Before The Matrix there was Dark City

I grabbed this DVD years ago, about ten years ago, thinking it looked like an interesting horror movie, and it got Kiefer Sutherland in it, an actor I like. When I got home and watched it for the first time, I was blown away by how good and beautiful and original it was.

Dark City (1998) is a very noir sci-fi mystery, a stunning production directed by Alex Proyas, who also directed the Will Smith blockbuster I, Robot (2004).

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I also remember that exhilaration was mixed with shock, and a festering disappointment, which were not directed at it but at another movie, The Matrix (1999), which I then realized wasn’t so original after all. I felt deceived, as silly as that sounds, because I was such a huge fan of The Matrix. I still am. It’s still very entertaining.

There are so many movies out there that are under-appreciated, that slip under the radar for whatever reason, and are not celebrated as much as they deserve to be. Dark City is like the epitome of that when it was first released, and that was really unfortunate because it’s so damn good. Furthermore, there is only a year’s difference between the releases of Dark City and The Matrix. How the latter could be such a massive hit without anyone raising a substantial voice back then that it was so strikingly similar to Dark City, I’ll never understand.

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The Matrix is more slick and stylish, and I’m still a fan of it. But watching Dark City again, I still feel that it is the better movie, with more heart and spirit. It feels more raw and gritty. I just feel bad for it that so much praise and credit went to The Matrix, when much more of that should have gone to it instead.

Anyway, here’s a video by YouTube user Clara Darko comparing the two films.

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Roger Ebert’s reviews.

It pleases me to read only just now how the late great reviewer Roger Ebert praised Dark City very highly in this 1998 review. So highly that he gave it his maximum of 4 stars. And as for The Matrix which he gave 3 stars, Roger’s review for it indicated he didn’t like it as much, and in fact he kept bringing up Dark City, haha! He matter-of-factly stated that The Matrixrecycles the premises of Dark City and Strange Days (1995)”, and overall the review indicated (to me) that he thought Dark City was the better movie. Ah, how I wish I had read these reviews when they first came out, so I could have discovered Dark City first before The Matrix.

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Related: Interesting articles discussing the similarities of the two films:

  • Retrojunk: ‘Dark City vs. The Matrix’.
  • ElectroLund: Matrix City: A Photographic Comparison of The Matrix and Dark City

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Day 31 of ‘100 Happy Days‘.

Happy meter: exhilarated

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15 thoughts on “Before The Matrix there was Dark City

  1. Dark City slipped under my radar. I’ve never heard of it but I’m a fan of Kiefer Sutherland too. Thanks for introducing it and I”ll be sure to look it up some time. It’ll be interesting to see all the ideas the Matrix borrowed from it.

    • It totally slipped under mine too! Until I just randomly picked it up at a DVD store. What was really weird was that Dark City wasn’t some B-grade or indie movie that couldn’t get proper mass marketing. It’s a breathtaking production that I hope will reach classic status, if not already. I mean it even got 4 stars from the late Roger Ebert. And yet somehow it seems the masses were just not let known of its existence. It’s very curious to me. There must had been thousands of other reviews and articles about The Matrix when that first came out and years later, but the link to Dark City was apparently not indicated by the journalists who wrote them, because so many people seem to not have heard of the latter.

  2. Thanks for the link back!

    I too love Dark City a bit more than Matrix. I recently re-watched too, on Bluray. Stunning movie and holds up very well.

    On the Bluray, there’s a version of the film with Roger Ebert giving a lecture during the entirety. Check it out!

    • Oh you’re welcome, thanks for the interesting article in the first place. I really enjoyed reading it.

      To be honest I’ve never watched anything on Bluray till now, haha! But now I have reason to. I’m a fan of Roger Ebert, and that’s really fascinating that he gave a commentary for Dark City. Wow, I never heard of him doing that. Usually it’s the director, I believe. Roger must had really liked the movie. I’m impressed for Dark City. Definitely something to check out.

      Thanks for the info, ElectroLund!

        • It’s great to hear from another fan of Kiefer Sutherland, he is such a good and compelling actor! I’m not so familiar with Rufus Sewell’s work but yes I can think of some other actors who always seem to get the wicked roles, I guess also because they are so wonderfully good at them haha.

  3. Was the version of DC you bought spoiled at the beginning? I wanted to show it to a friend. I rented it and in a prologue at the beginning they gave the big reveal. I was so pissed. The surprise is everything.

    BTW, have you ever seen Ghost In The Shell? It predates both. And there’s a series of books called Ring (yes, the one which inspired the movie), Rasen, and Loop. They’re connected to each other and, without giving it, away relevant to your post. The third one is fantastic.

    • I don’t remember. I don’t think so though! Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention and it zipped by me. But that’s terrible about the reveal. I would be pissed too.

      After reading your mention of Ghost In The Shell, I have been checking out some short video clips of it on YouTube. It looks really interesting. And I’m intrigued by the books you mentioned. Thanks for recommending them.

    • I checked, yes it was the prologue narrated by Dr. Schreber! Now that you mentioned it, I agree, it can certainly reveal some of the ending. I wonder why it’s there.

      I didn’t realize it earlier. I guess by the time it got to the actual related scenes, I had already forgotten what was mentioned in the prologue. Thanks for bringing it up!

    • I have no idea, and I think it’s strange it’s not because it’s an excellent film, plus there were famous names to make up its cast. I was thinking maybe the marketing and promotion didn’t do it justice when it was first released. However, the release of The Matrix should have pulled it more into prominence, since there were similarities. So yes, it’s strange to me, and such a pity.

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