The Enduring Legacy of “The Dark Knight”

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2008, Christopher Nolan‘s follow-up to his Batman reboot, Batman Begins, opened in theaters around the world and changed cinema forever.

In 2005, Batman Begins itself kicked off the “reboot” movement so well known in Hollywood today, basically giving well-known characters/stories a chance to start over again, shedding any sort of oath to past films and continuities.  Think of it as hitting the reset button.

Three years later, The Dark Knight would further the revolution in several ways, most notably by becoming the first film to be partially filmed with IMAX 70mm cameras.  The film would also cement the idea that superhero films could transcend to another level of cinema and be taken seriously, rather than merely being silly movies for kids and teenagers.

This redefinition of the “popcorn film” even affected the Academy Awards, who increased the number of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 following the outcry over The Dark Knight‘s exclusion from the Best Picture race, especially considering the particularly weak slate of films that did earn nominations.  Not only should The Dark Knight have been nominated, it should have won!  At least Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his spine-tingling portrayal of The Joker.  The film also received the Oscar for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.

The JokerOn a personal level, the film opened when I was at the tail end of a two-month study abroad program in Florence, Italy.  Since I was merely days away from returning to the US, I figured I’d wait till I was stateside to see it.  For one of our last nights in Italy, a group of us took our film professor out to dinner as a thank you for a lovely summer semester.

Of course, I had to ask him what he thought of the film.  I didn’t want any spoilers, I just wanted to know how it was.  “It was incredible!”, was his response.  To hear that from a seasoned film professor who just spent two months introducing us to the likes of Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica was more than promising.

About a day or two after I returned to San Diego, I exclaimed to a couple friends I was staying with that seeing The Dark Knight was of utmost priority.  Of course, they had already seen it but were more than willing to see it again.  The fact that I got this response from friends that don’t care about films nearly as much as I do was also promising.  So, after a year of watching and re-watching trailers, staring longingly after every poster on display in its promotion, and long, speculative discussions over the untimely death of Heath Ledger and its connection to the movie, I sat down for a film experience that to this day, I have not forgotten.  From its opening moments showcasing a daring, brutal bank heist, I was absolutely transfixed.  Every aspect of this film, from the eye-opening IMAX sequences to the unpredictable plot, to the acting, music, etc, was incredible.  People like to describe film going experiences as giving them goosebumps or putting them on the edge of their seat, but in this instance, for me, it was actually true!  This film gave me goosebumps, and literally, and I mean, literally, had me on the edge of my seat the entire 2 hours and 32 minutes.  That’s a cinematic high I’ve been chasing ever since, with some success here and there…

Christian BaleOver the past decade, I’ve watched The Dark Knight literally dozens of times.  In all honesty, it’s a solid possibility I’ve seen it more than any other film.  Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure, I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.  Since making this film, Christopher Nolan has gone on to use IMAX cameras in every film he’s made.  Not only that, but every subsequent film has generally featured more IMAX sequences.  Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema stated that roughly 70% of last year’s Dunkirk was lensed with IMAX cameras.  At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nolan made a film entirely featuring IMAX cameras.  Very few other filmmakers have made use of this technology the way he has.  His constant urge to push the envelope with regard to both technology and storytelling is simply awe-inspiring.

The Dark KnightA couple years ago, I told a friend of mine that it sure would be great if Warner Bros did some sort of theatrical re-release in honor of The Dark Knight’s ten year anniversary.

Lo and behold, a few weeks ago, Warner Bros announced just that.  They announced that the film would receive an IMAX release, however, it would occur in only four theaters nationwide, and just for one week.  Luckily, one of those four theaters was in Hollywood.  My friend and I booked our tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Now, to any normal person, driving two hours to see a decade old film that’s been seen dozens of times, this would probably seem nuts.  Luckily, we are not normal.  Of course, we would prefer to not have to drive from San Diego to Los Angeles for a film, but that’s still not going to stop us.  So, last weekend, my friend and I made the trek up to the AMC theater at the Universal Citywalk, right next to the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park.

Christopher NolanIt didn’t really hit me till we got into the theater that this was a true IMAX screen.

This is the part where I get really technical and nerdy, so bear with me here.

So, there are many theaters around the world that say IMAX, however, that isn’t always technically the case, at least in terms of projection.  Many IMAX screens, including every single one in San Diego, are run on digital projectors.  These screens are a little bigger than the average theater screen, and sometimes during the film, the entire screen does fill up in traditional IMAX fashion.

For snobby cinema purists, which I’m known to be on occasion, this is known as LIEMAX.  It’s technically IMAX, but like, not really.  On the other hand, there are several IMAX theaters that have the actual IMAX film projector.  Not only do they have real film projectors, but auditoriums themselves are set up differently as well.  The screens are massive, I mean, MASSIVE!  Also, they are generally shaped with a slight curve, and the seats are also a little closer to the screen as well.  This makes for a genuinely immersive, intimate film-going experience.  The closest one to San Diego is at the Edwards Irvine Spectrum Center.  This IMAX screen is the largest on the west coast, and I’ve been several times, mostly for Christopher Nolan films of course, in order to see his films in the format he intended.

Harvey DentSo, as we were sitting in the theater in Hollywood, and the film opened with that bank heist scene in full IMAX, it hit me that I had never actually seen The Dark Knight in this format.  For the first time, we were seeing this special film on a real IMAX screen with real 70mm projection.

The ensuing couple hours proved to be a captivating experience I am unlikely to ever forget.  It was like seeing the film all over again for the first time.  It reminded me why I love cinema so deeply (not that I really need any reminders).  It also reminded me why cinema will never die.  We live in an age where fewer and fewer of my friends go to the movies, preferring instead to stay at home and watch Netflix from the comfort of their couch.  It makes me sad to think about it.  Watching movies at home is fun, of course, but it just isn’t the same as experiencing a film in a dark theater on a giant screen, with a certain sense of excitement, wonder, and awe-filling the auditorium.

Filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and films like The Dark Knight help ensure that there will always be a reason to go to the movies.  As we drove home late at night, I couldn’t help but wonder what Nolan is working on next, and more importantly, when he’s going to tell us about it.


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