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Dark City - Director's Cut Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Aug 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

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    Dark City - Director's Cut Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £21.69

    Picture

    New Line presents Dark City with a 1080p VC-1 encode in its original 2.35:1 aspect and, actually, this image transfer is quite fascinating. To the layman - and I've tested it out on several people now who love home cinema but probably aren't anywhere near as obsessive as myself or many of those reading this review - this looks astonishingly good. The colours are drenched with warmth and vitality and literally drip from the screen, the black levels are simply staggeringly good and close-up detail appears incredibly crisp and revealing. At first, I was blown away by how impressive this picture looked, but then, when looking a little deeper, a little more clinically, it becomes apparent that the transfer is surprisingly inconsistent, hampered by edge enhancement and also the unlucky recipient of ... come on, come on, you know, don't you ... yep, DNR.

    Yet, once again, as with Patton and The Longest Day and the US Pan's Labyrinth, the image is still utterly remarkable. It is true that forum-members the world over have sparred vociferously over the pros and cons of this release but, as I stated clearly with regards to the image for The Longest Day, it all boils down to one thing - does the picture still look good enough to warrant a purchase?

    Erm ... yes. Dear God, yes.

    I viewed this both on a 52 inch Sharp and on a Samsung 40-inch and, barring the occasionally glaring EE - objects against lighter backgrounds, such as heads, hats, shoulders etc - this looked wonderful for the most part. Scrutiny, however, will reveal quite a few curiosities. The integration of the Dir's Cut footage produces some very slight differences in texture and clarity. Nothing immediately apparent or troublesome, just subtle alterations in hue and sharpness. But detail can be frequently amazing. Check out the spiral imprints on Murdoch's fingertips, the rogue hairs on Connelly's face (!), the grain on the wooden door that leads to Walenski's secluded room. And look at the watch-face, the food in the little compartments in the diner, the Cronos-style syringe or the hitherto unseen details down in the Strangers' lair. As dense as the blacks are, there is no hint of anything being lost within them and the image, on the whole, positively throbs with detail and clarity. Skin textures, hair and costumes are exceptionally well-delineated, though the DNR does wipe away some of the detail in mid-range shots. The precision of Walenski's screwball scribbling is now much tighter and clearer than before, the wonderful glimpse of the starry sky more acute. There is some vague motion-smearing during some sideways movements that I have noticed on both screens, though this is really minimal and I was looking for such things in the first place so ... don't look and you won't see. The corrugated pane of glass in Bumstead's office produced some shimmering as the camera moved that didn't look quite right but, once again, this is a minute observation and, indeed, the pluses far outweigh the minuses.

    Colours are now much warmer and brighter - the lipstick on Connelly, the blood on the murder victims, the veneer of the wood, the saturation of the bluish tones for the Strangers' realm and the earthy browns for the buildings and street/dock scenes, the amazing green tinge during the swimming-pool sequence and awesome orange of the blazing inferno lodged within Murdoch's memories. Contrast is impeccable too and the print looks incredibly clean and artefact-free. There is a fair amount of three-dimensionality to the image too, although this shouldn't be too hard to achieve when most of the time characters are lit in such a way that they literally loom out of the gloom.

    Overall, this gets a pretty big thumbs-up from me. Personally, I am not put off by DNR nearly as much as many others claim to be and, in the case of Dark City, the image, otherwise, is so damn good that only the most over-zealous would honestly get themselves miffed by it. This very obviously trounces all previous versions.

    Dark City - Director

    Sound

    New Line lifts Dark City out of its own shadows with a simply terrific DTS-MA 7.1 track that sure blows the cobwebs away. Right away, you realise that this is leagues ahead of its former incarnations with extensive surround activity, incredibly deep and resonant bass levels, heaps of detail steered impeccably around the set-up and a consistent and thoroughly enjoyable degree of viewer immersion.

    Incidental details like car horns, tinkling glasses in the nightclub, hubbub in the police station are smartly rendered, manufacturing a realistic environment that comes alive with a keenness that shines through the sound design. Some have claimed that dialogue can get a little swamped at times by the overall cacophony that Proyas' film can sometimes generate, but I didn't have a problem at all with it. The “tuning” sessions are extraordinarily aggressive and Dark City certainly employs some gut-rumbling, floorboard-worrying sub-delivery that will definitely enthral boom-boom junkies. The roaring express train that doesn't stop, the pounding away at the wall behind the poster, the shattering glass in the visitor room at the cop-shop, the grinding approach of an apartment block realigning itself and heading straight for our hero, the impact of the goldfish bowl hitting the floor and the riotous activity, of explosions and swirling wind and debris, during the final confrontation are all excellent showcases for lossless audio - immensely deep bass, clear high-ends, detailed mid-range and a tangible depth and believable movement all around.

    The score deserves another mention because it often takes centre-stage in the mix, Trevor Jones' exuberant dynamics thundering around the room with almost physical force. I feel that the rears could have been a tad more precise with their handling of wraparound effects - I wouldn't place this mix on a par with 3.10 To Yuma, for instance - but the overall experience of watching (and hearing) Dark City has been increased and improved ten-fold. The old DD 5.1 mix was often mushy and certainly lacked oomph, but now the movie seethes with life and energy and will surely satisfy the fans. You could say that it has been “re-tuned” very much for the better.

    Dark City - Director

    Extras

    Proyas' commentary for the Dir Cut spends an awful lot of time pondering on the whys and wherefores of the two versions, the response to the test screenings and the laborious process of finding a middle ground for a film that wants mass appeal (and money for the studio) but knows it will actually please its real core audience if the original vision is left intact. His laconic approach and dog-with-a-bone style pretty soon grated on my nerves and I'm afraid that I almost didn't stick with the track. But after about forty minutes, he begins to place his ideas and views on the story into context, even though a lot of which are already dealt with elsewhere. Although his virtual confession over this interpretation is, of course, completely relevant to what we are seeing, this commentary still managed to bore, rather than entertain me.

    An equally mixed-bag is the commentary from screenwriters David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs that tended to drag a bit and even comes across as little tired and unenthusiastic.

    Roger Ebert, ever the committed fan, here supplies a new chat track to embrace the director's cut of the movie and assess the changes and modifications. Inarguably fascinated and in love with Dark City, Ebert, at least, manages to inject some passion into the proceedings, though I have to admit that, by this stage, the thoughts and opinions of all were beginning to wear very thin indeed. The film is full of wild ideas and mind-stretching allusions but somehow I still believe that it doesn't need much in the way of explanation and the hammering-home of concepts can become tiresome. Proyas, himself, keeps offering his “opinion” about certain aspects, as though he has forgotten that he came up with them in the first place and, arguably of course, already has the definitive answers.

    Whilst the writer commentary is a pure lift from the theatrical cut - just recut to skirt around Proyas' involvement - the other chats are entirely new. But completists need not despair, as the original chat-tracks are still gracing the theatrical cut of the movie. The full Proyas, Dobbs and Goyer commentary can be found, with the participation of the DOP and Production Designer as well. But the best, still, is the original and unique overview from Roger Ebert, celebrating the finding of what would become a cherished movie. He injects fabulous insight and critique with veiled fan-boy appreciation, explaining his boundless fascination and praise for the unusual structure, design and construction of the film's plot and visual juxtaposition of sci-fi and film-noir. Taken from the time of the movie's DVD debut, this obviously doesn't make reference to what changes would be in store.

    A pop-up trivia track is also included on the extended cut of the film that further highlights the changes and alterations between the two versions of the movie.

    An introduction to the Dir Cut can also be found, although it doesn't actually introduce the film, if you know what I mean. Both Alex Proyas and Roger Ebert air their views and opinions on what makes the movie work - Proyas delivers more intent about this extended version, whilst Ebert just wants to fawn over the movie in general.

    Memories Of Shell Beach (43 mins) is a very fine retrospective making-of. With great, warts 'n' all recollections from Proyas and Dobbs, who is amazingly frank and even reads aloud his initial notes and critique of the director's initial script (though is not above singing his own praises, it should be noted), and smart, informative interviews with some of the cast, this is a very thorough and interesting documentary that charts the film's genesis and production with a decidedly less-then-fluffy approach that is far more refreshing than a great many other such features.

    Architecture Of Dreams quite rightly focuses on the design and look of the visually inventive movie. Everything from the construction and design of the sets and the noir-inspired costumes to the special effects employed to shift the City and reveal the extent of the Strangers' lair and powers is touched upon in this 34-minute feature. Decent enough.

    Then come the text essays that much prefer Fritz Lang's super-influential Metropolis. The celebrated Neil Gaiman provides a pretty superfluous and miniscule review of Proyas' film which is completely unnecessary, whilst another compares the film to Lang's 1926 uber-classic. A third piece has us reading the thoughts and impressions that H.G. Wells had about Metropolis, whilst the fourth and final critical response comes from the vintage Weekly Variety. These last three write-ups, especially the one from Wells, are very nice inclusions.

    And to round out the quite comprehensive roster of extras we get a Production Gallery of eighty stills, the film's original theatrical trailer and a digital copy of the Director's Cut on a separate disc.

    Dark City - Director

    Verdict

    A beautifully imaginative movie, Dark City is, nonetheless, a cold study in paranoia, high-concept sci-fi and twisted film-noir that may be thought-provoking but frustratingly fails to engage the emotions with anything other than Trevor Jones' wild score to stir the soul. The characters go through the motions but, perhaps in keeping with their shallow, barely lived-in memories and personas, move about the screen like cardboard cut-outs. Proyas is making a point about them and, by extension, us being little more than puppets in some greater scheme, but this lack of humanity ironically works against the connection, emotional or cerebral, that we should feel towards them and their journey of discovery. Yet Dark City wins by sheer visual panache and an avant-garde nature that is challenging, individual and, at the time of its release, quite trailblazing. The more you watch it, the more resonant and, indeed, intelligent it becomes, though the film, even in the tweaked and definitely improved Dir.'s Cut is not without flaws in structure, direction or writing.

    With utterly splendid AV quality - edge enhancement and DNR nowhere near the digital demons that some are determined to maintain, and 7.1 sound that is sensationally bombastic - Dark City is a true and vital upgrade over its SD versions. Two takes of the movie on one disc and endless dissection and observations about both, plus some decent making-of features add up to a great release that fans of the film will undoubtedly savour. Dark City still has that unique quality that intrigues and sets the brain ticking. It slyly mixes the haunting with the intellectual, forties noir and gothic overtones with dimension-expanding, genre-bending excess and becomes a lingering mind-warp of a movie that benefits from return trips every time. Definitely recommended.

    Dark City - Director

    The Rundown

    Movie

    8

    Picture Quality

    8

    Sound Quality

    9

    Extras

    8

    Overall

    8

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
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