Critical Review and Bibliography

"DARK CITY" (1998)


Dark City (1998)


Rufus Sewell - John Murdoch

Keifer Sutherland - Dr. Schreber

Jennifer Connelly - Anna Murdoch

William Hurt - Frank Bumstead

Richard O'Brien - Mr. Hand

Ian Richardson - Mr. Book

Colin Friels - Walenski

Bruce Spence - Mr. Wall

Melissa George - May


Director - Alex Proyas

Screenwriters - Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs,

David S. Goyer

Cinematographer - Dariusz Wolski

Producers - Michael deLuca, Brian Witten

Producer/Special Effects - Andrew Mason

Composer - Trevor Jones

Designers - George Liddle, Patrick Tatopoulos

Costume Designer - Liz Keogh

Set Designer - Axel Bartz, Jenny Carseldine,

Judith Harvey, Sarah Light

Produced by - Mystery Clock Cinema (Australia)

Released by - New Line Cinema

Distributed by - Village Roadshow

"Dark City" was also titled:

"Dark Empire" (USA working title, 1997)

"Dark World" (USA working title, 1997)

"Dark City" was the 2nd highest grossing film of 1998, with box-office takings in Australia of $3,348,994.


Alex Proyas, Andrew Mason,

Rufus Sewell - Andrew Urban, Urban Cinefile.

Sourced 29/4/01

Alex Proyas and Andrew Mason - Michael Helms. "Dark City:

Interview with Andrew Mason and

Alex Proyas. Cinema Papers,

No. 124, May 1998. p.45.


Corliss, R. Dark City, A Ravishing Visual Trip to a Strange

Land. The Arts/Cinema: Short takes Time Magazine

March 2, 1998 Vol 151, No.8.

King, G. Dark City, August 1998, Melbourne, Australia

O'Regan, T. Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London, 1996.

O'Regan, T. and

Venkatasawmy, R. "Only one day at the beach", Metro no.117, 1998,

Pp 17-28 in Australian Cinema, Murdoch University

Reader, H231, 2001.

Smith, J. Dark City — An Australian Perspective, Oz Cinema,

Sept. 2nd, 1998.

Film On-Line

Interviews, reviews sourced from:

IMDB Website -

Urban Cinefile -

All Movie Guide -

Oz Cinema -

Greg King -

Material was sourced from the internet, from the Library Catalogue and subsequent research from Film Indexes and literature contained in the library — particularly the 791.430. section in South Wing Level 2. The H231 Australian Cinema website also was a source of information for databases and reference sources. The IMDB website provided 43 newspaper reviews on its Review Link. External reviews on the same site provide 118 reviews from other sources.


Dark City (1998)

Alex Proyas

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a bathtub in a hotel room. He has no memory of who he is and where he is. He discovers that he is the prime suspect in a series of brutal murders, but has no memory of his guilt or innocence. Separated from his wife, Anna (Jennifer Connelly), he becomes the object of interest to a scientist, Dr Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) and a sympathetic detective (William Hurt). In his attempts to find his memory and identity, Murdoch encounters a group of bizzarre beings, the Strangers, pale-faced and leather-clad. By focusing their minds collectively they are able to stop time and alter physical reality. These Strangers have taken over the city, using it as an artificial laboratory, trying to unlock the secrets of what makes us human. Murdoch's ability to "tune in" to the Strangers makes him dangerous to them. He tries to go to the seaside, to "Shell Beach", but he cannot leave the City. His psychic powers, however, eventually enable him to destroy the Strangers and to remake his world. He turns his city into an island in space, and invents a sunrise and "Shell Beach".

Described variously as Mystery/Thriller/Science Fiction, "Dark City" inhabits a genre best described as "film noir/sci-fi", in the tradition of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner", and the Wachowski brothers' "The Matrix". Depicting an urban landscape, stylistically it portrays several different eras. Cars, fashions, architecture are a pastiche set in perpetual nightime. "Dark City" is about memory — if we do not have any memories, do we exist? The fragmented quality of the implanted memories of the film's characters is echoed in the temporal and spatial disjunctions of the film's mise-en-scene, reinforced by the stylistic references to films of the past. The Strangers' white faces and long overcoats resemble the character in German exoressionist film - F.W.Murnau's "Nosferatu" and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis". The city itself is a concept which can be found in "Blade Runner", Gotham City ("Batman") — the morphing of the buildings and the camera angles at which they are filmed is reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil". Jeunet and Caro's "The City Of Lost Children" and "Delicatessen" also depict a world that is abstract, a place of non-recognition that denies identity as either American, Australian or British. The hybrid nature of the cast contributes to the surreal quality of the film. Employing English (Ian Richardson, Rufus Sewell), American (Keifer Sutherland, William Hurt) and Australian actors (Colin Friels, Melissa George, Bruce Spence), the diversity of accents is complicated by the strange accent employed by Keifer Sutherland as Dr Schreber. Almost unanimously criticised for its mannerisms, his portrayal nevertheless adds to the fantastic abstraction of the film.

Embodying as it does questions of memory, perception, ambiguous reality and the existence of boundaries, "Dark City"comes into the category of an art film. However, with its references to horror films and its use of high tech visual spectacle, the film is embedded in a diverse cinematic culture.

"Dark City" was released to general critical acclaim. In 1999 it won the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film (U.S.A) Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, Costume Design and Director. In the same year it won the Australian Film Critics Award for Best Original Screenplay, the Bram Stoker Award for Screenplay and the Pegasus Audience Award at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film.

Most critical acclaim focused on the extraordinary special effects. Andrew Urban whilst in awe of Proyas' vision — " there exists a swirling pool of visions which are fantastic and splendid even if at times they are incomprehensible"-finds that Proyas needs to keep a tighter grip on story telling and characterisation.(Urban Cinefile,2001) Louise Keller applauds the mood " which settles and filters through the subconscious until we are immersed in this dark and mysterious world." Paul Fischer acknowledges that "Dark City" is a " feast of stylized images, blended together in a remarkable and original fusion," but reserves his criticism for the poor characterisation.(ibid) Greg King acclaims Proyas as a "filmmaker with a singularly exciting visual and visceral approach." He congratulates Proyas on the mood, sets and special effects, but "numerous gaps in the narrative and leaps of logic that are never satisfactorily explained" left him unsatisfied. Joshua Smith found the visual and narrative splendour absorbing and congratulates Proyas on behalf of Australia.

Overseas critics were unanimous in their praise for the special effects, mood, sets and costuming in "Dark City." Both Bhob Stewart and Roger Eberts found its cinematic quality exciting, however, whilst some critics found the actors' performances wooden (particularly Kiefer O'Sutherland) and the narrative patchy, others (Greg King) thought that the narrative was tight and that Sutherland was "impressive as the weak-willed and dotty doctor, Schreber."

Critics in Australia and overseas generally applauded the film, although finding fault with the narrative and characterisation. Curiously, the awards received were predominantly for screenplay and the film was invited to screen at Cannes in 1998. Its box-office takings of $3,348,994 made it the second highest grossing film of 1998, eclipsed by "Babe" which was also released in 1998. Tom O'Regan and Rama Venkatasawmy writing in "Metro"(1998) cite critics as being unanimous in their praise of the "look" of the film but critical of the script. Their claim that "audience response in Australia.has been lukewarm"(ibid) would seem to bely the box-office success of the film. Because of its hybrid nature "Dark City" has been difficult to define and possibly this is reflected in the diverse nature of its criticism.

Alex Proyas is a graduate of the Australian Film Television, and Radio School, well versed in digital technology and the intricacies of special effects. He gained this experience through making music videos such as "Don't Dream, It's Over" for Crowded House, television commercials, his Australian feature "Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds,," and then moved to Hollywood to direct and produce "The Crow"(1994). This film was based on comic book characters and many critics claim a resemblance can be found to this characteristic form in aspects of "Dark City". Proyas has set up his own production company, Mystery Clock Cinema with fellow producer Andrew Mason. As supervisor of visual effects, and in tandem with Australian company Dfilm Services, Mason was responsible for "Dark City"s special effects. He claims that making the film in Australia "allowed Proyas and everyone else involved to approach the production process more collectively." More creative freedom was possible and they could experiment with riskier shots. With 100 speaking parts, 200 extras, 130 crew, construction crew of 100 and 40 casual make-up artists the film was shot largely inside the Commemorative Pavilion at the Sydney Showgrounds, part of the newly opened Fox Studios complex. Fifty sets were built and the Underground scene took three months to construct. Financed by American money, it "pushes the boundaries of the extensive application of digital technology and studio production." (O'Regan and Venkatasawmy, 1998)

The development of digital technology from post-production to its use in most film and television processes has been embraced with enthusiasm in Australia. Warner Roadshow Movie World Studios opened in Queensland in 1998, connecting post-production and studio based shooting. The studios were initially valued for their location by major overseas studios. The landscape, so much a feature of the Australian film ethos, was so geographically non-specific that it could be used to stand for many locations. The shooting of "Babe", financed by Universal Pictures, produced and directed by Kennedy-Miller, demonstrated the digital capabilities of Australian filmmaking and its global possibilities. Filmed in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, it displayed the universality of the films location. It inhabited an "otherworldness" which is also very specific to "Dark City". As its forerunner, it embodied the qualities of fantasy, ambiguity and dislocation, combined by computer technology to appeal to a universal audience.

The opening of Fox Studios in Sydney in May,1998, amplified this trend in film production strategy. Designed to draw together the filmmakers and crews, it was expected to combine their talents with film projects, both local and overseas. A connection between the local and the international was expected to deliver an economic advantage to Australia. Distributed by Village Roadshow to maximize its exposure to overseas audiences, its convergence of multi-tasking operations positioned "Dark City" to be seen, not as an Australian film but as American. Its critical success at the cutting edge of digital technology led to the production of "Matrix"(Wachowski Brothers), "Babe 2: Pig in the City",(Kennedy-Miller), George Lucas's "Star Wars Trilogy 2" and "Moulin Rouge"(Baz Luhrmann), being shot on site in Australia. All utilised Australian cast, crew, technology and facilities. They also followed the "story-book logic, the fantasy element which was developed in "Dark City".

A combination of American funding and distribution with Australian creative and technical input allows Australia to maintain its position as a medium sized English-speaking cinema competing with the dominant Hollywood cinema. Although costs prohibit the production of much local cinema on the scale of the major studios which use the facilities at Fox and on the Gold Coast, local producers operating with local funding sources on a lower scale still allows for the development of a cinema which has much to offer. The hybrid nature of film productions such as "Dark City" ensures the retention of highly-skilled film professionals within Australia. The flexibility of this arrangement also allows for their employment on overseas productions which can only

enlarge their expertise and benefit Australian film

"Dark City" is an important film in the history of Australian filmmaking. The hybrid quality of its production, its ground-breaking use of digital technology, the nature of its script, the ambiguity of its temporal and spatial location and the combination of its cast locate the film in a new sphere of film sensibility. It is nowhere recognisable; it exists as the product of a creative mind and computer technology, creating a new and original vision which, by its non-specificity, can be appropriated and appreciated by a large and universal English-speaking audience.