Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher & Jonathan Nolan; Story By David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan
Produced By: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Charles Roven
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart
Edited By: Lee Smith
Music By: Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $185 million
Runtime: 152 minutes
The Dark Knight holds very special memories and lessons for me that I did not fully grasp until two years after experiencing them. It is a monumental film of the 2000s decade explained best by David Koepp for Empire Magazine: “It really is like their [his two sons] generation’s Godfather.” The only thing missing from this remark is that The Dark Knight more closer to the Godfather Part II, bigger and better than Batman Begins in every way imaginable. It’s darker, grittier, more real, bigger explosions, longer, deeper, and the stakes are raised higher physically and emotionally than audiences thought a silly little superhero movie could do. Except The Dark Knight is more than a superhero film.
Now there are more than enough reviews for The Dark Knight both in 2008 and as we approach the final chapter’s release. There are even a few negative reviews out there, for whatever reason (I’ve never had a problem with Batman’s voice). It’s a great film. Beautiful cinematography, a score that was robbed an Oscar nomination, the performance of a lifetime and one of the greatest villains to ever grace the silver screen, so on so forth. It redefined its genre and, as I read somewhere, proved to filmmakers that you can talk up to your audience rather than always talking down to them. I want to take this time to talk about The Dark Knight‘s long term impact.
My two memories of The Dark Knight are also my two lessons. It was the first film I saw at a midnight opening and the atmosphere was incredible. I had followed the viral campaign and was very excited, having pre-ordered my tickets immediately, but I still didn’t know very much going into the film. Watching it in a crowd of people who wanted to see it as much as I did was an amazing experience and the reason I see as many films at midnight as I can (it’s one of the reasons I’m seeing the IMAX Batman trilogy event).
Second, it was the first film I saw in an IMAX trailer and it remains, in my opinion, the best film ever released in the IMAX format (better than Avatar but Rises is fairly certain to top it). Seeing the film on such a large screen, booming sound, and beautiful quality changed how I see films. It taught me the importance of the theater in the entire filmmaking process. You want a good script, good actors, director, cinematographer. You want a compelling story with interesting character development. You want large distribution so as many people can see your film as possible, but where I think many films stop trying is the actual theater experience. They make a movie that looks good and leave it at that. It’s good in the theater, it’s good on my living room television and my laptop, and I can play it on my 3.5 inch iPhone screen. I have to side with Spielberg, Cameron, et al. in their opinion that films are not meant to be watched on an iPhone.
Films are meant to be watched in a movie theater, and that’s what Christopher Nolan does. The thing that is so awesome about Nolan is as original and creative and groundbreaking a filmmaker he may be, he is also the very definition of American blockbuster cinema. He makes the type of movies that made movies popular in the 20s and 30s and have been redefined by filmmakers like Spielberg (Jaws) or Lucas’ original Star Wars. The Dark Knight is pure, hardcore blockbuster cinema with one major difference to pieces of shit like Battleship or Spider-Man 3: Nolan’s Batman films are not about the explosions, they’re about the story and the characters.
Bale and Nolan both say they immediately agreed, back before Batman Begins, that previous Batman films spent too much time glorifying the weird looking villain and not enough time exploring Bruce Wayne. Batman was there to kick ass but it said nothing as to its affect Wayne. Nolan’s trilogy, from the start, has taken a different approach. Batman doesn’t even appear in Begins until halfway through and it looks like something similar may be in store for Rises before Wayne puts on the cowl again. While Batman is ever present in The Dark Knight, the crux of the film revolves around The Joker and Gotham trying to unmask him and what Batman’s anonymity does both to the city, Bruce Wayne, and those he cares about (Rachel died, spoiler).
The story isn’t about whether Batman will defeat the villain or, in Rises, whether Batman will die. It’s about whether Bruce Wayne will be able to overcome his obstacle or if Bruce Wayne will die because, as so aptly put by Ra’s Al-Ghul, “You have to become more than a man; to become a symbol,” and Batman is that very symbol. This trilogy is Bruce Wayne’s trilogy and The Dark Knight is the crucial tipping point in his three act tale.
Now place all of this into an IMAX theater and project the utter annihilation of a hospital on 70 mm film and 7.1 IMAX surround sound. It’s amazing. The point about Nolan’s films being blockbusters is that, I think, people started, before 2008, to look down on American blockbusters (although foreign audiences were looking increasingly up at them). Yet The Dark Knight showed us that truly entertaining an audience is about more than lots of explosions. It’s about engrossing the viewer into the film not just through atmosphere and scope (which Avatar did) but through compelling story (which Avatar did not).
This post has started to turn into yet another of the thousands of The Dark Knight ogling that already exists on the internet, but I can’t help it. There was a time when I tried to pretend I only though TDK was an ‘ok’ film, mostly because everyone else hated it so much and because I really cringe when the bus smashes through the bank wall and obviously does not hit the stunt guy, but I had to accept the film for what it is – art form on an epic scope. And it looks like The Dark Knight Rises is going to raise the stakes event higher. There are only a few days left before we find out, but I would like to say that one thing is guaranteed: Rises is not going to be our generation’s The Godfather Part III.