The Films of Alex Proyas #3 – Dark City (1998)

dark-city-02-800-75Is director Alex Proyas to sci-fi what my favorite horror director John Carpenter is to horror, as I have heard on more than one occasion from several different sci-fi junkies, whose opinions I all strongly respect? There’s only one way to find out; by watching all of Proyas’ films in chronological order. My take on his third feature, Dark City, after the jump.

five-starsI’m saying it: Dark City; masterpiece.

Just as he did with his debut feature, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds, Proyas is once again working from his own written material – and it shows. Predating the Wachowski‘s The Matrix by a year, Proyas’ similarly themed tale of breaking through the barriers of one’s oppressors in order to achieve freedom is not only much darker (both visually and thematically) it’s also better acted, directed, and without committing any crimes of pander skillfully evokes some of the finest moments within the history of cinema.

Such fine moments include: the subtle non-evasive nods to the best of what mysterious noir pictures of the 1940s and 50s had to offer, and the constant prescience of a pitch perfect score capitulating that of the silent era. And speaking of the silent era, one would either have to be blind or just plain ignorant not to notice the influence that Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis from 1927 had on this as well. Now, what makes Dark City so special is that it takes all of these best parts from cinema’s past and somehow creates something wholly original. And this is where Proyas has succeeded and where many many other more illustrious filmmakers have failed.

Warning: The following paragraph might be a bit on the spoilery side, so if you haven’t seen this film yet I suggest either skipping this paragraph, or just go watch it right now. The better choice would be to do the latter and watch it right now! Anyway. Already, just 3 films deep within his filmography motifs are beginning to emerge that could be described as being Pyoyas-esque. As with his previous two films, long black duster jackets once again appear, this time donning the bodies of “The Strangers”, a dying race of beings whose elaborate controlled experiment on humans winds up backfiring. Also, Proyas’ grasp of hopelessness can once again be seen. This is especially evident in the film’s seemingly happy ending, that when you really think about it is anything but.

After the mainstream success of The Crow, Proyas was given an 80% budget increase in order to bring to the screen another fantastical tale. This time however there was a significant increase in quality, as recognized by both a vast amount of critics, and more importantly, me. Still the box office numbers at the time would suggest failure. It only made just $200,000 more than its initial budget. Just what role Dark City’s shared opening weekend with James Cameron‘s Titanic had on this film’s potential financial success is anybody’s guess. No matter, the film exists, and I, like many others are extremely grateful.

Next up: Garage Days

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Categories: Director Spotlight, Features, Reviews

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