COOL STUFF

Watch: In-Depth Analysis of Big Chase Sequence in 'The Dark Knight'

by
September 13, 2011
Source: Press Play

The Dark Knight

Since its release, many film fans and casual movie-goers have claimed The Dark Knight to be one of the best films of the last decade, and several of them would even count it among the best films of all-time. While I'll concede Chris Nolan's sequel is one of the best superhero movies ever put on film, counting it among the best films throughout cinema's short but impressive history may be a bit over zealous. Other minds have also taken it upon themselves to point out that The Dark Knight isn't perfect, and critic Jim Emerson takes it to the next level as he carefully breaks down the big chase sequence in the middle of the film.

Here's Jim Emerson's analysis of the big chase sequence in The Dark Knight, from Vimeo:

This analysis is part of Press Play's new installment called In the Cut which "will zero in on a crucial scene in a film and they will deconstruct, study and evaluate it for its technical merits and its cinematic effectiveness" In this particular focus on The Dark Knight sequence where Harvey Dent, recently claiming to be Batman, is transferred between precincts to be used as bait to lure out the Joker, Emerson says, "We notice lapses in visual logic whether our brains register them consciously or not. I found this sequence utterly baffling the first time I saw it, and every subsequent time. At last, I now know exactly why.” While he's certainly nitpicking, that's the idea of this feature, and he does concede a sequence like this, shot with the inconveniently sized IMAX camera, would certainly be difficult to pull off flawlessly and without many issues he has with the sequence. Still it's an interesting analysis of a complex scene. What do you think?

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  • Crany
    This is an outrage. You should remove this video and may god have mercy on this boy's soul.
    • Theshawnlee
      Yes, Please! This is a cynical view of an amazing filmmaker's artistic view. I LOVED this movie and think he did an amazing job! Oh, and so did another 50 million + people who saw it too
      • OperatorTankAteMySandwiches
         The problem is this isn't an attack on editing as he claims. Editors do the best with what they have, and continuity is a pain in the but, but not the fault of the editor. Nor is how a shot is set up as far as framing is concerned. 90% of his problems had nothing to do with editing. This is simply one person who got tired of people saying the Dark Knight was an amazing film. Break apart any film and see how it stands up; no Godfather or E.T. or Transformers is above any Ed Wood like cheese when played back in slow motion. The point is how the movie allows you to feel. My point? If you are gonna whine-about-stuff make that your title, and don't hide under the guise of criticizing an editor to bring hits to your video.
    • Mayor McCheese
      Jim Emerson is a callow hater.
  • I wonder if a general decline in coherence from the 1970s films of Carpenter, Sturges, etc. is due to a feeling that style over content and story over plot is the empahsis? Continuity seems to take a back seat to circus acts.
  • Xerxexx
    To be honest the chase wasn't that great, I mean it was badass but not that amazing.
  • Jake
    I wonder why this guy isn't an editor? Nolan put out the film he wanted to put out and it was well received. Leave it alone.
  • Michael Rees
    This guy needs to shut the f*ck up. Seriously, just enjoy the damn movie. There is no reason in the world someone needs to be THIS picky.
    • Anonymous
      Yes there is. When so many fans are claiming perfection someone needs to point out the flaws...
      • I'd agree that there are inconsistencies - he's done a fairly decent job of pointing that out. But what no one in this thread seems to be asking is if those are on purpose - is this a tool Nolan employed to keep us guessing, I'll post a full comment of my opinion below...
    • Spanky
      Don't like it?  Don't watch it.
      • Biteme12345
        Spanky, you are an idiot
  • josue
    wow hahah never really noticed all those flaws! lol 
  • Anonymous
    This guy is going to ruin cinema for himself if he puts all movies under a microscope like this. I wouldn't mind so much if he just pointed out that, like all movies, there are some continuity errors, but his smug attitude turned what was a scene analysis into bitter film school wankery.
  • It looks like the video has been taken down.
    • I think Vimeo's servers have been killed... It's still there, but Vimeo isn't working, not showing up on any sites properly. Give it some time I guess, but it sucks that it's not working right now. Try again soon!
  • maxpower
    it's okay to study a movie from an editing standpoint. He doesn't say the movie is bad.  It's meant to be educational. That being said, I think that today's audience are better at orienting themselves spatially. We're used to it. We can even make sense of the action scenes in Transformers 3.
    • CookieMonster
      Agreed. Nevertheless there'a also Jim's "Salt" analysis, where he approves all editing decisions.
      • Yup. SALT worked in the editorial department. Not.
  • Jay
    I love it! whogottherole.com
  • Jedibilly
    I still think the Matrix car chase scene was most spectacular!
    • Japetto
      The Matrix Reloaded car chase is well shot but we have these close up slow motion shots of cars flipping behind our characters that are unnecessary.
  • Anonymous
    When Ebert posted this yesterday I knew this would start a firestorm. Like pissing on the cross. Jim Emerson certainly has the credentials to backup what he says. Some of what he voices are incidentals, others not so much. It's an interesting video nonetheless, a great primer on editing. I hope there will be more.
  • Ron
    I got confused on what he was trying to say half way through the video...but I think he was making a good point! Did I notice the mistakes/inconsistencies in video shots he mentioned before I watched the video? Nope! Hence, did it affect my viewing pleasure? Nope! If you aren't looking for something, you won't find it! I guess, only one who is trained and knows what her is talking about would have noticed it. Nolan makes great movies but I don't think everyone assumes he is perfect.
  • ragethorn
    I'm sorry but I can't listen to this.  It's not so much that I believe the Dark Knight is one of the greatest movies of all time, even though I think it's one of the greatest movies in this decade.  This guy's voice is killing me and it's way too long.  I sat there in theatres with a giant grin on my face, so technically, if I enjoyed this "flawed" scene and the way it was shot or edited, then I'm the retard.  Good day to you sir.
  • Anonymous
    What do I think? I think that right now I don't have 20 minutes to listen to some guy I've never heard of tear apart the work of one of my favorite directors. While I won't discount the idea of watching it at some point, on the surface I'm bound to cut Nolan all of the slack and this 'Captain Nitpicky' or whatever-his-name-is will receive little to none.
    • Fanboyism, basically. The points he makes are valid, although it doesn't take away anything from Nolan. 
    • Tiberiaj
      first of all whats wrong with hearing this guy make some points? i love nolan but even I can admit when he's wrong. He's able to back up everything he says. 
  • indyjack
    all i know after watching this is this guy isnt getting laid and christopher nolan is.
  • redguy
    Jim Emerson knows his stuff...
  • Its ironic because half of the stuff he says is wrong with it, is actually what makes it work so well, he seems to be into more traditional linear editing which smith is not and has said he is not, so even though the video is good i find it slightly ironic to his point
  • Superultraboy
    I think this guy make some great observations and points, but he's way too critical and a perfectionist. He has little appreciation for imperfect art.
  • ZachS
    This guy may have a good point here and there, but I wonder what he would have thought of the editing in Godard's "Breathless" or "Bonnie and Clyde."  This guy (while, again, having some good points) only knows enough to get himself in trouble...
  • hombrezoo
    Damn this guy needs to replace Nolan, he is a genius, what I'm saying he needs to replace Kubrik and Orson Wells!!!
    • Mattsride97
      did you just actually type- this guy needs to replace Nolan. ?
      • ZachS
        Mattsride97, I think he was being sarcastic...
  • DAVIDPD
    Wicked! I am one of those guys who never sees discontinuities, but after seeing this, wow...how could I not have seen these things?
  • jC
    my eyes hurt from rolling so much while watching that
  • Random Comment Guy
    I went in expecting to agree with this guy (not a fan of the dark knight) and did the opposite.  He makes good points, but he is viewing it from a critical and theoretical perspective.  For example,  the comment about orientation in the truck... its true that you could argue where the front or back is... but it doesn't matter.  It's also not the editors fault... he doesn't choose where the camera is, he chooses how to best tell the story and i think orientation doesn't rank high in storytelling. This guy would argue about crossing the line 24/7.  So annoying.  It doesn't matter if you break the rules as long as it works... And this sequence works.
  • Roberts 8616
    I was never confused by where Harvey was in the van or by the close ups.  Some of the things he points out are very obvious continuity errors but there are others that could be accounted for by things that we don't see on screen.  For instance, it is completely plausible that the van he claims is "going the wrong way" could have spun completely around before landing in the water.  In fact, I have been in a car that did that after being hit.  (though not in the water of course.)  Also when the van "disappears" it is possible that the drivers were trying to get away from the Joker and accelerated beyond where the next shot cut to.  Plausible?  Not really, but considering everything else we are suspending our disbelief for it isn't that much of a reach.  I never thought the action of the Dark Knight overall was exceptionally well done but that wasn't what I liked best about the movie to begin with. 
    • JMG1972
      "For instance, it is completely plausible that the van he claims is "going the wrong way" could have spun completely around before landing in the water.  In fact, I have been in a car that did that after being hit.” One are 100% right-that is exactly what happens and how it is shown, what is this dope talking about. Also, the semi is never shown to getting into the same lane as the convoy.  Had Nolan done that he would have been criticized for bending the laws of physics-this guys a idiot.  
  • grimjob
    Does anyone really give a damn which side of the van Dent is on? I couldn't even finish the video, got about halfway. Its like watching a movie with someone who keeps saying "That couldn't happen" or "That's so unrealistic". God its annoying!
  • lossy
    thought he would reveal more insight rather than being a pompous asshole
  • happy camper
    very interesting, i myself pick up on things like this in film. And ya the Dark Knight is a far from perfect, but still very entertaining.
  • Xtheory
    i was part of the minority it seems who didn't get what the big deal was with the dark knight, but my god this guy is really nitpicking.
  • KHD
    One would think that a filmmaker as accomplished as Nolan knows these things... BUT does anyone think that he intentionally structured the edit that way, to add to the confusion and chaos he wanted the audience to feel? Maybe all of the continuity 'errors' were actually well placed to subtly keep the audience guessing, screw up their built-in subconscious ability to recognize these errors and amp up the feeling of mayhem? Maybe that was his plan all along?
  • Anonymous
    quite possibly one of the most annoying pieces of movie analysis i've ever seen.  As someone who enjoyed the film tremendously, I did also notice discontinuities during this chase scene. It did, however, not take away anything from my experience of the overall work. I'm not saying this analysis is completely unfounded or he doesn't know what he's talking about. Just that his tone came across as almost snide. 
  • Bubbab
    This man clearly needs to just calm down.
  • Mattsride97
    WHO THE F%CK is this guy talking shit about TDK. IF YOU EVER POST ANYTHING LIKE THIS AGAIN ON FIRSTSHOWING I WILL NEVER VISIT THIS SITE AGAIN, PERIOD! Plus this guy is highly annoying making critical points that have little or no bearing whatsoever on the film. Plus as any editor worth his salt will tell you, continuity is important, but not always necessary to tell a great story. 
  • Japetto
    Nolan actually isn't as great a filmmaker as people make him out to be. He hasn't got that nuance directors like David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky have. However what he is great at though is casting people who are good at what they do whether that be actors or crew. So technical slip ups like this are to be expected.
  • Corey-
    took him 3 years to figure out like three stupid mistakes in a 10 minute outtake of the movie - nice!
    • JL
      No, he's probably been obsessing about it this whole time.  It just took him this long to edit his own video.  😉
  • Navid Sasoni
    i want him to analys one of transformers movies !!! his head will exploade...
  • Anonymous
    why you have to ruin my favorite movie man :(
  • Roy Kino
    Oh no, someone is hurting your favourite director! How could this happen?? Cry babies...
  • Dominus
    The whole movie really bugged me too..  And this chase scene was one of them.  I now understand why. Regardless of it, check your brain at the door and enjoy this film! Heath's portrayal of the Joker more then makes up for all the errors, flubs and WTFs this movie has, 10 Fold!
    • JL
      It was truly one of the greatest all-time performances.  Makes you wonder where he would have gone from there.
  • Someone answer this question for me. What film Jim Emerson has directed if any? Critic my ass. Nolan has his reasons and those reasons make his films great.
    • Manofthehour83
      He is a film critic and managing editor for ebert.com. While I disagree with the majority of points I do find his analysis to take at least an academic approach. You can read more of him here: http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/biography.html
  • Vince
    This man needs a life.
  • Jack
    I couldn't even finish the video. Take down this garbage.
  • Pebbles
    Captain Nitpicky here clearly just wants his chance to say "haha look out smart I am, gosh I'm smarter than Christopher Nolan. Look LOOK everyone I am just soo clever snark snark snark".
  • Anonymous
    Bout time somebody proved something negative about it...
  • Anonymous
    I knew something was off with that action sequence and I did notice some of those things he pointed out when I started analyzing what was wrong. It does detract from enjoying that sequence, for me, when you know something is off kind of like Neo knowing something wasn't right before he discovered he was living in an artificial world.
  • RonaldApple
    This guy is ridiculous. It's all based off of opinion. There is nothing wrong with how this was edited. The orientation points are spread so far apart and there are so few visual elements to prove this that it has no real effect on the viewer. This guy is just a pretentious prick looking for attention. 
  • Anonymous
    The movie rocked anyway and if were being picky why didn't the police convoy just goto the other street on the left and drive the wrong way for one block to go around.
    • JL
      Or just go around the flaming fire truck.  There looked like enough room to jump the curb.
  • So here's my comment in three pieces: 1 I am a fan of the movie and I haven't ever tried to dissect it frame by frame to try to figure out the flaws, so I acknowledge that I have a bias. I am also a fan of Nolan and I know my comments will come off as supporting him because of my bias towards the film. I will say though that I don't believe in a concept of a perfect film, I just think this is a damn good one. 2 Firstly I want to agree with what Emerson says about continuity - there are alot of 3D and 2D linear arguments he brings that simply don't make sense, the truck bursting into the water from left to right though it's clearly be hit from right to left, the 2 no no wait 3 cop cars. In my opinion these flaws are too granular to call out, it feels almost as if there's a certain amount of jealousy going on here. "The film is too good so lets tear down whatever we can find wrong with it" 3 'Confusion in the editing sequences as a story telling tool.' Having said my piece above to agree with Emerson I feel he's missing the point of how the confusion in editing actually adds to the plot development. I was a little shocked when at the start of his analysis he completely skips over the fact that it's Police Chief/Commissioner Gordon who is the masked man driving the truck. The culmination of the scene is the reveal that he is in fact still alive and that he was working with Batman to apprehend the Joker, The visual stimulus of that one driver who's face we can't see in that one 3 second long clip is the foretelling we are given of this reveal. The confusion that follows, in my humble opinion, is the distraction that Nolan was looking for to keep the audience striving to keep up with the visual clues of this chase sequence. As Emerson himself points out in the clip above, the action changes direction constantly, does 180 flips almost all the time, and cuts from level directional continuity to a complete shift in directional movement. Cars come and go and there is the moment where we are led to believe the batmobile is about to strike the jokers truck. Even this Emerson tears apart saying that surely given the visual clues of the camera angles, and the close to medium shots on the batman and the jokers faces indicates that they are on a direct impact course. Again in my opinion this is a visual game that Nolan is playing with the audience to keep them from analyzing the reveal that must be coming - who was the masked driver of that truck? What is Batman's plan here? The driver as I've pointed out and we all know is Gordon, who working with Batman is trying to capture the joker. The visual effects leading up to that reveal are designed to be confusing and contradictory in order to keep you from guessing what is about to happen. Of course I could be totally over analyzing this and Nolan may not have been that smart at all, who knows. I'd love to hear from either Ethan (who posted this - and thanks for sharing, it was a very detailed analysis by Emerson, and I'm glad I disagreed with him, I hope this brings about a good discussion on the scene's relevance in the films narrative) or Alex who obviously runs this site. What do you two think? Lars
  • I gave him an open mind and watched his analysis. Aside from some continuity shots, Jim's analysis had the basis of "feelings of uncertainty" towards the cinematography. When he gets into the details of the Semi hitting the SWAT fan (9:20-11:05), he points out the minor details to the point where he's calling out "this shot doesn't make sense"(10:25-11:05) - when it actually does. Calling out the impossible nature of the semi making that right turn makes his comments seem nitpicky and out of the bounds of cognitive dissonance - "Well that semi couldn't make it down there at night cause traffic is way to crazy in Chicago." I'm not necessarily standing up for "Don't think just enjoy" but good ol Jim needs to adapt to this 'very confusingly shot' scene and not be so confused and overwhelmed by the editing. He started to piss me off a bit.
    • and the shot where the batmobile launches over the car to take the bazooka hit - where he wonders where harvey's armored truck is - Well  I've only got one thing to say for that - SAFETY.  Despite the cold hard facts he's dropping on this whole sequence, he's he missed the fact that a stuntman died during the car chase scene.http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/nov/03/dark-knigh-stuntman You can do your job but have some respect and accountability for all the facts/reasons why they may not have made it your personal cup of tea
    • The semi was clearly ging into the oncoming traffic lane.  He was way off about this.  The rest seemed to be a bit over critical.  It certainly didn't make my brain hurt when I watched it.  I can see why he would think that way.  He is a film editor.  He looks for that sort of thing.  Interesting but very flawed analysis.
  • Robotprophet
    Introducing characters spontaneously through medium or full shots and then dispatching them?...Sound just like what I do in my novels.
    • JL
      Introducing them at least a little bit is necessary, right?  I mean, the Joker isn't offing wax figures.  Even if we can't get some character development, it's useful to the gravity of the story to know that PEOPLE, not just cars and concrete, are being hurt and killed by this psycho jester.
  • Crismertens
    This guy doesnt have anything better to do with his time? Like...put all this energy into making what he thinks will be a better movie?
  • Kaim
    The editor always gets blamed for poor edits.. but what about when the editor receives a mess of footage?? To me this appears to be shot without any real clear plan and follow through. If a guy can make a 20m critique of a movie like this movie makers can put the same thought into the creation process. 
    • Kaim
      Granted, looking back is easier to find errors then when you are actually making it.. and reshooting things like this is not always possible. It is important to really plan these scenes out and get the right person on the job to do so. I would imagine they hire action choreographers for this kind of thing.. but I really do not know.
  • Brian
    We need to stop over-analyzing film, and just enjoy it.  this is ridiculous.  who really gives a she-ot?
  • Fenris
    tbh all this person is doing is voicing his preferences nothing more.. if you listen to all his comments this scene would be an hour long and have that many framed shots and angles it would be an unfilmable mess............. what a nerdy oohh i havent made a worthwhile movie ill pull someone elses work to pieces tard !!
  • Anonymous
    Here's my analysis: GET A FUCKING JOB!!!
  • Drafunt
    way too much free time!
  • hamburglar
    when he was complaining about the 2 vehicles travelling in different directions across the screen, i understood it just fine. i imagined the camera or point of view was between them. pan left to one of them & they're moving from right to left. pan right to the other & they're moving from left to right. no nitpicking needed, it makes sense as it is.
  • This is a nit-pic cynical response from someone who never liked the film to begin with. The "liberties" or as Jim calls them "incoherence's" have been liberties taken by artistic film makers since the invention of movie making. It's always fascinating to me how people like Jim who have never taken it upon themselves to attempt to make a film will elevate himself to be the more "intelligent" person in the room. First Showing just allows itself to give Jim a voice because he mirrors the essential elements of the typical GEEK film fan!!! 
  • Roderick
    wow... didn't notice those things... good points. kind of like in the Matrix, when Neo was being shot at by a agent on the rooftop, just before he drops his guns, and then when the bullets come in bulletime, the guns on the ground aren't there, but return when out of bullettime.
  • Colt
    shut up and enjoy the movie. does your personality keep you from enjoying such things?
  • Rick
    God you fanboys piss me off. Look I like The Dark Knight as much as anyone. As someone who is very interested in film direction and editing, I found that video a fascinating watch, and couldn't care less if he criticized the movie. Yet you idiots are on here all butthurt that someone would DARE to criticize your favorite comic book movie! All he was trying to do was give a lesson on composing action sequences. People like you give fanboys a bad name.
    • But Rick..... he's our God! *bows down in his presence*
  • Abhisheksaxena02
    i think normal people watch movies normally to enjoy for few hours and no one watched it to bring out the faults so it was a pure unrealistic movies for its fan and yeah i do enjoyed it alot but this is a pure insult of a man who can get the adrenalin rush in so and i mean so many people to say that it was a blundder so juzz jim emersone man juzz chill out and relax another one is coming so hookup urself to make comment on it...............u cant i bet 😛 😀
  • Rick, the man doesn't know squat about film making or composition.....or directing for that matter. I am neither fanboy nor geek. Jim was there the day after opening weekend blurting about what a lousy movie this was and then he's the one who got butt hurt when the damn picture became a super blockbuster. Now, years later he's still trying to prove his point. Idiot!!!  
  • Chazzy
    Some of this guy's problems with the sequence aren't with the editing or movie itself, but his inability to follow simple things.  I seriously can't believe he's blaming the movie for this, and trying to sound so sophisticated and smart while doing so.
  • Radioactive Puppy
    Sweet jesus. Half of the people here are Nolan fanboys that believe he can do no wrong, and the other half are people saying that, from a critiquing standpoint, Jim's claims are totally valid. I'm in the latter group, personally. You guys can love the Dark Knight all you want, but it is okay to point out some of the more technical flaws in the movie. Hell, is it a bad movie even with these flaws? No, but you seem to be assuming that this analysis is a bashing of everything that Nolan does with his movies- which it isn't. Calm down, and just try to approach something from more than one viewpoint for once.
  • Max
    A person does not have to be that much of Nolan's fan to recognize his worth and vision. It is probably just because the guy is stuck to keep everything to himself and enjoys knowing every segment of the movie - it's not perfect, but what is?  This might be interesting for an essay but it simply makes no sense to me in doing a brain surgery on a movie which is so loved. Watch it, admit it is good or just leave it be. For starters, watch his "Following" to see what a man can do.  Whatever he did in "The Dark Knight" was probably on purpose or at least, to the best of his abilities.  He's the man, and he is a very good man who makes some seriously good movies like no one does today. Admit it or rest in *pieces.
  • Futurelic
    As an editor, (granted, also a fan of Christopher Nolan and Lee Smith's) this video is positively infuriating.  I am a huge fan of this website and I understand representing both sides of an opinion so I wouldn't dare demand to remove this video,... however, if I had a choice, I would rather blow out my eardrums then listen to more then 5 min of this "analysis" as it is overly critical towards a completely under-appreciated overall piece of art as it is.  Unless one was on set for production, or in the post production studio with the director and editors, one should be a little bit less critical of what both lines both had and didn't have to work with.  It begs the question... "Why Sooo Seriouusss???"
  • Oni
    If he thinks that The Dark Knights action scene is hard to follow, I hope he never watches Transformers 3....
  • Lauren
    Okay people. Calm down. I'm a huge fan of Nolan, don't get me wrong, but Emerson has some very valid points. He's not dissing the film in any way, just showing us little mistakes that filmmakers make all the time. Jeesh.

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