Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Do you know the way to Shell Beach?

I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of the Dark City Director's Cut DVD in the mail. The 1998 sci-fi noir film directed by Alex Proyas received a much-needed special edition treatment that was released last week. The most anticipated special feature is the director's cut itself (11 minutes longer than the theatrical cut), which removes the opening voiceover narration (echoes of the Blade Runner), adds additional scenes, and other subtle changes. I read that some of the visual "tuning" effects are actually toned down, which is somewhat curious. One purely cosmetic change I'm hoping for is the removal of a blatant safety cable when John Murdoch is hanging off the side of a building. I'm not usually one to notice these sort of IMDb goofs, but I distinctly remember seeing that huge black cable in the theatre and it bugs me endlessly.

The original DVD release had an atrocious, ill-conceived Find Shell Beach interactive "game" that had the lamest payoff imaginable, a cheesy "animated" re-enactment of the film's finale (notice all these quotation marks I'm using). Another dubious special feature on that release: Neil Gaiman on Dark City, basically a glorified blurb. The new DVD contains two retrospective featurettes of substantial length and three audio commentaries from Alex Proyas, co-screenwriters David Goyer (Batman Begins) and Lem Dobbs, and Roger Ebert.

When Dark City originally came out, our local newspaper's entertainment section had a full-page splash with a 4-star review from Roger Ebert. This prompted me to see the film, which I hadn't even heard of prior to that day, one of the earliest times I remember actually being swayed to see a movie solely on its review. Since then, Ebert has become one of my "trusted reviewers", someone who is mostly right, sometimes wrong, but always writes a compelling review one way or the other (uh, one notoriously insane exception: Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties). The AV Club also falls in this category and most recently, I've added the entertaining Filmspotting podcast to it. It certainly says something positive about film criticism in the Windy City that Filmspotting, the AV Club, and Ebert are all based in Chicago.

From the get-go, Ebert was a major champion of the Dark City, eventually adding it to his pantheon Great Movies and including it as part of his annual Overlooked Film Festival in 2000. At the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, Ebert annually hosts an event (these last 2 years excepted due to his prolonged illness) called Cinema Interruptus, in which a film is dissected nearly frame-by-frame for 8 hours over the course of 4 days. Dark City was put through this extensive analysis one year and this informs Ebert's great commentary contained on the original Dark City DVD release. There are conflicting reports as to whether the new DVD release contains a completely new Ebert commentary (obviously recorded before his illness) or if it's a carry-over. At the very least, he seems to have expanded on the original commentary for the new footage.

All this and I haven't even really mentioned much about the film itself. If you haven't seen it, honestly I think it's best to go in cold turkey knowing as little about the plot as possible, like the protagonist John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who awakes in a bathtub with no memory and a dead body in the other room. That's all you need to know, though there is that somewhat painful introductory voiceover from Dr. Schreber (wonderfully played by Kiefer Sutherland) to kick off the film, which I'm excited to see excised in the new cut.

Jennifer Connelly plays John's wife, Emma, a lounge singer who's strikingly introduced singing the song Sway, which in the theatrical cut was actually sung by Anita Kelsey. One of the changes in the Director's Cut is restoring Connelly's original vocals, for better or worse we'll soon find out. Yes, all this preamble about Dark City was just to post some Sway covers... and this was supposed to be a small post.

Anita Kelsey - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
This version was my initial introduction to the song, as usual finding out it was a cover much later. Originally Sway was a 1953 mambo song ¿Quién será? by Pablo Beltrán Ruiz before Norman Gimbel wrote English lyrics and it became a hit for Dean Martin.

Dean Martin & Julie London - Sway [Remix]
This surprisingly decent remix is from the generic looking Electro Lounge album of remixes, combining Dean Martin and Julie London's vocals from separate versions of the song.

Bobby Rydell - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
A 1960 hit cover by teen idol Bobby Rydell with an amusing chorus of back-up singers.

Michael Bublé - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
Probably my favourite arrangement of Sway.

The Puppini Sisters - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
From the Andrews Sisters revivalists.

The Pussycat Dolls - Sway [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
Likely the last time you'll be hearing the Pussycat Dolls on here... a slick but decent cover.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar - Í dansi með þér [originally popularized by Dean Martin]
This Icelandic jazz cover is an early Björk release from 1990's Gling-Gló, an album of jazz standards that predates her 1993 solo album Debut. I'm not exactly a Björk follower, so I was surprised to learn that her first album, which contains an Icelandic cover of Fool on the Hill, was recorded and released when she was 11 years old in 1977! Now that sounds like a cover to track down.


Trevor said...

If you'd like, I can hook you up with a copy of that Fool On A Hill cover. It's pretty fun.

Fongolia said...

Thanks, but I did manage to get a hold of it!