Alex Proyas’s 1998 movie Dark City is the kind of film where this headline either made you sit up and pay attention, or you have no idea what I’m talking about. It was released at a time when they only movie anyone was watching was still Titanic, and Proyas’s vision was muddled by studio demands. But underneath that muddle is a gorgeous SF film, Kafkaesque and noir-adjacent, in which one man (Rufus Sewell) tries to understand his baffling world—a city where it’s always night, and no one knows how to leave.
Proyas released a director’s cut of Dark City in 2008, but now he may be looking to expand its world once again. In a recent Q&A, the director said, “Dark City right now is really an intriguing one to me because we’re developing a series, a Dark City series.”
Proyas gives no hints about what such a series might focus on, or how it may or may not connect to his recent short film, “Mask of the Evil Apparition,” which is also set in the Dark City universe. But this is a rare care where something like an origin story might actually be fascinating.
The world in Dark City is run by a group of aliens called the Strangers. They have a hive mind, and are experimenting on humanity, studying our individuality, with the help of one human doctor (Kiefer Sutherland). The setup suggests a million questions that don’t need answering within the framework of the movie, but could be explored in a series that looks at the creation of this wild experiment. How did the aliens get the people? How did they build the city? How did they develop the ability to “tune,” as their world-shifting power is called? How is the help of one man enough to teach them enough about people to concoct the false memories they implant in humans every night? How does any of it work?
Proyas could start at the beginning—or at the end. Dark City sets its humans free from alien influence, but what they do next is exactly the kind of story I always want more of. How do you rebuild when you don’t really know who you are? How do individuals and society—whatever that means in this case—recover? What do you do with your nightmarish, ever-shifting city now that it holds still? What happens when people stop being brainwashed, and start getting real?
What wouldn’t make a ton of sense is to revisit the city under the control of the Strangers. They reset the city every night, wiping everyone’s stories, and so you’d be stuck with something very like Dark City, where one person remembers his life and has to try to figure out what’s going on in a finite amount of time.
I don’t know that I want every secret of Dark City explained. But a return to that world is intriguing—far more so than much of what Proyas has done in recent years. In the early ’90s, he shifted from music videos to the iconic film The Crow, following that with Dark City. But his last two films were the unfortunate Gods of Egypt and Knowing, neither of which were particularly well received.
Proyas’s “Mask of the Evil Apparition” is currently streaming as part of the Popcorn Frights Festival.