Matrix City: A Photographic Comparison of The Matrix and Dark City

Leave it to comic books and American noir to spark an international dialog.

By now, everyone has either seen or heard of The Matrix trilogy. Not as many people have seen Dark City, though the two share some striking similarities. Both are stunning achievements in modern science fiction and thematically alike. Though Alex Proyas’ beautiful Dark City came first, the Wachowski Brother’s Matrix that stole the show a year later.

Is the latter a cheap imitation of the former? Even the brothers themselves have admitted to borrowing heavily from a wide canvass of inspiration: Japanese anime, Kung Fu action movies, and comic books to say the least. But in the grander scheme of things, there’s really nothing new under the sun. I prefer to look at the two for what they are: great escapist entertainment, original or not. Whatever your opinion, it’s no less fascinating to examine both films more closely under a cinematographer’s magnifying glass.

Bill Pope is responsible for shooting The Matrix, as well as all its sequels. He was on board with the Wachowski’s for their first, Bound. He’s also done both of Sam Raimi’s comically brilliant Darkman and Army of Darkness. It’s clear that this guy has developed a quintessential comic book look, crucial for the success of a film of The Matrix‘s caliber. Similarly, Dark City DP Dariusz Wolski has done Romeo Is Bleeding, Crimson Tide, and The Crow, all containing a distinctive visual flair, though not primarily comic book.

Two industrious foreign readers, Jorge Morales and Vincent Jaubert, have contributed wonderful frame-by-frame analyses of these two films. Latino Jorge Morales has taken a slightly more hostile view of The Matrix‘s similarities to Dark City. Meanwhile, Frenchman Vincent Jaubert is more praiseworthy of both films’ imaginations. All text is their own.

Disclaimer: Obviously, all the images on the following pages are either the property of Warner Brothers (The Matrix) or New Line Cinema (Dark City). All following text is copyrighted by its respective author (I have made a stab at translating the original text from Spanish and French for your convenience). Their images are divided with Dark City on the left and The Matrix on the right.


Comparison #1

The difference between the original and a good plagiarism is that this one lacks all merit.
by Jorge Morales, © 2002

The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999) is, in nearly all aspects, a plagiarism of Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998). The photography, the atmosphere, the coloration, the illumination. Everything has been copied with impudence, even in specific details like props and camera angles. But while The Matrix has seen much more success, Dark City went all but unnoticed. The following labor of love attempts nothing more than to display the similarities between them. If you have the two films on hand, I recommend an interesting experiment: watch Dark City first and then The Matrix. Bear in mind that only a year separates the two productions. But if you do not have both films, below is a detailed look at 30 captured frames. In each image, a frame from Dark City appears at left, while the corresponding one from The Matrix at right. These are only some of the suspicious coincidences that exist between both films. In fact there are many more, but these will give you a good idea.


Comparison #2

Though The Matrix is a great film in it’s own right, it’s not hard to see where it borrowed from Dark City
by Vincent Jaubert, © 2002

Welcome to the arena of no-holds-barred combat between two great champions of science fiction.

On my right is The The Matrix (1999, Warner Bros.) by the Wachowski brothers (Bound), the film that attracted millions of worshipful fans throughout the world.

On my left is the challenger Dark City (1998 New Line Cinema) by Alex Proyas (The Crow), which did not create as much of a stir.

This combat will try to show you the similarities between these two champions through samples of dialog as well as photographs from the films.

All the resources used here are purely didactical. You can find The Matrix and Dark City on DVD zone 1 and zone 2. These two DVDs have an impeccable image quality, and I thus encourage you strongly to get them as soon as possible (obviously within the limits of your banking account).

Now that you’ve see some of the common points between these two films, you can judge for yourself. Realize, however, that Dark City was released one year before The Matrix. So it’s not very difficult to see which film borrowed from the other.

Obviously, that does not diminish the Wachowski brothers’ film. To make this comparison, I had to buy the DVD of The Matrix. And indeed I let myself become caught up in the fantastic visuals and special effects. For instance, the carnage in the foyer of the government building or the Kung Fu between Neo and Morpheus, not to mention the infinite incubators, or the lip fusion in the interrogation room… All of these scenes convinced me that this film is not a total plagiarism. Therefore, I will definitely not be reselling my DVD.

I just regret the plagiarism of certain scenes. It’s irrefutable in some frames (the top-view of the staircase shot is a true photocopy).

For those of you unfamiliar with Dark City, don’t hesitate to get it. It’s really a great film. It deserves an audience, and DVD could be a second chance. Be sure to share this film with your friends. They will be grateful to you!


Update

This reader found a really great video comparison of the two films on YouTube:

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17 comments

  1. I haven’t seen the Dark City film yet, but I can tell you that if it came out only one year before the Matrix, it is impossible for the matrix to have copied the story or production design from it. The script was written atleast five years before the film came out. Design started about three years before. By the time Dark City came out the Matrix will have been starting post production, by this time it would be far to late to be influenced by it in any big way.

    • Simon,

      Good points, all very true. There’s logistical problems with the allegation that The Matrix plagiarized Dark City. However, this post stands as mere criticism, however exaggerated, of the similarities between the films.

      To be fair, even the Wachowski brothers have admitted obvious borrowing from other genres — especially anime, chop socky kung fu movies, and comic books. But more recently, there’s been other legal criticism to their script. See here for the case filed (and won) by Sophia Stewart:

      http://www.slccglobelink.com/main.cfm/include/detail/storyid/785067.html

  2. there is a time for every idea.
    these movies do not stand alone in their scrutiny of what it means to be ‘real’. they came out around the same time as ’13th floor’, ‘the truman show’, and ‘waking life’. even ‘eternal sunshine of the spotless mind’ is related, and only came out a few years later than these.
    i don’t think a significant amount of actual plagiarism went into these projects, which all addressed the issue in novel ways, spooky imagery aside. these visions spring form the collective consciousness.
    simon is correct in stating that the matrix, for instance, was already in development when some of these others came out.

  3. The ideas of “Matrix”-type movies are old, very old. “Welt am Draht” (1973) from Rainer Werner Fassbinder http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070904/ is one example, but you can go as far back as Platon:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

    • Excellent thoughts, nb. You are indeed correct that Matrix borrowed heavily. But that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the unique presentation of those old ideas.

  4. Years ago there was a cult called “The Children of God”, of which I was a member. Actually, to my credit, I left when I figured out it was a cult.
    anyway, their chief artist/illustrator claimed to have receive inspiration from on-high for his work.
    Later, somebody discovered that nearly every piece was an almost direct copy of somebody elses work. Blatant lying.
    Who knows what really goes on in Hollywood?

  5. [...] Queda ahora dilucidar si estamos hablando de copia, plagio, inspiración o coincidencia. ─[Everything is a remix / Electrolund] [...]

  6. [...] highlighting in particular the many influences off The Matrix.  In this article, they link to my page from 2004, which compared The Matrix to Dark City.  If you dare, you can try out Google’s [...]

  7. [...] Queda ahora dilucidar si estamos hablando de copia, plagio, inspiración o coincidencia. ?[Everything is a remix / Electrolund] [...]

  8. The Crow

    Terminator

    Love the matrix and blade but both are not original movies.They need to give the Crow and Terminator some credit

  9. I think it was also a 90′s or late 90′s thing. Check out the music video “Coma White” from Marilyn Manson. That video always reminded me of The Matrix.

  10. [...] Ennen kuin jatketaan Crow:n parissa, haluan tuoda esille elokuvan nimeltä Dark City. Sen ohjasi sama henkilö kuin Crow:n eli Alex Proyas. Löysin tuon Dark Cityn pienen mutkan kautta, kun rupesin miettimään Crow:n kohtausta, jossa päähenkilö juoksee kattoja pitkin aivan samalla tavalla kuin “Trinity” elokuvassa Matrix. Kun googlettelin aiheesta, löysinkin vertailun Matrixin ja Dark Cityn välillä [...]

  11. Genre conventions are the reason for the similarities, nothing else.
    Both movies are saying very much the same thing.

  12. […] ElectroLund: Matrix City: A Photographic Comparison of The Matrix and Dark City […]

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