The Dark Knight's IMAX Cinematography: Redefining Stunning Visuals
by Alex Billington
July 17, 2008
If you live in a city that features any of the 94 IMAX theaters that are showing The Dark Knight this weekend, you must make a choice: see it in IMAX or on the regular screen. Go IMAX! There's no question! If you read my "Cinematic Revolution" article a few weeks ago, you know that I singled out IMAX as the most revolutionary aspect of the film. I have never normally been a fan of IMAX, but all of that changed when I was blown away by The Dark Knight. To give you some background and help you make the choice on your own this weekend, we've decided to do a little feature on The Dark Knight and IMAX. Just in case you didn't know, Christopher Nolan and his cinematography Wally Pfister shot a select 20 to 30 minutes on IMAX cameras - something that has never been done before in a feature film.
It all began with Christopher Nolan, as his wife and producing partner Emma Thomas explains. "It was always Chris' idea, he's wanted to shoot on IMAX for years." Emma goes on to say that when they were working on a "sequel" to Batman Begins, Chris had "really wanted to expand the world and make the film feel really huge." From there, during The Prestige, they did a couple of shots to get a feel for what the issues would be in the "camera department." Emma explains that "it actually ended up [taking] us a lot less time that we thought it might." For those who aren't too familiar with the technical aspect of IMAX, instead of shooting on 35mm sized frames of film, they shoot on 70mm frames (see the example below). This means the cameras have to be much bigger, from the film canisters to the lenses since so much more can be recorded. However, each IMAX reel can only hold two-and-a-half minutes of recording time before they must stop and reload - which causes the most problems when shooting with IMAX.
Moving on to shooting The Dark Knight, producer Charles Roven explains that the early debut of the prologue in front of I Am Legend last December was a test. "We aimed to shoot that first and that would be a test for what the shooting methodology would be like with the IMAX cameras. We got into a rhythm and worked it out so that when we were doing it for the major production we already had time to work into a groove." They originally had five scenes scheduled for IMAX, but Rovan said as Chris started liking what he was seeing, he kept increasing the amount. Apparently it "turned out to be much much easier than we thought," as Emma recalls. Christopher Nolan himself said he eventually convinced Wally Pfister to do a few handheld shots with the IMAX camera, but it's so heavy they couldn't do that many. "Shooting a dialog scene with an IMAX camera would be a bigger challenge because of the noise of the camera and the short length of the loads and so forth but we got better and better at it. We had a terrific crew."
Tying this all back together takes us back to Nolan's objective for shooting on IMAX to begin with. "I think the experience of watching the film on an IMAX screen clearly, just the size of it, means that you're completely immersed in a way that you're not with a smaller frame," as Emma explains. And that's certainly true, when you see some of these brilliant scenes that Nolan shot in IMAX, you'll truly feel like you're there, completely immersed in the chaotic world that the Joker has brought to its knees. Rovan adds that "it's so much more vibrant" and that "the clarity of the image is what's so stunning." The tough part is that no one can really explain this, you have to see it for yourself. I'm certain you'll walk out completely amazed. Christopher Nolan has showed us a world we've never seen before while also making a masterpiece of storytelling. The answer is certainly clear - see The Dark Knight on IMAX!