A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is brief female nudity in a subplot about a helpful prostitute/single mother, though no sex results. She gets murdered for her troubles in helping out the hero, and there are several bloodied corpses plus fantasy violence in which zombie-like beings are decapitated or smashed. The nightmare imagery, recalling ghosts, vampires, and zombies (but with a sci-fi explanation) can be unnerving to sensitive viewers. A "director's cut" DVD lacks the opening narration that explains much of the complicated setup; some viewers might find this non-narrated version confusing.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
As with Blade Runner, DARK CITY exists in versions both with and without opening narration to cue the viewer on what in the world (or out of this world) is going on. In a nameless city of endless night, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in bloody bathtub water in a seedy hotel room, where it appears he's just committed the latest in a string of murders of prostitutes. But he has no memory, just a cryptic phone message from sinister Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) to sustain him as the police close in. It seems that the city is secretly controlled by "the strangers," a telepathic army of gaunt, sunlight-shunning Men in Black, who manipulate memories and cityscapes, constantly altering the city in experiments on the human race. But John Murdoch mystifies them because he seems immune to their control. Thus, he becomes a target of the strangers.
Is it any good?
The way Dark City fuses science fiction with classic film-noir detective imagery and Kafka-esque fantasy-allegory is stylish and boldly visionary. It’s definitely not your straightforward actioner of alien abduction. When outstanding computer-graphics effects show the Gotham-like city sprouting and growing out of the ground, it's not just f/x eye candy, it's key to the plot -- a concept rather similar to The Matrix ("reality" is a sham, manipulated by hostile forces) but wrapped up neatly, in one movie, not three, and without distracting kung-fu battles as a metaphor for the human spirit.
In fact, underneath its moody, cosmic-gothic ambiance, Dark City is unusually optimistic in suggesting that Earth people have something inherently precious, an inner grace that would baffle and defeat even creatures as super-powered as the strangers. One more unusual and praiseworthy touch: the script avoids swear words altogether. With a premise as far-out as this one, profanity would hardly have brought in "realism."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the motivations and actions of "the strangers." The movie never tells us how the Dark City came to be created or humans arrived there. Ask kids if they don't mind that such details are left to the imagination. Do they like this cerebral head trip as much as the more action-focused The Matrix or not, and why?
- In theaters: August 19, 1998
- On DVD or streaming: July 29, 2008
- Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Richard O'Brien, Rufus Sewell, William Hurt
- Director: Alex Proyas
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violent images and some sexuality
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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