Review: Dark City (1998)

Composer: Trevor Jones

Label: TVT Soundtrax

Catalogue Nr.: SMMCD 615


One of the darkest films of the 90's was Alex Proyas' vision of a city where night never ends. An Alien race with a strong collective mind and supernatural powers use the city as an isolated cage to conduct mind experiments on the unknowing inhabitants to look for the one thing that makes us the human individuals we are. One day (or better saying 'night'), a man awakes from his trance of ignorance and discovers that something is seriously wrong with the city - and himself. That plot almost sounds a bit like The Matrix (1999) with an artificial world being built by a powerful force to control us human beings but where The Matrix (1999) went for a high-tech scenario, Dark City remains entirely retro with an environment from the 20's and a tight atmosphere that is almost film noir. Even though the film benefits from many good aspects such as strong acting and a gorgeous Jennifer Connelly, it was probably a tad too weird for critics and audience resulting in devastating reviews and box office response. Really sad since Dark City is one of those original concepts that make sci-fi so interesting.

The score:

Trevor Jones seemed to be the perfect choice as the composer of music that would be dark and schizophrenic enough for Proyas' cinematic nightmare since the composer started his fruitful career with the equally dark Jim Henson puppet tale The Dark Crystal (1982). His sense for memorable themes was certainly not the focus of interest when he got the assignment for this movie because his contribution is mainly limited to a indistinguishably dark musical carpet made of synthesized sounds, synthesized choir and lurking strings to support the atmosphere of depression, threat and schizophrenia in the city where the night never ends. There are moments when he tried to provide a signature, most notably for the weird race of strangers and their experiments, which results in two sparsely used themes: One is a gothic and terrifying statement for the strangers that can be seen as the main theme which carries some sort of 'Dracula' feeling. The other is a dark secondary 7-note statement which somehow reminds me of the bridge from Alan Silvestri's main theme for Back To The Future (1985).

Both themes are presented in the opening cue when the camera moves "Into The City". It starts with lurking strings and a dark synth-choir, goes into a subtle statement of the secondary 7-note motif performed by something that sounds like an ondes martendot (certainly just a clever synth creation instead of the real thing) before the gothic main theme receives a pounding and full orchestral statement. The menacing synth choir continues accompanied by the synth-ondes effect and builds up to a full orchestral statement of the secondary theme when the camera fades to the main character and rises to a loud and percussive clash. The cue continues with an eventless dark carpet of calm vibes and synth drum effects that has been radically shortened compared to the film version before the main theme explodes again when the strangers appear for the first time. Next one is the action cue "No More Mr. Quick" for the first mind-fight between the strangers and the main character. The first half is nervous and chaotic with synth drum loops and quick strikes for strings and brass which descends into a passage for dark synth choir.

Depressive tones for guitar and first hints of the love theme for flute appear at the beginning and end of "Emma" while the middle section of the cue drags with rather quiet and uninteresting synth experimentation. "The Strangers Are Tuning" is a big and very grim orchestral workout that can be seen as a highlight. It begins with dark brass accompanied by clashes of synth drums and develops into a terrifying march with militaristic drums and big menacing brass fanfares. "Memories of Shell Beach" is a piece of loneliness and isolation that starts with a calm and relaxing variation of the secondary 7-note theme for the faked ondes accompanied by calm but somewhat edgy strings. The second half of the cue is dominated by depressive strings and a distant accordion at one moment which creates a feeling of loneliness. "The Wall" is a short statement of the gothic main theme followed by some nervous string stuff while "Living An Illusion" is yet another irrelevant cue with that dark brooding musical carpet that achieves much more in the film than on CD.

The best cue has yet to come with "You Have The Power" - a lengthy cue of 12 minutes that starts with an action workout featuring the gothic main theme for the final fight between the main character and the strangers which starts quite thrilling but quickly changes to noise deranged by overblown synth effects. The part that comes now is much more interesting with a synth-free and overwhelming orchestral resolution that takes the motives of the score and turns them into a beautiful experience. Especially the romantic rendition of the secondary theme for strings that goes into the love theme near the end of the cue is certainly a highlight of thematic development that comes too late on CD but right at the heart in the film.



Score as heard in the film: 67%

Score as heard on CD: 50%

TOTAL: 59%


The presentation:

Six songs were dumped at the beginning of the CD with the two pseudo-Bond songs "Sway" and "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" performed by Anita Kelsey being the more enjoyable selections and these two are the only songs that actually appear in the film during two bar scenes. The rest of the songs are some poor metal songs that are better quickly forgotten. Trevor Jones' material comes down to 36 minutes and even though most of the score consists of brooding underscore in the film, there is still some noteworthy material left unreleased such as the kiss between the main characters Emma and John, the boat drive scene and John's search for his uncle. By far not the best presentation of a Jones score and luckily, there is a recording sessions bootleg for hardcore fans who don't want to miss the better unreleased moments.

Presentation by the Label: 34%



Calling Trevor Jones' music for Dark City a dark effort almost seems like an understatement given the murky nature of the score. The majority of music from the score is like a carpet of subtle and very dark effects that sets the mood in the film quite nicely but falls flat on CD. There is thematic material but it suffers from the lack of stronger development. Whenever the orchestra is rising or an action cue takes off it is accompanied by some disturbing synth effects that muffle the otherwise good orchestral recording. The last 6 minutes offer some great development but that alone can't really salvage the score. A lengthier presentation in chronological order could have helped since there is a subtle but emotional thematic development for the romantic sub-plot that does not really reveal itself on the messed album which, once again, suffers from a selection of mainly unrelated songs that range from mediocre to utterly terrible.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



01. Sway (03:44)
02. The Information (04:27)
03. Just A Touch Away (05:03)
04. Dark (04:29)
05. Sleep Now (02:02)
06. The Night Has A Thousand Eyes (03:31)
07. Into The City (04:48)
08. No More Mr. Quick (03:25)
09. Emma (03:40)
10. The Strangers Are Tuning (03:56)
11. Memories Of Shell Beach (04:38)
12. The Wall (01:17)
13. Living An Illusion (02:57)
14. You Have The Power (12:14)