BEHOLD THE DARK KNIGHT: Producers talk IMAX

Wed, July 2nd, 2008 at 2:08pm PDT | Updated: July 2nd, 2008 at 2:25pm

TV/Film
Erik Amaya, Staff Writer

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"The Dark Knight" opens July 18 in cinemas and IMAX theatres
When “The Dark Knight” opens on July 18, audiences who live near an IMAX theatre will be treated to several sequences and shots filmed with IMAX equipment. As opposed to a lone segment, these IMAX moments are scattered throughout the film, including its opening sequence. CBR News spoke previously with director Christopher Nolan about his fondness for the IMAX format, and we’re joined now by producers Charles Roven and Emma Thomas to talk about the IMAX process and how it informs the scope of Nolan’s film.

Following the success of “Batman Begins,” the producers had a great think about in mounting a sequel. “Well, you don’t go out and make a sequel unless you’ve got a story to tell, first of all,” Roven said. “One of the great things about ‘The Dark Knight’ was that we hadn’t yet explored what we consider one of the great villains in literature. The Joker is really kind of a great, seminal villain.” Roven also feels ‘Batman Begins’ opened up story potential for the sequel. “Because we dispensed with the storytelling of the beginning of Batman, we were really able to engage in the character relationships that we had set up.”

An example of the unusually large IMAX film frame

For Emma Thomas, it was about taking the story to a bigger level. “One of the other things we wanted to do was also to extend the scope of the world,” she said. “Hence, we go to Hong Kong and sort of see outside Gotham City a little bit.” She also wanted the film to contain more emotional content than the usual summer fare. “I think one of the things I’m really proud of and happy with is, I think, with big action movies you might be excited and engaged [in the action], but it’s not an emotional connection. I think that, for me, particularly with the great performances, the great cast, you’re just completely, emotionally engaged.

All these concerns were shared by director Christopher Nolan. “Also, and this all comes from Chris, he wanted to make sure he could tell the story on the biggest possible canvass,” Roven said.

To help enlarge that canvass, the production utilized IMAX cameras and film format. Much larger than traditional 35mm film and offering a higher resolution than the most advance high-definition camera, IMAX offered the team new benefits and challenges in telling their story. “Everything is so big,” Roven said of the technology. “It’s more vibrant.”

Thomas believes that size makes the film more involving. “The experience of watching the film on an IMAX screen, clearly just the size of it means you’re completely immersed in a way that you’re not with a smaller frame. That’s huge, obviously Also, the clarity of the image, you feel like you’re there,” she explained.

“That’s the thing that even in 35mm, [it’s] what’s so stunning; the colors and the clarity of the image,” followed Roven.

Scene from "The Dark Knight"

“It was Chris’s idea,” to bring the IMAX format into the storytelling, Thomas said. “He’s wanted to shot on IMAX for years. A long, long time, he’s been talking about doing this. When we were talking about where to go with the sequel to ‘Batman Begins,’ he really wanted to expand the realm of the film really huge. It seemed that, finally, we had the right project.”

Tackling the potential limitations of the cameras was a concern. Nolan’s desire to use them allowed for a great deal of lead time. “On ‘The Prestige’ [we] did a couple of shots with the IMAX camera just so we could a sense of what the issues were going to be,” Thomas recalled.

The “Prestige” shoot also allowed for an opportunity to learn how best to utilize the cameras on a Hollywood set. “We knew we were coming out with [the ‘Dark Knight’] prologue and attaching it to the Wil Smith movie [‘I Am Legend’] last December,” explained Roven. “We had to shoot that first and that would be kind of like a test for the shooting methodology with the IMAX cameras. We got into a rhythm and worked it out, so that way when we were doing it for a major production, we had kind of already worked into a groove.”

The cameras contain a very short amount of film. “The lighter [camera] is thirty seconds and there’s one [that shoots] two and half minutes,” Roven explained. Reloading such cameras could potentially bring production to a stand-still. Thomas said instead of waiting around, the camera department “would have another camera loaded and ready to go. It worked out well. Actually, it end up costing us a lot less time than [we expected.]”

Christopher Nolan on the set of "The Dark Knight"

Another issue was the camera weight. Although a twenty-year-old technology, the cameras still have to accommodate the large-format film. As a consequence, they have remained massive units. “We had to modify the arms that we attach those IMAX cameras to in order to carry the weight,” Roven said.

Despite the learning curve, the results pleased Nolan and his producers so much that they used the cameras in more instances than originally planned. “The prologue was always meant to be [filmed in IMAX], the car chase was meant to be, [and] the end was going to be,” Thomas recounted, with Roven adding, “Hong Kong.” Thomas continued, “As we went along, there was just some shots that we just thought would be great in IMAX, and so we just added some because it turned out to be much, much easier than we thought it would be.”

“Also, we kept getting re-enforced as we ‘down-rezzed’ the IMAX to 35mm,” Roven said. Even if audiences cannot see the film in IMAX, the footage still adds to the traditional presentation of the film. “We knew that experience, even in 35mm, would be a great for people to see. It’s so much more vibrant, you don’t even realize it. You just go, ‘Wow, this is like so much more in your face.’”

The producers believe these techniques will give the audience a better film. The also appreciate the audiences’ trust in the production team’s utilization of unorthodox methods. Roven explained, “They actually go with a willingness to want to like it. They want to be enthused about it, ultimately, and it’s great to be able to deliver for them”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s TV/Film forum.

TAGS:  the dark knight, christopher nolan, batman, dc comics

 
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