Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

2012, US, Directed by Chris Nolan
Colour, Running Time: 164 minutes
Review Source: Cinema screening; Image: 2.39:1, Anamorphic Panavision/IMAX (select scenes)

The plot takes place several years after the events of The Dark Knight, whereby Batman has effectively vanished after being accused of the murder of Harvey Dent, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in his isolated mansion.  Meanwhile a criminally insane masked terrorist by the name of Bane is plotting to release Gotham City from its authoritative constraints and detonate an atomic bomb in the process, this state of system and peace threatening affairs prompting the despondent Wayne to bring Batman out of 'retirement' against the judgement of omnipresent butler Alfred, to confront Bane and hopefully restore order to Gotham.
The synopsis itself is generally what you might expect of a Batman, or indeed any other superhero story.  On the surface, at least, it is made  much more complex by director Nolan's propensity for labyrinthine narrative detail but can, I think, be stripped down to the basic outline above.  There is a strong element of drama as we watch Wayne broken at the beginning, knocked back even further after his first confrontation with Bane, and then rise from near death and the imminent implosion (and explosion) of Gotham to become the Batman we know and love (this arc actually reminds me a little of the Rocky films).  His journey is punctuated with encounters with characters that either care about him, or don't care at the beginning but do later on, the main examples of this being Alfred and 'hothead' cop Blake (whose trajectory you may be able to guess as the film moves into its later stages) in the former case, and Selina/Cat Woman in the latter.  Michael Caine's Alfred is there in some kind of advisory capacity that I think would get on your nerves if you had to live with his guru-like preaching for as long as Wayne has, while Morgan Freeman's Fox makes a welcome return as the enthusiastic technology developer.  Other characters making a re-appearance include Liam Neeson's Ra's Al Ghul (yes, he's dead, but it's more of an apparition/flashback kind of situation), Maggie Gyllenhaal in image only (though it would never take someone with Wayne's monolithic wealth to find another beautiful woman to hitch up with...), and surprisingly, Cillian Murphy as Jonathon Crane, though this is brief.  These inclusions are quite nice as it helps to wrap up the 'trilogy' that this is intended to be, and maintains a pleasing level of continuity between the films.  Of course, what's most noticeable with this final outing (until Warner revive it with another team anyway), as with pretty much all of Nolan's features, is the extremely far-fetched nature of the proceedings along with vast lapses in logic (in fact there is a complete absence of logic in places), but you have to question whether you can put your belief on the back burner whilst watching - if you can't then you probably won't have too much fun watching it.  Why we really want to watch these films though is because of the action sequences, and these are as monstrous as they get, with a substantial chunk of violence smashing its way through the screen (no doubt on course to attracting complaints from idiotic parents who take their sub-12 year old kids in without asking whether it may even be suitable for their developing minds), and the obligatory appearance of bulky vehicles of mass destruction - nothing beats the funky design of the old 60s batmobile in my opinion though!  It's appropriately epic, overblown, and slightly corny in places, but is a pretty enjoyable way to conclude a very attention-grabbing series.

I saw Dark Knight at what was then the IMAX cinema in Birmingham in 2008, and was blown away by the periodic use of 70mm footage - this material opened up from the traditional scope ratio to fill the screen with an astonishingly detailed 1.44:1 image, before switching back to the widescreen 35mm stuff.  Of course, the new movie has had about 70 minutes of its running time shot with the huge cameras - Nolan is one of the film world's biggest fans of the super resolution format - and I was expecting more of the same.  Material shot on IMAX, as you probably know, captures several times the amount of visual information as that of normal (35mm) film - the effect on a big screen is stunning.  The IMAX screen in Birmingham 'de-branded' itself a while ago and became known as 'The Giant Screen' and a couple of screenings I've recently attended have been impressive.  What they have done in the process is install a 4K digital projector (in addition to changing the dimensions of the screen itself to the more standard 1.85:1 whilst retaining the approximate size).  Unfortunately it is apparent that they now no longer have the capability to run genuine IMAX film through a suitable projector, and what we got was a very strong image at a consistent 2.39:1 for The Dark Knight Rises, but it did not open up to the full height for the IMAX-shot sequences.  The IMAX film footage therefore is really downscaled to 4K for this, and other conventional cinemas - what we've lost in the process of not showing the film in its intended format is the impact of the increased resolution that was captured during shooting, therefore admittedly I felt a bit cheated.  It's still a better experience at The Giant Screen than at your average multiplex cinema, but it wasn't the full experience, and one of the thrills of Dark Knight was seeing this footage for key sequences in all its glory (something which, to an extent, has even been captured on the Blu-ray).  That was lost here, which is a huge shame, as I'm now wishing that we still had a genuine IMAX cinema in Birmingham, instead of just a very large screen with a great projection system - believe it or not, it's not the same, and there is a difference when it comes to real IMAX.


  1. Off to see it at Manchester IMAX tomorrow, Paul, so I'm pleased the reviews I trust, such as yours, are on the whole positive. For the record, I think Nolan just about gets away with making his Batman a credible character, in a 'real world' environment rather than comicworld. It's a tough stunt to pull off, somehow projecting these larger than life characters into a gritty Gotham City, but it more or less works, though as you say an element of 'just going with it' from the audience has to be involved.

    I didn't see The Dark Knight until DVD, in fact I think I must have been amongst the 0.1% of viewers who weren't blown away by it. I do however see how an IMAX viewing might enhance the experience and I'm hoping it lives up to it.

  2. What I like most about the Nolan Batman movies is the action sequences, but there is a rather strange lack of logic given Nolan's aim of bringing Batman into more of a 'real' world as you say.

    You're dead lucky, Mike - I presume you live near the Manchester IMAX? The experience is worth the extra few quid in my opinion (I saw Dark Knight at both a conventional cinema and the IMAX within a few weeks of each other, and the jump in resolution was amazing, hence my lamentation over the fact that the Birmingham cinema no longer projects genuine IMAX film). Hope you have a great time!


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