Why This Underrated ’90s Sci-Fi Masterpiece Deserves A Reboot

dark city is a dark sci-fi film directed by Alex Proyas (I robot, the crow) and released in 1998. Although it received many positive reviews at the time, it was a complete financial failure, with Proyas himself call him a “box office disaster”. But in the 24 years since its release, dark city became an underground cult classic of the 90s and is the perfect film for a modern remake.

dark city escaped most people’s lasting attention when it was released, sandwiched between the juggernaut of Titanic and The matrix one year later. But one person who noticed it was Roger Ebert. At the time, Ebert hailed it as one of the best films of 1998, comparing it to the two 2001: A Space Odyssey and blade runner. “dark city was a reminder to me of the promise of cinema,” said Ebert in his review. “Films don’t have to be just photographic pieces, all made up of dialogue, they can also allow us to see new things in new ways.” He even recorded a feature-length commentary later to accompany the DVD game.


Still, it’s one of those movies that most people have never seen. Since its release, the film has grown in popularity through word of mouth, becoming the kind of cult classic recommended by a friend as the best movie you’ve never heard of.

Which makes Dark City Soh well?

With a phenomenal cast, stunningly beautiful and chilling set designs and visual effects, and a haunting musical score, it’s easy to see why Ebert and others were captivated.

dark city stars Rufus Sewell as the title character, John Murdoch. He wakes up with no memories in a room with a dead sex worker, covered in strange symbols. Suspected of his murder, he flees the police and a sympathetic detective, played by William Hurt. He is also pursued by strange, pale, trench-coat-wearing beings called the Outlanders, who have psychokinetic powers. Murdoch soon realizes that he also possesses these powers and can manipulate the world around him. Kiefer Sutherland plays Dr. Schreber, a strange scientist who helps both the aliens and the protagonists. Jennifer Connelly fits the sentiment of the film perfectly with her dark, classic beauty, playing Murdoch’s wife, Emma, ​​who he doesn’t remember.

Rounding out the cast, the antagonist is Richard O’Brien from Rocky Horror Picture Show Fame. He plays Mr. Hand, the leader of the alien beings known as The Strangers, though they’re also some kind of collective hive mind.

The performances in dark city are all convincing. It’s wonderful to see Rufus Sewell excel at a time when he wasn’t recognized enough, even though he would later say he thought it wasn’t his best performance. Sewell’s subtle take on Murdoch balances well with the detective and Emma’s noir personas, as well as Sutherland’s exuberance acting as the decidedly odd doctor.

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The story unfolds at a fast pace. The film is only 100 minutes long, and each minute seems filled with new revelations and twists in the adventure, as the characters get closer and closer to the center of the strange city labyrinth in which they are trapped. Strong philosophical themes of individuality, existentialism, and liberation run through the film, represented both in the plot and in the incredible backdrop of the changing city. Characters are often left questioning their own reality, even their own memories of things. The film has been described as Kafkaesque in its surrealism and dark tone.

Visually, dark city is a breathtaking masterpiece. Its dark urban design and color palette give it a strong parallel with The matrix, with which it is often compared – the two films even used some of the same sets. But the differences are notable and interesting. Proyas wanted a movie that had touches of horror, as well as a noir feel to its visuals. He was inspired by both The twilight zone and The Maltese Falconmaking this 90s neo-noir the equivalent of the decade blade runner.

The horror elements are subtle, but well done. The wicked Foreigners almost have a hellraiser feeling for them, and many of the settings seem borrowed from Proyas’ Gothic classic precedent, The crow. What’s even more interesting is that the city itself, trapped in lingering, endless night, seems to melt or shatter as The Strangers adjust the placement of buildings, gates, and other things. The motif of spirals and mazes persists throughout the film, leading the audience to the final, satisfying conclusion at the center.

The musical score was produced by Trevor Jones, who also worked on Last of the Mohicans, Labyrinth, and The black crystal. It manages to capture the feeling of the movie well, and the ending theme played during the epic showdown is memorable and powerful.

Why is now a good time for a reboot?

With everything that’s changed since 1998, there’s no better time for a reboot of dark city that now. Sci-fi noir, sometimes called “tech-noir” (which is the name of a nightclub in The Terminator) is a genre that has not been sufficiently explored. Although the 80s had the great blade runner (in the same way the terminator and RoboCop, which are decidedly less black in style), the 90s were the heyday of the subgenre. But even then, there was a dearth of tech or dark sci-fi, arguably limited to movies like The matrix, twelve monkeys, strange days, City of lost children, The thirteenth floor, and Gattaca who, beside dark cityunequivocally defines the style of black tech.

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But there’s recently been a surge of interest in the genre of style that fits black sci-fi lately. With the success of Blade Runner 2049which was nominated for five Oscars, and the Amazon series that followed Blade Runner 2099 now in development, production of black sci-fi works is on the rise. American adaptations of anime classics cowboy bebop and ghost in the shell did not receive great ratings, but they still reflected a growing interest in revisiting this kind of science fiction story, and the critical success of films like Improve is encouraging. A movie like dark city is a transparent way to start exploring more of the genre’s untapped potential.

A remake of this movie would have a lot of things to build on and lean on, like the plot and the setting. It would also benefit from a modern take on technology, as well as updated special effects. Alex Proyas himself has tentatively worked on a new dark city series, though Proyas said it would be a new story set in the same world. With a chance to redeem the excellence of the original film for a new generation, as well as add a refreshing new vision to it, dark city is the perfect sci-fi movie for a modern remake.

Dimension Sin City, Miramax

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