Returning to the IMAX screen a decade after its initial release, The Dark Knight's looks as good as - in fact better than - ever.
Since home video has virtually destroyed the market for retrospective screenings of older movies, opportunities to revisit favorite titles from the past are few and far between. This makes The Dark Knight's 10th anniversary theatrical engagement, currently presented in 70mm IMAX at AMC's Universal Citywalk, an absolute must-see. Truly, this is a film the full impact of which will never translate to even the most advanced home theatre system.
The Dark Knight 10th Anniversary IMAX Review: History
Christopher Nolan's use of IMAX footage in The Dark Knight revolutionized the format for use in feature films. Previously, IMAX titles were mostly short subjects and documentaries. Some mainstream movies were screened in IMAX theatres (such as Disney's Fantasia 2000), but they had not been shot in the IMAX format, which uses 65mm film running through the camera sideways, creating an image size much larger than conventional 35mm film. The results - amazingly clear even when projected on an authentic IMAX screen (roughly the size of a football field) - stand up to the best high-def digital video available today.
Nolan filmed slightly less than 30 minutes of The Dark Knight in IMAX, using it for five major action set-pieces and a closing montage:
- Prologue: Bank Robbery
- Hong Kong: Extraction
- Armored Car Chase
- Lamborghini Crash
- Previtt Building
- A Dark Knight (closing montage)
The rest of the film was shot conventionally, resulting in an aspect ratio that changes whenever the IMAX image takes over to fill the entire screening from top to bottom, the remainder of the film resembling a letterboxed widescreen image. Though many viewers were perhaps unconscious of the change, it created a subliminal effect of being fully immersed in the most spectacular sequences of the film while suggesting a greater intimacy in the character-driven scenes.
The Dark Knight 10th Anniversary IMAX Review: Presentation
The Dark Knight's 10th anniversary presentation at Universal Cinema AMC Citywalk Hollywood is flawless. The new 70mm IMAX print is pristine - watching the film is almost like looking through a giant observation window, creating some vertiginous moments when Batman (Christian Bale) takes flight over Hong Kong. The theatre's audio system brings out the punch in the sound mix, and the score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer pulses with tension.
Ticket prices are through the roof, but that is because Citywalk Cinema is offering a premium experience: no commercials, no trailers. The lights go down, and you see the movie you paid for - nothing more, nothing less. Also, the second-floor entrance level for the IMAX screen eschews snack stands in favor of a 21-and-over bar, in an effort to turn the screening into more of a prestige event. (You can still take the elevator down to the lower level to grab popcorn and soda.)
Seating is assigned, so you can pre-order and not worry about getting a good seat. Just remember: even if you print tickets at home to avoid waiting in line, you will still need to go to the box office to get your parking rebate.
The Dark Knight 10th Anniversary IMAX Review: The Film
So 70mm IMAX spectacle aside, how does The Dark Knight stand up a ten years later? If anything, the film looks better than ever. After a decade of CGI-infused superhero movies, Christopher Nolan's in-camera approach, emphasizing physical effects and stunts, renders a level of credibility that one would have thought impossible to achieve in a film about a man dressing up as a bat. As good as Black Panther is, its car chase sequence looks like so much cartoony computer-generated bullshit compared to The Dark Knight's armored chase. As pleasing a surprise as Wonder Woman was, the final-reel over-the-top special effects bash-fest between Diana and the God of War cannot generate a 10th of the energy of the "unstoppable force meets immovable object" confrontation between Batman and the Joker.
What I find interesting now is that Nolan's attempt at "realism" lends The Dark Knight a profound sense of gravitas while disguising an underlying comic book sensibility, creating a perfect combination. The audience, at least for the length of the running time, can "believe" the action on-screen, even while much of it is incredible, and the screenplay can get away with presenting characters who represent obvious archetypes and pretty much tell us, directly and on the nose, who they are and what their agenda is.
This may seem like lazy writing, but it keeps the story clean and unencumbered, rocketing the narrative forward, even though the script is dense with detail and incidents that must dovetail in order to tie the whole film together. Also kudos to the editing for showing the audience just enough to know what they need to, while constantly cutting away when the inevitable results become obvious. Few films show such good judgement about when to milk a sequence for maximum impact and when to move on because the point has been made.
As an action film, The Dark Knight remains unsurpassed, even though the Mission Impossible franchise and the James Bond films have made clear (and sometimes entertaining) attempts to captures its magic. As a noir-drenched crime thriller, The Dark Knight stands in a league of its own. As a comic book adaptation, its only competition comes from its predecessor and its successor, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, respectively.
One final note: Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker has been rightly praised, even earning a posthumous Oscar, but one subtle element I have never seen mentioned is the intriguing movement of his eyes during the two scenes in which the characters gives contradictory accounts of how his face became scarred. In the 1990s there was a popular belief (depicted in the 1998 movie The Negotiator) that whether a person was telling the truth or a lie could be determined by his eyes: looking to the left meant he was accessing memories; looking to the right meant he was accessing imagination. Through the Joker's two monologues, Ledger's eyes cut back and forth from left to right. Whether this was intentional, I cannot say, but I find it fascinating to imagine he was dropping us a hint that the Joker's tales were not complete fabrications, but a mixture of fact and fiction.
In much the same way, The Dark Knight is a combination of noirish "realism" and comic book fantasy, resulting in a synthesis superior to either element standing alone.
The Dark Knight's 10th anniversary IMAX presentation continues at the Universal Cinema AMC Citywalk Hollywood Theatre, with screenings at 6:30pm and 10pm. Also showing in IMAX at this theatre is 2001: A Space Odyssey, in a new print supervised by Dark Knight-director Christopher Nolan.