Cult Classics: Dark City (1998) Review

Cult Classics is a series in which I review/analyze movies that are considered “cult classics” and also try to figure out why they are one in the first place.

I guess I’m not really starting this new series of reviews in the best way if I’m starting with a movie I didn’t like so much. Dark City is a very strange movie, right from the start it opens with narration by Dr. Daniel P. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) explaining a world that is inhabited by another species that are trying to take control of the humans with an ability called “tuning.” Right from the start, you’ll notice how annoying Kiefer Sutherland’s acting is and trust me; you’ll be annoyed throughout the entire film with the way he talks. It’s painful to listen to as he breathes strange and talks weird for seemingly no reason instead of talking like a normal human being but that’s a minor concern for this movie. After the opening narration scene (which is kind of pointless like most narration in films), John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens from a hotel bathtub and is suffering from amnesia. And this is the part where I started to really get into the movie. Something strange is going on, he discovers a body he supposedly murdered, he gets a call from Dr. Schreber about how his memory is gone, and he makes his way onto the streets of the city and is trying to figure out what in the hell is going on and has a run-in with a group of men simply known as “The Strangers.” It’s a very interesting premise, it certainly draws you in…but then it fails to deliver on nearly every level.

One thing I noticed (especially in any action scenes) is the awful editing. The shots move so quickly and they just cut and cut and you can’t even tell what is going on anymore because of it. It completely breaks immersion of the film when bad editing distracts you. Another aspect that breaks immersion is the bad 90s CGI, which is a problem for many Hollywood films in the 90s, the CGI was (mostly) awful. Okay, I admit, I didn’t watch the director’s cut of the film that supposedly improved the bad CGI but regardless, the excessive CGI in the 90s was god-awful and only a handful of films actually have CGI that holds up. (Jurassic Park is actually the only one that comes to mind).

The movie does have a really engaging mystery throughout, you do wonder what is going on with these “Stranger” people and why some of the humans memories are erased/being scrambled with and why everything is so off in this city. It has ambitious ideas but fails to deliver any real consistent or interesting message and instead, devolved into typical Hollywood action blockbuster by the end. It could have been an engaging thought-provoking science fiction piece-especially with the premise-but instead it decides to have painfully boring to watch action scenes. Why is this film a cult classic? Frankly, I’m not entirely sure. I suppose it’s under the category of Hollywood films that come off smarter than usual because Hollywood is fairly pathetic most of the time when it comes to new ideas or philosophical ones. Sort of like The Matrix that came out the following year and is also an incredibly overrated (sorry Matrix fans, I really don’t find the film that interesting) piece that isn’t some smart film with deep philosophical ideas. The movie does have a certain atmosphere that is pleasing to look at but the CGI and editing break that atmosphere completely and take you out of the film. Overall, I sort of get why this one is a cult classic just because it is “different” but different doesn’t always mean good, I’d much rather watch a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that deals with the ideas of memory and love (the love story in Dark City is fairly laughable) in a much more sophisticated nature.

2/5 Stars

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