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Ebert Speaks Up Again for DARK CITY (1998)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 03, 2008 • 1 Comment

ebertOne of the new special features for the upcoming Director’s Cut DVD of Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998) due on July 29th, 2008 is a brand new audio commentary track by Roger Ebert. Whether he recorded at the same time before the first DVD was released on July 1998 or sometime again before 2005 when Ebert had surgery on his salivary gland. The operation was botched when his carotid artery burst, leaving him in intensive care for over a year, and costing him his ability to speak.

At that time, I was devastated to learn this because Ebert was one of my heroes whose prose encouraged me to broaden my horizons with his recommended films and books and occasional insights into human nature. The man also delivered some of the most informed and entertaining commentary tracks for films he has spent years championing such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb (1995), Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959), and Russ (Mammary-Fanatic) Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which Ebert also penned. Ebert’s easy conversational tone along with his exceptional vocabulary and wit made the commentaries a singular pleasure.

Last January, Ebert’s latest attempt to fix his voice had failed. He is resolute to continue writing film reviews at rogerebert.com for the time being. Let’s face it; however wrong I hope I am that Ebert may never get his voice back. And then, like a plum from heaven, I find out that Ebert had a new commentary track New Line has been holding back. Ebert, back in 1999, recorded his first track for the theatrically released Dark City, which he called “the best movie of 1998” and “an important landmark in the genre of science fiction film.” Instead of rehashing the old commentary track over the fifteen-minutes extra director’s cut, I figure Ebert was commissioned to record a new one.

The film Dark City is so compulsively watchable that I must have seen it at least two dozen times by now. This gothic gem of film noir is a real triumph of visceral and cerebral entertainment. July 29th can’t come any sooner for me. I am ecstatic to finally listen to Ebert again, though I can’t help but recognize how saddened I’ll be once the track comes to an end. At least I can hear him when I read his wonderful prose a la the written word.

Ebert’s Dark City review from his Great Movies archive

Siskel and Ebert on Dark City

Roger Ebert on “Dark City” (47 sec.)

UPDATE (August 2, 2008):

Is Ebert’s new commentary on the director’s cut of Dark City different from the original DVD? Yes and no. When Ebert recorded his commentary for the July 1998 DVD release of Dark City, he did retakes and talked more specifically about other aspects of the production. He was also talked at length about the director’s cut shown to him a decade before it was made available to the public.

ebert2There are subtle changes between the two tracks. For example, Ebert notes in the scene where John Murdoch throws the K.H. suitcase over the dock into a river that the visuals reminded him of the watercolours by British architect Sir John Soane. “You can visit Sir John Soane’s museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London and see models and paintings for many of his works. But what you can especially see in the art room of that museum are paintings in which he has imaginary landscapes filled with many of his buildings, both those that were built and those that were never built. And there kind of a raid above each other on hillsides like Roman Capitals of the Imagination.”

That was the first DVD. In the director’s cut, he compares the visuals to the warped sketchings of cityscapes by Robert Crumb. Both of these tracks are a great listen! I can’t help but become so infectious about filmmaking when listening to Ebert championing a great movie. I succinctly remember listening to the first commentary track when I was fifteen years old and Ebert made a great impression on me. It was like a meeting of the minds and discovering a friend who loved the movies as much as I did. I read reviews by him and other film critics more fervently after that. And here I am.

“Dark City” (1997) Trailer

darkcity

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  • Gidget

    What a wonderful tribute to one of my favourite critics. Like Julie Andrews losing her own voice, this is a similar tragedy. I grew watching ‘At the Movies’ in the late 70s and mourned when Siskel died. I hope Ebert will be with us a long time, even if he cannot speak. His writing is sharp and surgically precise — so he will still be heard.