must-see for fans of the genre.

VIDEO
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Yes folks, that is Melissa George.

Dark City was released on DVD some time ago now and despite the movie becoming massively popular as a result the video quality was less then stellar with dark, murky images with inconsistent colours and soft images. This Blu-Ray disc make amends for that less then stellar DVD with a stunning transfer. Presented in the films original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 at 1080p using the VC-1 codec this movie is a technical achievement. As people who have seen this picture would know it is very dark. Not just in story material, but in terms of the actual picture with almost the entire movie taking place at night time.

Despite the darkness this transfer handles the images with much bravado. Shadow detail is impressive, and no matter how dark it gets the detail remains evident throughout. At times the film goes into flashbacks with bright, outdoors scenes, and it really is a stark contrast to the doom and gloom presented elsewhere.

There is, though, two tiny complaints we have to mention. There is some Digital Noise Reduction applied to this film which means certain scenes, and in particular the faces of some people look a little lacking in the finest details and a little 'plasticky'. Fortunately it's not over used, but it is there. The other issue is that there is some edge enhancement in some scenes, although you'll be pretty special if you can spot them. Despite these issues, overall, Dark City on Blu-Ray looks quite sensational.

AUDIO
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Strange happenings in Dark City.

The audio on this really stands out as something special with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track on offer here. The quality of this audio is simply brilliant and provides a vastly superior experience to that on the DVD release. Directional use is impressive, and implementation of LFE is spot on. Dialogue is very clear as well but where this movie really comes into its own is the smaller nuances in the effects. Subtle shifts in audio, especially during the (without spoiling) 'movements' is impressive. All-in-all we doubt that Dark City has ever sounded as good as this - even in the cinemas.

There are no other audio tracks provided on this Blu-Ray disc and the only subtitle option is an English SDH track which is accurate to the dialogue and effects on screen. I do wish though that this disc had a straight English subtitle track as well (and that's not just a complaint of this disc, but quite a few other companies' as well).

EXTRAS
For such a stellar movie it's great to see a decent set of extras provided on this disc although, sadly, they are all presented in Standard Definition. The extras can be split into two parts, those with the Theatrical Cut, and those with the Director's cut of the movie. Let's look at those on the Theatrical Cut first...

Commentary with Director Alex Proyas, writers David Goyer and Lem Dobbs, director of photography Dariusz Wolskiand and Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos: There are several participants here and for the most part this is a lively track with plenty of details about the production of this movie, the storyline and its themes.

Commentary with Roger Ebert: This commentary was actually made for the original DVD release and is a fascinating commentary by one of the world's premiere film critics. He loves this movie and as a result he is quite upbeat throughout this commentary. Indeed his commentary is probably the most interesting on the disc.

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Damn, did I get a splinter?
The Metropolis Comparison: Eleven pages of text with reviews of the classic film Metropolis which has a similarity to this movie in certain regards. Interesting, but it won't last too long.

Neil Gaiman on Dark City: A short one page commentary about this movie. A little on the pointless side really.

Theatrical Trailer (2:17/HD): An interesting trailer presented in HD using th VC-1 codec as well as DTS 5.1 audio at 1.5Mbps. What makes this so interesting is that there is a complete lack of any dialogue, only images and music.

Next up we have the extras that can be found when in the Director's cut of the movie is selected.

Expanded Feature Commentaries: Wow! Not content with the two commentaries for the theatrical version of the movie there are three more commentaries for this Director's cut of the movie. One is by director Alex Proyas, another by film critic Roger Ebert (before the film critic lost his voice recently to illness), and the third by writers David Goyer and Len Dobbs (although this track seems to have been sourced from the other audio track). It's going to take a big fan to listen to all these commentaries (as well as the two on the theatrical side), but each discusses their own thoughts and insights into the movie with some, but not a lot, of overlap.

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Another screen from Dark City.
Directors Cut Fact Track: This is basically a pop-up trivia track which points out some of the production issues, but more importantly the changes between the Directors and Theatrical cut of the movie.

Production Gallery: As the title suggest this is a series of images from the production. There are 80 in total, but sadly no commentary, on on-screen comments to go with them.

Documentaries (1:18:15): Split up into three parts this is a brilliant, and detailed look at the production of the movie. The first part, "Introduction by Alex Proyas" (5:00), "Memories of Shell Beach" (43:25) which is the main "Making of" documentary looks at the production of the movie as well as the lengthy post production process and how the movie has boomed since the DVD release. The third part of the Documentary collection is one titled "Architecture of Dreams" (33:50) which looks at the visual and thematic concepts used in the movie. While these documentaries are presented in Standard Definition they really are quite interesting.

OVERALL
A brilliant release on Blu-Ray Dark City: Director's Cut is a movie that fans will certainly want to add to their collection. Two versions of the film, superb video and audio, and a host of extras makes this a very impressive release. If you haven't seen the movie yet then don't hesitate to check out this disc either...

Review By: Dave Warner

THE MOVIE
8/10
THE VIDEO
9/10
THE AUDIO
9/10
THE EXTRAS
8/10
OVERALL
8.5/10

Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Reel DVD. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.