Exclusive: Underrated Alex Proyas Talks Dark City, Dracula Year Zero

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For months all of us here at Techland have debated the five most underrated sci-fi movie masterpieces, and now the filmmakers are taking the time to respond. (Next up: Getting all those spaceship designers to respond to our top 10 vessels of all time) This is the first in (at least) a three-part series of Q&As with the creators behind our underrated gems:

Alex Proyas’s Dark City is a masterpiece rooted in mystery. We’re dropped into a foreign futuristic landscape, and learn the governing rules as we go. It’s sci-fi less presented to the viewer on a platter than developed from the inside-out. And the film established a young filmmaker by the name of Proyas as one of the sci-fi visionaries of his generation.

So imagine his dismay when the studio saw the first cut of his futuristic metropolis and not only decided to market the whole thing as a horror film – which it most certainly was not – but also mandated an opening monologue that stated explicitly all the facts and dynamics behind its allure. The mystery was strained out in the opening seconds. Dark City was doomed…

…That is, until Proyas was able to return to the project via a DVD director’s cut, able to resurrect – in true Blade Runner fashion – his original vision. Proyas was so excited about his inclusion on Techland’s underrated roster that he gave us a ring from Australia:

Did you fight to finally get the chance to restore your original vision in a director’s cut?

Well, it was quite a bit later, ten years, and there wasn’t much of a budget. But New Line basically decided that there was enough of a cult following to give us a chance to do it. So for 18 months, I was bouncing back and forth between Australia and L.A. on some other kind of business – there was always some other studio financing my trips – and I would stop in to see how the sound mixing and editing was going. And scene by scene, that original movie came back to life.

What was it like, to venture back into that world after so much time had passed? Did you have any favorite additions, that you were able to slip back in?

God I love that film. Once I started getting back into it, looking at the scenes I had to ditch along the way, I really thought it was a better movie. I remembered that original movie I wanted to make.

It was quite exciting, almost felt like I was revitalizing something that was kind of lost in the first place. Most obvious is that we eliminated the narration at the beginning, that was perhaps the most conspicuous change. Originally, the movie tested very poorly when we first started showing it, and it seemed as if audiences weren’t getting it. People didn’t understand what was going on, with the clocks stopping at midnight in this world where the sun never rises, but that was actually my intention. The idea of the movie was that it requires a certain amount of patience and test audiences aren’t renowned for that level of patience.

Other than that, it was a lot of smaller details that we added back in, a line here and a look there. Little things that had a very big impact. There’s this little moment where the hero looks at his fingerprints while he’s standing under the street light, and he sees that his fingerprints are actually spiraled shaped, and it’s the tiniest details like that, these really creepy moments, that are my favorite. It’s not so much that these are big plot points but rather that they lead you to feel the difference in the weight and depth of this movie. It just moves differently. It was actually a very interesting education in the terms of how you can subtly change a film but create an entirely different experience.

(More on Techland: See the best sci-fi characters of the decade)

Why did you have to take all these moments out to begin with?

Well I begrudgingly agreed. At that stage in my career, I was a younger filmmaker and they were able to badger me into doing what wasn’t right. And I thought it might actually benefit the movie, to make it simpler. And unfortunately, I went along with it. It was all about speeding the movie up, which of course leaves you unable to be very mysterious or subtle. But I kind of regretted it even at the time, and now I would never make the same mistake again, to alter the entire pacing of a story.

Why do you think it was underrated or overlooked by so many, even as someone like Roger Ebert was hailing it as the best movie of the year?

Well, what happened to us was that the film was marketed essentially as a horror movie, and it was kind of dumped into theaters and people at the studio didn’t know what to make of it….(continued on next page)

(More on Techland: The best sci-fi films of the decade)

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