Questionable Taste Theatre: “Dark City”

I could make this entry two words long: HELL YES.

Instead, I will make it one million words long. (Don’t worry, your comments can still say “Hell no!” and it will look all clever.)

Dark City is a film by Alex Proyas, who gave us perennial Gothbomb movie The Crow and then said, “You know what I want to do next? I want to fill a foggy basement with bald guys worshipping a clock shaped like a human head.”

Way to live the dream, Alex!

Nutshell: In an awesome, slimy city, a fugitive with no memories begins to realize the world is being manipulated by a basement full of bald guys who worship a clock shaped like a human head.

“When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?”

We open with our amnesiac hero John Murdoch – no, really. There’s a brief introduction, but it was clearly tacked on by the studio and I am 99% sure this summer’s director’s cut will chop that shit off like a Harrison Ford voiceover.

And why? Because every frame of this movie MATTERS. It’s obvious this story was meant to begin with a grimy bathroom, a swinging lamp, and a hero who doesn’t know what the fuck is going on, because every frame is important. His wound matters. The swinging lamp matters. His bathwater matters. His goldfish matters.

And it’s awesome.

He stumbles around and begins, painfully, to piece together who he is and how to get home to his wife, who is the smoking-hot, understated, middling lip-syncher Jennifer Connelly.

They stand around and talk and are awesome, and then William Hurt busts in and totally harshes the mood. Cue the chase!

There’s a plot, but a lot of it involves William Hurt and if he can’t be bothered to act then I can’t be bothered to write about it. It involves those crazy basement-dwellers, memory, identity, Hurt’s cop partner, and Keifer Sutherland, who must have really ruined his appetite chewing on all that scenery.

Instead, let’s talk about the atmosphere of this movie, which some describe as Noir and some as Deco, and I describe as NO SERIOUSLY LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW THIS MOVIE LOOKS.

And one of my favorite production stills for its ability to both be a throwback to the 40s film-noir lobby cards and to simultaneously establish its own aesthetic mood.

Anyway, after some more running around, all roads lead to (SHELL BEACH OMG) the Crazy Bastard Basement.

Some things in the Crazy Bastard Basement are Art Deco and awesome:

And some are slightly…less so:

And some of them are Keifer Sutherland:

There’s a prison break! And a chase scene! And then Murdoch and William Hurt discover they’re in a big floating city-sized spaceship!

And then William Hurt? GETS SUCKED INTO SPACE. I will always be up for William Hurt getting sucked into space. Always. That shit is never not funny.
Murdoch, totally pissed that they ruined a Shell Beach fresco for nothing, decides to kick some crazy bastard ass, and there’s a fight scene that involves hanging from wires and frowning really hard to simulate big Brain Punches! It’s awesome!

And now the part where I don’t like something.

The first time I saw this movie, I was rooting for John Murdoch in that clench-your-armrests-and-lean-forward kind of way where I was totally invested. At last, with mortal effort, he dispatches the beings who have molded the world according to their whims!

…and the first thing he does is mold the world according to his whim.

I don’t think that’s better just because he has good intentions. It’s not better. It wasn’t better the first time, it’s not better the hundredth time. The ending is slightly mitigated because Jennifer Connelly is happy, and you get the feeling John will just sort of build out a small planet and leave it alone, but seriously, the best intentions turn into crazy shit, Murdoch. Watch it.

I will say this; no matter how uncool I think it is (very), I still hold my breath when he opens the door and walks into the sun for the first time, because it’s one of my top ten music cues, ever. EVER.

No matter how many times I watch this movie, it always feels new. I can’t believe it came out a decade ago. However, if you check out this trailer, you’ll realize how insane this movie must have seemed when it came out. They don’t let anyone talk! They slap Copperplate Gothic over some fast-moving clouds! (This would make a little more sense if you ever see the night sky in Dark City, but you don’t. But apparently it’s full of fast-moving green clouds, and who wants to look at that anyway? Whatever, clouds! Keep your font!)