Countdown to “The Dark Knight Rises”: Part 10 of 11 – “The Dark Knight”
If you missed it here is Part 1 of 11: Introduction to Batman “The Gift”
And here is Part 2 of 11: A look Back at Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’
And Part 3: ‘Batman Returns’
And Part 4: ‘Batman Forever’
And Part 5 ‘Batman and Robin’
Part 6: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
Part 7: ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’
Part 8: ‘Batman: Arkham City’
Part 9: ‘Batman Begins’
Making friends has never been the easiest thing for me to do. Not because I’m difficult to get along with, but I find that trait in almost everyone. My worldview has been easily summed up by Jean-Paul Sartre (“Hell is other people”) and Elaine Benes & Jerry Seinfeld (“I will never understand people.” “They’re the worst.”) Things changed in 2008. I consider it to be the best year of my life. I’d recently fled the job that would literally induce nightmares into my subconscious for something vastly more stress-free and gratifying. It granted me true independence that college had never really provided due to relying on my parents’ money. I also found a room in a house with two people that would quickly become my best friends.
My new housemates and I would do everything together. We’d get up early – relative to what might be our first urge after a night of partying – to watch football on Sundays. The three of us would grab dinner at any one of the number of quickly-prepared-food restaurants surrounding our pad to bring back and park in front of the TV. And we’d go out to see movies.
Movies were the main reason the three of us got together in the first place. One of them put a room-for-rent ad on Facebook talking about his massive movie collection and behemoth of a TV and I was sold. I had to make sure he didn’t come by his material goods by way of any illegal means, but once I met them, I knew it was kismet.
The fondest memory I have from that period of my life came in the summer of that year. It was a Sunday morning when we trekked a good hour west to take in a showing of The Dark Knight at the Metreon in San Francisco, the closest real IMAX theater playing the movie. We got there three hours before the show, as there were no assigned seats. There was a small line already, but we came prepared to sit with card games and conversation, never fully knowing how our minds would be blown in just a few hours’ time when we walked back through that same spot in the lobby.
Much like whenever the Bane/airplane scene shows up in The Dark Knight Rises due to its inclusion on IMAX prints of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol a few months ago, I was already familiar with the opening bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight. It was included as a preview on the Batman Begins Blu-ray which was released shortly before its sequel. We watched this as a precursor the day or two before making the trip to San Francisco to see the whole film and while I enjoyed it just fine on the small-ish screen (it was a 60-incher), a new dimension of clarity was provided in the theater.
The opening scene of The Dark Knight was shot entirely with IMAX cameras. This was the motivation for seeing the movie in a real IMAX theater. We wanted to feel the full visual impact only a 7-story screen could provide. The expansive view gives an immersive entry into the bank heist carried out by Joker and his band of merry henchmen in a way that makes you feel either like a participant that should be wielding a gun or a teller that should be cowering in the corner, depending on which side of the good guy/bad guy nature-of-self you fall down on. If you don’t know, a good litmus test can be conducted by recalling which character you’d always select in an X-Men fighting game.
The visual scope offered by Chris Nolan’s decision to shoot a number of the film’s scenes in IMAX format magnifies an already epic and sprawling story. Never does this feel too outsized for the film’s events, but makes for a perfect combination of narrative and presentation (or fabula and syuzhet for all you film theorists). All of the film’s big set pieces are filmed in the large-frame format, from the bank heist opening, to the kidnapping of Lau in Hong Kong, to the transportation of Harvey Dent through the streets of Gotham, and they all carry a heavier weight than normal, making the film all that much more impactful on the viewer.
Reportedly, close to an hour of The Dark Knight Rises will be projected in full IMAX. Nolan’s clear love of the format is a big win for viewers and certainly gives a hint for the scope of the story he intends to tell in the wrap-up for his take on the character, as if there were any question. Though it won’t be a Batman film, perhaps we’ll be treated to a 100% IMAX- shot movie in his next trip behind the camera.
In addition to the size of the physical film in which the movie was shot, Nolan made another non-Batman-related decision that related directly to the quality of the film-going experience. That aspect is the film’s tone.
Every Batman film I’ve covered in this series has been rated PG-13. It kept me from seeing the movie in 1989. The elements making up that rating made me cringe when seeing the movie with my Grandma in 1992. The rating meant less in a tamer film in 1995, but by 1997, the rating was almost just for show. Like Principal Skinner asking Groundskeeper Willie to keep watering down the orange drink, there’s only so far you can go before what you had in the first place in unrecognizable. That’s what the PG-13 rating in Batman & Robin seems to me. There’s just no justifiable reason for that rating to be slapped onto it other than to have potentially reached for a slightly more adult crowd.
Luckily for anybody whose age allowed admittance, Nolan stretched the PG-13 rating in The Dark Knight as far as possible in the opposite direction. It’s certainly the darkest and most dismal non-R rated film in existence and is one cuss word or spot of blood away from teetering over the restricted edge.
At the heart of all the darkness, not surprisingly, is The Joker. Every breath he takes and every move he makes is dedicated toward introducing chaos to the world that surrounds him and bringing out the evil tendencies lurking within every person. The police can’t stop him. And Batman is consistently challenged to keep the darker side of his persona from transforming into anger and vengeance, much like in Batman Begins.
I compared Batman Begins to Iron Man last week (actually, it was vice-versa) in the sequences designing the costumes of the title characters. There is another comparison that can easily be made between Jon Favreau’s Marvel film and The Dark Knight and it’s with the casting of its iconic characters. There was so much uproar and befuddlement when Favreau tapped Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark in the same way there was in the choice of Heath Ledger to inhabit The Joker. It seems stupid now, but the Internet was rife with non-believers. The fear was there was no real precedent for Ledger to play such a twisted villain. Maybe there wasn’t, but any concerns were taken out back, shot in the head and buried into oblivion once the film was released.
To focus on Ledger’s acting is unnecessary. Any superlatives I can offer can’t capture what your eyes can see. Despite my love for origin stories, no satisfying beginning for the man in clown makeup could possibly be given and Nolan wisely doesn’t even try. The Joker toys with his and Nolan’s audiences with stories about how he received the smile-like scars on his cheeks. He is indeed the devil come to earth and he sits on both sides of every citizen’s shoulders.
Nolan’s script for the film is as labyrinthine as his story for Inception, except it works on a more linear level. His themes are evident in every scene. Like his use of the Scarecrow in Batman Begins to hammer home the idea of fear, his choice of Joker and Two-Face exemplify the duality of man. These are most readily apparent in Joker’s two big schemes in the film. Each one an excruciating tug-of-war of chaos that could only be more appreciated if they were overseen by Dr. Ian Malcolm.
One of the standout pieces in the movie occurs when Joker sends Batman to make the choice of rescuing the object of his affection in Rachel or saving Gotham’s would-be savior in Harvey Dent. Joker’s patented twist leads to Rachel’s dramatic death and Dent’s transformation into Two-Face. The last of Joker’s plot encapsulates his attempt to turn every citizen of Gotham into a two-faced killer on a boat, facing the possibility of their own extinction. In the end, humanity’s desire for good shines through.
It’s been four years since the release of The Dark Knight and the moment I walked out of the theater, I was counting down the unknown amount of days before the next installment. I wanted part three to be as great as part two. After watching the movie recently, I’m not sure it can even happen. The Dark Knight Rises should take up where The Dark Knight left off. Batman will be viewed as a villain by Gotham, taking responsibility for the crimes carried out by the city’s District Attorney.
New characters in Bane, the man who broke Batman’s back in the comic books (one of the rare things I ever learned from Batman comics), and Catwoman, the jewel thief that may also steal Bruce Wayne’s heart, will appear. Their portrayal will undoubtedly fit into whatever life-affirming themes Nolan wants to cover. However, it can’t possibly be as dark and ominous as The Dark Knight. It’s the trilogy-capper. We’ll want to end on a bright note. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The most difficult thing to achieve after reaching greatness is to do it again. It’s also probably unfair of an audience to expect as much. Even if The Dark Knight Rises isn’t qualitatively “The Dark Knight: Part 2,” I’m okay with that. Things change. I may have moved out of the apartment with my buddies. I may not be seeing it with either of them trying to recreate what we once had. And my buddies may no longer even be friends with each other. But we’ll always have The Dark Knight. Hey, Deep Blue Something, why don’t you write a song about that (http://youtu.be/1ClCpfeIELw)?