I remember as a kid looking in amazement at the giant screen which filled my field of view. I used to love the virtual experience of swimming miles underwater or flying above beautiful landscapes. IMAX screens were immersive and transformed edutainment into a cinematic adventure. In the 1990s when compared to the bulky 29” cathode ray tube at home, the IMAX screen looked immense in comparison. Clearer, bigger, louder; IMAX used to be very impressive. A decade ago however, my local IMAX (as well as others) underwent an upgrade of sorts. They changed the projection system, added 3D, added more seats and raised the price. They then began showing feature films instead of educational documentaries. The result is now an overcrowded, head-ache inducing, neck-aching, knee-crushing experience. This was the result when I went to watch the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises last Friday.
Before making my way to my local IMAX, I watched the first two films of the trilogy back-to-back through the night in preparation for the early morning 5am showing. I was expecting a film projected onto a giant screen with a 4K projector to look better than my HDTV at home. To my surprise however, having not watched the first two movies in a cinema, the IMAX showing looked grainy and distorted when compared to the Blu-ray’s I had just viewed. The IMAX projection looked almost like a pirated DVD in comparison. Sitting anywhere except the middle of the theatre made the film look warped. When a Police car drove past, the curved IMAX screen distorted the car into a banana-shaped vehicle. Actors on screen looked stretched and streets and alleys looked claustrophobic.
In the past decade I have only visited the IMAX a handful of times, and because of the addition of 3D technology, potentially disappointing viewings of films such as Avatar were masked by this new dimensional gimmick. The Dark Knight Rises however did not benefit from this distraction. It did however boast the credentials of being shot with IMAX cameras specifically for the IMAX screen. Watching this film on this screen should have been an advantage, sadly it was not. Constantly jumping between the 2.35:1 ratio to the full screen IMAX format gave the film an annoying and disjointed quality. Why use the IMAX format on close-ups and mid shots? Why shoot some landscapes with the widescreen camera and some with the IMAX version? And why cut between the two formats within one scene? Questions it seems nobody asked the director and editor.
This format hopping was not the only problem. The relatively small space of an IMAX cinema is crammed with seats, trying to pack in as many cinema goers as possible. Sandwiched between uncomfortable seats; the viewers’ knees touch the seat in front. This is fine for a 30 minute film, but very agonizing for a 165 minute grainy format-switching movie.
I reminisced over watching a slow paced flyover of the Grand Canyon and how classic IMAX footage made use of the giant curved screen, giving the viewer a kinetic kinship with the theatre. A talented director could make great use of this technology if properly planned and executed. Rushing into a quarter of a million dollar sequel with no real reason to shoot in this format is not a great example of IMAX’s potential.
The Dark Knight Rises itself was not the brilliant end to the Batman Trilogy I was expecting. One great thing the previous films did was morph a comic book into more of a believable world. Cartoonish characters such as Scarecrow, Joker, and Two-Face were shown as convincing and plausible people. In the latest film however, Selina Kyle and Bane went back to the theatrics of yesteryear. Dressed in unconvincing and over-complicated costumes, and in the case of Bane; speaking with an annoyingly inaudible voice like an electronic caricature of Ian McKellen. Dragging half of the cast from Inception over to the Dark Knight set just made for an unconnected end to the Batman Trilogy. Marion Cotillard outside of La Vie En Rose has never done anything memorable. Tom Hardy is as always an overstated, over-actor and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is too old to be Robin. Removing Michael Caine from half of the picture also seemed to change the mood of the film. Casting mostly British D-List actors in an effort to illustrate villainy is now a contrived and outdated Hollywood concept. And the casting of Joey King and then blatantly showing her in flashbacks made for the most obvious and non-twisty ending.
Aside from casting issues, the locations were also questionable. Having just watched the first two films, I was surprised to see how much Gotham City had transformed into Manhattan. Having just watched two films which were shot mainly in Chicago, the third looked like a different place entirely. The architects in Gotham must have worked non-stop for four years to make it resemble the American East Coast. Now Gotham has a Saks Fifth Avenue, a Brooklyn Bridge, and their very own One World Trade Center. Running around New York trying to foil a bomb threat from a British-accented terrorist seemed very familiar. A terrorist threatening Wall Street, a Police Officer chasing huge trucks up and down Manhattan, saving school kids from an explosion; The Dark Knight Rises was just an S&M version of Die Hard With A Vengeance without the thrills. Sadly unlike Die Hard 3, this threequel was not as spectacular.
Christopher Nolan it seems has a constant need to make a film look as dull, dark, and empty as possible even if the film’s tone does not require this aesthetic. Mr. Nolan is part of the newly initiated Hollywood clique of directors who make films which are devoid of real peril and excitement, but continue in the action-thriller genre with wild abandon. This bastard child of Peter Hyams and James Cameron (but lacking their talent) really needs to be taken down a peg or two. But until his gross gets low, my critique will fall on deaf Hollywood ears.
Aside from lack of talent, the plot itself was completely misjudged. How can a bunch of overpaid Hollywood millionaires make a point about the distribution of wealth and touch on issues of class and money? In an age of austerity they are the least qualified people in the most monetary-led section of entertainment to delve into such rhetoric. And whereas the first two Batman movies showed law enforcement as either corrupt or inept; The Dark Knight Rises was for some reason an exercise in police ass-licking. I doubt the NYPD or GCPD would run into bullets in order to defeat or overthrow evil. Similar to our world, they would be busy revoking freedom and rushing to ban and demonize sections of society. The law itself and the people in charge of it are rarely anything but reactionary; just look at how they’re handling the aftermath of the Denver shooting.
The Dark Knight Rises & IMAX: an over-rated film in an over-hyped format. The most underwhelming experience ever.