HELM THE DARK KNIGHT: Christopher Nolan

Mon, July 14th, 2008 at 1:43pm PDT | Updated: July 14th, 2008 at 1:45pm

TV/Film
Erik Amaya, Staff Writer

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"The Dark Knight" opens July 18
SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for "The Dark Knight."

The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan is known for starting work on his films in his own backyard -- or, rather, in his garage. “We did a lot of the design work in my garage at home; before we get too many people on the film,” he told CBR News. “It keeps it sort of a little more intimate and lets us kind of explore ideas without having a massive payroll of people that we have to feed drawings to and things.” Nolan said one of those garage design decisions was the creation of Batpod, Batman’s new way to get around Gotham. “It was something that my designer, Nathan Crowley and myself worked on along the lines of trying to produce a motorbike for Batman. We thought about, “what if you took an anti-aircraft gun and put it on wheels?’ We showed it to the special effects guys and they took one look at it and turned to Nathan and myself and said, ‘You don’t know anything about motorbikes, do you?’ And we had to admit that was true, but we said, ‘But it looks great! Can’t you find a way that it could work?’ And they did, they built this thing for real and it really runs. But, you know, in terms of full disclosure, there really is only one person in the world who can ride it, because it is extraordinarily difficult to ride and to steer and so forth.”

Nolan delights in technical challenges. As previously reported here on CBR, the director was keen to use IMAX film format and cameras. He found the process easier than he first imagined. “A lot of our camera mounts and things were 35 millimeter ones; they’re built to withstand enormous abuse, so they can take the weight of a much larger camera,” said Nolan. The director did report one incident using the larger cameras. “We did break one Steadicam. Just had it literally shear off and drop the [camera] on the ground.”

The Batpod originated in Christopher Nolan's garage

Nolan also used the larger cameras in a few hand-held shots; a first for Wally Pfister, Nolan’s cinematographer. “[Wally] does his own camerawork, largely, and he’s a terrific handheld camera operator, we do a lot of the film handheld, and he made it very clear to me from the beginning that he wasn’t going to try and handhold an IMAX camera, because it’s too big,” Nolan explained. “But I right towards the end convinced him to do it, and there’s a couple of shots in the film that are actually handheld that he’s shot. But you couldn't carry it for very long.”

Some of that fascination with technology appears on screen. Nolan credits the James Bond franchise with inspiring how some of Batman’s gadgets appear. “I think the Bond films are a big influence tonally,” he said. “If you look at the early Bond films you’ve got extraordinary things happening, but there’s an overall tone you can buy into as a regular action movie. You’re not completely stepping outside the bounds of reality. Particularly with the earlier films.

“I think that winds up being pushed even further in [‘The Dark Knight’], partly as a result of not wanting to do everything at night,” Nolan continued. In looking for more challenges, both for himself and the characters, Nolan chose to shoot extensive daytime sequences. He explained, “If Batman controls the night, in Gotham, than the Joker is much more dangerous in the day, and so the daytime scenes actually become more threatening and more interesting in a way. So you wind up having to deal with, ‘Okay, how does Bruce Wayne deal with that during the day?’”

Scenes from "The Dark Knight"

Not only is the Joker more threatening by his willingness to appear in daylight, but also in his complete portrayal in the film. Having no origin or defined motive allowed the Joker to be what Nolan called “an absolute.” The director likened the Joker to another screen antagonist. “He cuts through the film sort of like the shark in ‘Jaws.’ So he’s a catalyst for action, people are reacting off and being affected by him.”

With that in mind, Nolan explained why he choose actor Heath Ledger for the role. “What I knew I needed for the Joker was an actor of extraordinary talent, and that was evident from his other work; his performance in ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ for example, which was truly spectacular,” Nolan said. “But also [I needed] an actor who was unafraid; who was completely prepared to take on an iconic role and make it his own. Heath told me he could do that, before we even had a script.”

Nolan recalled at that early stage, Ledger also agreed with him on the Jaws-like interpretation of the character. “We saw [the Joker] as crafting a character who is an absolute, who is devoted to an idea of pure anarchy, a desire to seek chaos, a desire to just rip the world down around himself purely for his own amusement. And Heath really got that.”

Scenes from "The Dark Knight"

With the Joker taking a catalyst role with no traditional arc, Nolan said he “always imagined that Harvey Dent would form the emotional arc of the story.” This informed the choice of Aaron Eckhart for the role. “I met with him over the years -- I talked to him about doing ‘Memento,’ and that hadn’t worked out. But I'd really wanted to work with him for a long time. I think he is able to embody that kind of all-American heroic presence, he has something of a young Robert Redford about him,” he explained.

Nolan also needed Eckhart to portray the other side of Harvey Dent. “There’s this undercurrent; a little bit of anger in him, a little bit of something in the way he sees the world that could go one way, could go another, a little bit of ambiguity.” Nolan believes Eckhart has hit the right pitch. “I think he gets that across really beautifully. That was really important for Harvey because of where that character goes, you don’t want to cheat the audience. You don’t want to set up a perfectly heroic presence and then have that [completely reverse]. You have to be showing the audience right from the very beginning that there’s more to this guy.”

Though “The Dark Knight” is not based in any one Batman comic book story, Nolan feels he has been truthful to the world and the characters of the Batman mythos. “You’ve got sixty-five years of different writers and artists dealing with these characters. So there are certain commonalities, certain things that sustain over time,” the director explained. “And then there are all kinds of blind alleys, the specifics of which you can ignore. So, really try and just distill from the history of the comics what the essence of those characters are, and we try to be true to that.”

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TAGS:  the dark knight, christopher nolan, heath ledger, batman, aaron eckhart

 
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