The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience (2008)

2008 #48a
Christopher Nolan | 152 mins | IMAX | 12A / PG-13

The Dark Knight: The IMAX ExperienceOne of the joys of spending five weeks of this summer in New York is that I have the opportunity to see anything that’s out in the US before the UK early. I haven’t entirely used this to my advantage (no trip to Hellboy II, for example, which has almost left theatres here but is still a few weeks off at home), but I have been to the much-anticipated new Batman movie, The Dark Knight… twice. Unlike in the UK, I have relatively easy access to an IMAX here, and, as any good Bat-fan will know, this means I was not only able to see TDK one week early, but also on the screen it (or, at least, parts of it) were specially shot for. Of course, despite the film virtually being on loop at Manhattan’s sole IMAX screen, the high demand for tickets means I had to wait til the second Saturday to see it writ so large — and even then I was fairly lucky, as some showings sold out inside of two hours.

As I’ve reviewed the film before, and my feelings on it have barely changed with a second viewing just one week later, it seems sensible to focus on the IMAX aspect. For those who somehow missed the news, The Dark Knight is the first Hollywood blockbuster to be specially shot for IMAX — not all of it, but six key sequences… or so they say. From what I could tell, while some whole sequences were indeed shot on IMAX film, often it was used just for bits of scenes, or now and then for the more dramatic establishing shots. For example, every aerial shot in the film — and, as those who’ve seen it will know, there are a fair few — appears to have been shot with IMAX cameras. The choice of sequences to shoot on IMAX is also intriguing. Some reviewers asserted it was “obvious” scenes were IMAXed even on a 35mm print, but I think they might be in for a surprise. Yes, the bank robbery opening, the car chase, and elements of the climax all receive the IMAX treatment, but elsewhere smaller scale action sequences and even some dramatic scenes are awarded the vision-filling honour.

It all looks stunning, of course: the resolution is visibly increased whenever the IMAX film kicks in (the rest of the film, blown-up from 35mm, is blurry and grainy by comparison but still doesn’t come out too badly) and the added size and scope of the format serve to underline the scenes for which it’s employed. While most of them are worthy, if sometimes unexpected, there are times when one wonders if scenes were picked just to make up the numbers with something not especially challenging. That said, it’s always nice to see, so one can’t complain too much. I didn’t find IMAX to be an especially viewer-friendly format for a two-and-a-half-hour feature though — it’s designed to fill your vision, an aim it achieves admirably, but when trying to watch a regular movie it entails an unusual amount of head turning, as well as trying very hard to notice everything right into the depths of your peripheral vision. It was certainly an experience, as the advertising subtitle suggests, but it won’t be for everyone and I’m not sure I’d bother again without some notable incentive (such as the one Dark Knight offers — none of these new-fangled 3D films have been interesting enough to tempt me yet). In some respects, what interests me most is what debates and opinions the use of IMAX will provoke about the film’s correct aspect ratio when it comes to DVD/Blu-ray time. I don’t care to predict what people will say, but I suspect it will be amusing to observe.

One final note: watching this just one week after I first saw it in a normal cinema (one week & one hour, to be exact!), it seemed to me that the odd shot was trimmed slightly or actually missing. Quite why this would be I don’t know, and it may just be my memory playing tricks, especially as the running time listed on the BBFC is actually slightly longer for the IMAX version (as seems to be standard, from a quick look at a few other IMAXed films — I’m sure someone knows why). The differences — if indeed there are any — are minor, but I felt I should mention it.

There’s no questioning The Dark Knight‘s brilliance in its own right, in my mind — it may be questionable whether it’s the Best Film Ever (surprisingly, it still sits at #1 on the IMDb Top 250), but at the same time I genuinely enjoyed this more than any other film I’ve seen from that top ten (and probably beyond). Whatever size screen you see it on, this film is an amazing experience — but some of it was shot especially for IMAX and those bits do look spectacular on the extra-huge screen. If you have the chance, this is really how Dark Knight should be seen — especially as it’s always possible that you won’t have the chance again.

5 out of 5

As if two reviews wasn’t enough, I shared more of my thoughts on The Dark Knight (this time when considered next to Batman Begins) here.

On the off chance anyone’s wondering what happened to #48, it’s WALL-E and the review’s on its way. But I’ve been sat on this one for a week (and not got round to the WALL-E one for over a week!), so I thought I’d just get on and post this, sequence be damned.

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