"First came darkness, then came the strangers," we are told in the
opening to the macabre, science fiction thriller, DARK CITY, by the
director of THE CROW. It seems "the strangers" have come from another
world and, like Nazi doctors, have a series of diabolical experiments
they are conducting on the local inhabitants' memories.
In a cast with significant depth, Kiefer Sutherland plays Dr.
Schreber, who has sold his soul to the strangers and is helping them
carry out their tests on human guinea pigs. As the show's hero, John
Murdoch, MRS. DALLOWAY's Rufus Sewell plays the only man who may be
able to save humanity -- or at least the city. Or it is one and the
Jennifer Connelly, last seen in the delightful but unappreciated
INVENTING THE ABBOTTS, is John's wife, Emma. Or is she? You get the
idea. Like an Escher print, the storyline twists into itself and out
again, so that what is real and what isn't become intertwined.
As the tough but, like the audience, confused Inspector Bumstead,
William Hurt plays his usual character. There's a mass murderer afoot
in the city, and Inspector Bumstead harbors certain suspicions about
SPICE WORLD's Richard O'Brien is the stranger named Mr. Hand, and
Ian Richardson is the leader of the strangers, Mr. Book.
So what can be so bad about a film with this lineup? Editing.
Let's stop and take a poll. How long do you like the camera to
stay with one character before it switches to another? 20 seconds so
that the actor has a chance to say something meaningful? 10 seconds so
that we can keep a fast pace? How about a blistering 5? Nope, all of
these are way too slow for DARK CITY's editor, Dov Hoenig. 1 and 2
second clips are the norm in this movie. I know because I timed them.
(My watch and I got to know each other better as a way for me to relive
my boredom.) The result of this excessive flitting is liable to be
nausea and confusion among the audience, which is a shame since there
is a clever story trying to get out. But with the strobe light effect
of five dozen 1-2 second clips in a row, it is hard to pay attention to
The only real reasons for seeing the picture are the bleak
production design by George Liddle and Patrick Tatopoulos and the grimy
cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. For those of you who thought Tim
Burton's vision of Gotham City in BATMAN was too bright and happy,
you'll like the look of DARK CITY. (One of the oddities of this
metropolis is that time goes from midnight to midnight with no noon or
daylight in between, but the locals never notice. It's that loss of
Liz Keogh's costumes for the strangers are memorable. Dressed in
long black coats, wide brimmed black hats and big black gloves, their
pancake make-up keeps them ever ready for Halloween. And shot at
angles designed to make them look seven feet tall, they appear quite
If the editing and the confusing direction have you ready to walk
out in the first fifteen minutes, don't fight the urge. Yes, there are
a couple of nice twists along the way and some good visuals, but most
people can find many better things to do with their time.
DARK CITY runs 1:43. It is rated R for violence, nudity and
profanity and would be fine for most teenagers.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes