Dark City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 displays. While not a bad picture, the transfer showed its age.
Sharpness varied but usually appeared adequate. Much of the film looked reasonably crisp and well defined, but a number of shots came across as soft and fuzzy. These weren’t extreme, but they appeared noticeable.
Light but persistent edge haloes added to these tendencies, but jaggies and shimmering weren’t a concern. As for print flaws, I saw a few specks and marks but nothing significant.
Colors looked erratic. The movie opted for a restricted palette that favored browns much of the time, though blues came through in a few shots. The tones looked somewhat bland and drab – more than intended, that is.
Black levels seemed fairly inky. Shadow detail demonstrated acceptable clarity in low-light sequences, but the movie occasionally was a bit hazy. Ultimately, the image was perfectly watchable but not especially good.
I felt more pleased with the movie’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, though it didn’t dazzle. The mix emphasized the forward channels, where we got good stereo music and a nice sense of place. Various elements moved across the front smoothly and fit together well.
Surround usage added a bit of material but not much that stood out from the crowd. The back channels tended to contribute ambience and not much more, so they fleshed out the spectrum without much stand-out material. Still, the surrounds gave us a decent layer of environmental information.
Audio quality was fine. The movie suffered from some iffy looping, but the lines remained intelligible and they sounded reasonably natural much of the time.
Music appeared vivid and full, while effects showed nice range. Those elements came across as fairly accurate and concise. This ended up as a reasonably satisfactory mix.
Two audio commentaries appear here, and the first involves writers Lem Dobbs & David Goyer, director of photography Dariucz Wolski & production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. Recorded individually for this edited, occasionally screen-specific piece, we learn about story/characters/themes, cast and performances, sets and production design, effects, music, editing and cinematography, and connected domains.
Some people don’t like this kind of edited “Frankencommentary”, but when done well, the format succeeds, and this track comes across in a very satisfying manner. We get a great array of notes and insights, as the participants flesh out different elements in a compelling way. The commentary keeps us informed and involved from start to finish.
For the second commentary, we hear from film critic Roger Ebert. He brings a running, screen-specific view of story/character areas, visual design, influences, themes and inspirations, performances, cinematography and interpretation.
Ebert clearly knew his stuff, so he gives us a fine examination of various aspects of Dark City. He provides nice insights and allows us to better understand different cinematic techniques. Expect an engaging, useful discussion.
In addition, City offers a fair amount of text information. An essay from comic book writer Neil Gaiman contains some interesting observations.
Since Dark City shares some commonalities with silent classic Metropolis, a historical essay discusses that film. We also see two negative reviews that greeted the initial release of Metropolis, one from no less an authority than H.G. Wells. This adds to the package.
Another section displays 15 set design drawings for the film, and we also see the movie's theatrical trailer. There are some good ; scenes from Lost In Space and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me can be found in this section within the bios for William Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland, respectively.
Last - and least - is an "interactive game" called To Shell Beach. After you go on a "wild icon chase" through all the supplements, if you click when you're supposed to do so, you'll eventually get to see a brief - and lame - cut and paste animation that semi-recreates a couple of moments from the film. Try it if you must, but be warned: it's not worth the effort.
Clever and exciting, Dark City develops a rich universe that maintains the viewer’s attention. The movie explores its themes and conceits in a satisfying, compelling manner. The DVD provides erratic visuals along with good audio and a set of supplements highlighted by two separate audio commentaries. Dark City delivers a winner.