From Dark City to The Matrix

Jan. 10, 2009
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Was Alex Proyas’ 1998 film Dark City a forerunner to the Warchowski brothers’1999 hit The Matrix? For me, the connections never clicked until seeing Dark City on DVD. In Proyas’ movie spinning blades (not bullets) are stopped in mid flight by mental force. Our hero is menaced by a seemingly endless legion of virtually identical foes—not Agent Smith replicants but beings called the Strangers, pale-faced Nosferatu lookalikes in cool black garb. And that dour hero, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), is first alerted to danger by a strange phone call. Seems he has attracted the wrong sort of attention by developing powers strong enough to reshape the world. And did I mention that the world of Dark City is an artificial construct, its inhabitants living an illusion?

At the time Dark City was on the big screen, the story seemed like a B-movie Blade Runner for its meditation on memory and identity. What stuck with me through the years was mostly Dark City’s look. Not unlike BladeRunner, it was film noir transposed into a retro future. In Dark City’s case, many sets resemble an Edward Hopper nightmare of mid-20th century alienation.

Is Dark City as good as The Matrix? The SFX aren’t as awesome, despite some good moments. And it struck me and strikes me now that its fictional world isn’t entirely consistent. Still, Dark City was a good try, memorable in parts and a signpost of science fiction soon to come.

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