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By Joshua Smith

Dark City - An Australian Perspective
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: September 2, 1998

This year, Australian audiences were presented with a vision far darker, far more morbid, and far more challenging than most films produced in this great dry land. A film that opened to fanfare around the world, while gaining official selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival. A film that obscures the fine line between fantasy and reality, between science fiction and film noir, between popular culture and high art. That film was Dark City (1998), a motion picture produced, directed and co-written by Australia's own king of the high-class genre film, Alex Proyas.

Dark City was entirely shot in Sydney during the past two years. The majority of the production's sets (there were apparently 50 large sets in all) were built on the site that officially became, earlier this year, Fox Studios Sydney.

Since the film's diegesis is a complex blend of eras past, present and future, many of which morph together in a disjointed melange of time and space, established locations could not be used for any of the city scenes. In fact, as co-producer Andrew Mason stated in a recent Cinema Papers interview (May, 1998), only one exterior location scene was used - that being one of Sydney's more deserted beaches. The aesthetic differences between the over-exposed Shell Beach scene and the brooding, melancholy color saturation of the city scenes provide some of the film's most dramatic and poignant juxtapositions, especially in the flashback sequences.

While absorbing the visual and narrative splendour of the film, one aspect of the film's production provides more interest than any other. Not since Ridley Scott's Blade Runner has a science fiction film's production design conveyed so much essential, subtextual detail as that present in Dark City. Designed by a talented team of Australian and international artists, led by Patrick Tatopoulos, whose previous work includes Independence Day (1996), every minute detail that constitutes the city has been constructed after intense consideration. Since the film's prevalent themes deal with discovering what it is that makes a human human, and with concepts of time and memory, the world with which we are presented has been constructed, by the film's main antagonists - The Strangers, from people's chaotic memories. As such, the reality presented in Dark City has a surreal, dreamlike quality, with only specific details being included. Peoples' differing memories also lead to the city's constant morphing as The Strangers trade memories between people.

The film isn't considered by many to be an Australian film, since it was funded by major American production studios and distributors. However, Alex Proyas' autonomous position as writer/director/producer, in addition to the presence of a number of staple actors of the Australian film industry such as Colin Friels, Bruce Spence and Home and Away's Melissa George, and considering that the film was shot in Sydney, employing a large contingency of Australian crew members, would tend to suggest that this is one of our own. And one for which we can marvel over proudly.

Alex Proyas, Australia salutes you!

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