Shadowvision: “DARK CITY”
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
Outside of horror and sci-fi, the other genre that inspired an interest in revisiting modern cinema in black-and-white was neo-noir. When specifically emulating stylistic flourishes, modern filmmakers approach these genres with studied appreciation, something impossible to hide in black-and-white. So, of course, any combination of noir, sci-fi and horror makes for an especially interesting re-examination, especially when considering the weird territories that the narratives are willing to get into.
It also helps, ethically speaking, that fans of the cult classic DARK CITY have been altering the way they’ve viewed the movie ever since its VHS release. Between viewing the film with muted narration and making fan-cut edits circulating around the internet, removing the color from the picture seemed like a less egregious offense. Plus, considering the excellent art direction and industrial production design in the film, DARK CITY almost feels constructed for an engaging and comfortable black-and-white translation.
In terms of any visual enhancement for a correct monochrome experience, there does need to be a moderate increase in contrast despite a lighting structure that accentuates the shadows. Because of the film’s green-tinted color scheme, the grays are extraordinarily dark during the “outdoors” scenes, which requires about a 25% contrast increase to pull of the authentic black-and-white look. For an extra dose of nostalgia, slightly ramp up the brightness as well to add more depth in the darker areas of the frame.
DARK CITY follows an amnesiac who wakes up unsure of his identity and possibly framed for murder. Who framed him and why leads to a much larger, supernatural underworld, from which his only ally is a scarred, neurotic scientist. Implementing elements of old-school crime films, strange sci-fi and creepy horror, DARK CITY manages to be both intriguing and astonishing at the same time, much like THE TWILIGHT ZONE. In fact, few cinematic locations have been realized with such delicacy and confidence while sporting such a straightforward plot as the titular metropolis.
Director Alex Proyas’ influences are markedly more apparent in here, as visual cues from Fritz Lang’s M and Jean-Luc Godard’s ALPHAVILLE become much more striking, while the language of the film bounces between modern philosophy and a noir-era vernacular. Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography feels even more mysterious and unsettling in black-and-white, appearing slick enough to be modern but inspired enough to feel vaguely classical. In fact, the dichotomy between George Liddle and Patrick Tatopoulos’s METROPOLIS-inspired underworld and the CASABLANCA-inspired interiors gives even more incentive to watch the film without color.
The performances in the film do vary in terms of their effectiveness when viewed in black-and-white. While Rufus Sewell and Jennifer Connelly are relatively similar to their color counterparts, William Hurt feels more appropriate for noir, from his speech pattern to his nuanced body language. Kiefer Sutherland, Ian Richardson and Richard O’Brien all feel stripped from a ’60s sci-fi picture, as they all play their roles flamboyantly, yet with admirable devotion. It may actually be the small role portrayed by Melissa George that most benefits the conversion, as her vocal tone, pale skin and pin-up beauty is perfectly suited for a monochrome genre film.
I’d recommend fans of DARK CITY check out the film in black-and-white at once. Without color, the scares are moodier, the sets are less anachronistic and Proyas’ solid story is all the more mysterious. Most importantly, the tone of the film lends itself to a monochrome presentation, therefore elevating all aspects, from art to acting to direction, when watched without understated colors in every scene.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Yes.