Dark City a confusing, riveting vision

If you like to have fun with dark meditations on the nature of man’s existence, then Dark City is the movie for you: a sci-fi mindbender with outstanding special effects, “film noir” style, and lots of comic-book action and excitement. Directed by Alex Proyas, whose last movie, The Crow, was a cult success, Dark City could become this year’s Blade Runner or 12 Monkeys. Even if this movie doesn’t have Brandon Lee for a drawing card, it is a much better movie than The Crow in every way, and thus a must-see for science fiction fans.

You might have seen a commercial for Dark City and been confused by it; no dialogue or narration, just pounding techno music and bizarre imagery (pale bald guys levitating and other such phenomena). The plot is only somewhat less confusing. A man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up suddenly in a bathtub, with amnesia, in a huge and mysterious city. The police are after him for a series of murders, but worse than that, so are an odd group known as the “Strangers,” who are running unusual experiments on the city’s inhabitants. The man, whom we come to know as Murdoch, must try to figure out who he is and what is going on. The answers that he finds are, of course, not exactly comforting.

A number of other characters enmeshed in the plot include Kiefer Sutherland as a creepy, Renfield-like mad scientist, William Hurt as a world-weary detective, and Jennifer Connelly as the mystery man’s wife. Sutherland and Hurt both do good jobs, although Hurt’s role isn’t very big. Connelly doesn’t add much due to her status as the movie’s token pretty woman.

It’s Rufus Sewell as Murdoch who carries the movie. You might know Rufus Sewell from such British movies as Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, where he played Fortinbras. In both films he has a strong, angry presence that intensifies his strange predicament.

The special effects are first rate. IfTitanic represents a breakthrough in the use of computer effects to tell a realistic story,then movies like Dark City represent the use of computer effects to show us amazing, impossible things. Much of the fun of the movie lies in its visual aspects. Dark City is a masterpiece of design, and the sets and images that we see are amazing in the way they create an entire, imaginary world.

The goal of the film is to ask questions about memory and existence, and it speeds along at a nonstop pace. However, if the film had been a bit more leisurely in its philosophical wonderings, they might have been explored with more depth. As it is, the movie is very much in the realm of comic-book art. It’s exciting, and the movie has interesting and novel ideas, but the tone is closer to something like Spawn, or The Fifth Elementt, than a more sober movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The script is a bit haphazard– side characters appear important, but then are underdeveloped or forgotten. In addition, the movie tries to answer a few too many of its own questions. If we saw everything through Murdoch’s confused eyes, the movie might have more intensity.

The climax of the movie, while exciting, is a little too much like Spawn or Mortal Kombat.. It is an action movie spectacular-type ending, with a big face-off and lots of explosions on the screen. Not that Dark City has a bad ending, but it seems like the writers could have given it a tiny bit more thought and originality.

All the same, Dark City is a pretty cool movie, both for its imaginative story and its great visual effects. If the script is not quite as thoughtful and philosophical as other science fiction movies of the past, you still have to give the filmmakers credit for going beyond the

standard sci-fi/ fantasy/ action movie type into an imaginative new place.

rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars