I’ve wanted to like Alex Proyas again for quite a while. When I was young I watched The Crow and, like everyone else, bought into the hype and mythology behind the whole thing and it made it an obnoxiously integral part of my life. It’s a good film, yes, but it’s overshadowed by something else (frankly something that casts a shadow over his whole career) – Dark City.
A neo-noir science fiction film that would not feel out of step with things like Blade Runner or The Ghost in the Shell (the Japanese film, let’s not be silly here), Proyas dropped onto the stage back in 1998 with this crazy genre mish-mash of a film that he’s been struggling to top every since. He’s spent 20 years trying but it just hasn’t happened for him (and as of Gods of Egypt I think it may just be out of his reach now). Dark streets, slick and sleazy men in long coats, weird alien imagery, and some cool space stuff all wedged in alongside romance, detective work, and twisting architecture that spasms and convulses in time with the will of its teeth-chattering masters in their lair all create such an atmospheric story that would probably not hold up to scrutiny but…who wants that?
We’re 20 years on from the initial release of this film and several home media formats later I was finally given my first chance to see this on the big screen. I’m tired, I’ve barely slept in days, and after so many movies (film festivals are so great) even I kind of wanted to go to bed last night instead of going to this. That said, I lugged my lazy but down to the theatre at 11:30 at night for this and pounded a coffee so I could stay awake through it all. Maybe it was the buzz, maybe it was the sort of peaceful nirvana I’d reached in my exhaustion, and maybe it was just the fact that this film is so damned good you can’t help but enjoy yourself. Kiefer Sutherland shuffling and limping through the darkness as a shady doctor, Jennifer Connelly as a lounge singer that isn’t quite sure who she is, and Rufus Sewell as demiurge John Murdoch. Hell, William Hurt is in this movie as a hard-boiled detective with a literal board covered in pins and information that he stares at obsessively. This is nuts! And we haven’t even gotten to the floating, pasty men in black trench-coats that secretly control the world (this film is a flat-earther’s wet dream, though I doubt they’d really get it).
For those that missed it you’ve got to pick this up and give it a whirl. When your film compares comparably to The Matrix (and is better, and is a very clear influence) then you should be proud. And Alex Proyas should still be proud, he hit a wonderful high-note in his career with this one that still draws crowds. A modern-day retelling of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” against this backdrop is nothing to shrug at and can still tell a meaningful story after all this time. Not just 20 years, but the 1600 it’s been (well roughly) since Plato himself wrote his story.