The Dark Knight's IMAX Cinematography: Redefining Stunning Visuals

July 17, 2008

The Dark Knight

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!

35mm vs IMAX

Find more posts: Editorial, Hype



That comparison picture is so missing the point of IMAX. Don't try to convince people that a 4x3 image is now better than 16x9+.

Tyler on Jul 17, 2008


I am from Malaysia. I juz finished watching TDK at the IMAX theatre near me I have a question. Hope you guys can answer, or at least giv some comments Why does the film look so blur and pixelated in IMAX? It looks even worse than ordinary theatre!! And izzit normal to have the film so DARK throughout the film? i am a big fan of TDK!! I watched the trailer at least 10 times, but in IMAX, the film is much much darker than the trailer, to the point i have problems knowing wats happening on the screen! Izzit the problem of my local IMAX theatre or izzit the same for all IMAX theatres?? thanks!

Travis on Jul 17, 2008


There are no IMAX's playing in Maryland....gay

Al Coholic on Jul 17, 2008


#3 no offense, but it's either your IMAX theatre, or you sat too close to the screen. Never sit too close in the theatre or in IMAX. Unless your a looping nerd then it's ok.

god on Jul 17, 2008


Im so glad we have 2 imax theaters in my city. Not seeing it in imax at midnight, but I will by the end of the weekend

Rob on Jul 17, 2008


Hey..Travis... me too.. i watched in mid-valley last Wednesday midnight show. it was blur too.

joeg on Jul 17, 2008


The Dark Knight is presented in 35mm 2.40:1 is used for the theatrical version while IMAX here is at 1.43:1

Ivan on Jul 17, 2008


Whichever it is, The Dark Knight is a brilliant movie, wonderfully scripted and well-played. The actors, both Heath Ledger and Christian Bale prevail and there is no doubt Heath Ledger plays a very sadistic and psychotic and more disturbing than all the previous Jokers. Can't wait for the next sequel cause The Dark Knight has simply carved a smile on my face.

James on Jul 17, 2008


I have been a fan of IMAX since childhood when all that was shown in the format were 45 minute documentaries at the Ontario Place Cinesphere in Toronto. Boy how has it grown.

Sean Kelly on Jul 17, 2008


Yeah I live in MD and I drove to chantily to see it in imax. just got home bout 40 minutes ago

Bridget on Jul 18, 2008


They cropped the top and bottom for all the IMAX scenes in normal theaters. That's right, you're missing half the movie. Go see it in IMAX to get the full experience RIGHT NOW. -Bruce Batmen

Bruce Batmen on Jul 18, 2008


I told you so... Why no one ever listens to me?! 😉 http://blogger.xs4all.nl/vads/archive/2008/06/26/398903.aspx

Vitor on Jul 18, 2008


#6 of cuz i din sit close 2 da screen i sit at the 4th row from da top -__-" #8 wonder wats wrong wit our area TDK -__-"

Travis on Jul 18, 2008


Should have put this article up sooner Alex. I am lucky enough to have 3 IMAXs near me (two are like regular screens while one is the planitorium type that I can't stand). ALL are booked solid to atleast Monday. Got my tickets three weeks ago and times were sold-out the day after. Insane.

Ryan on Jul 18, 2008


I saw the 12:01 am showing on Imax and it was wonderful! The screen wasn't blurry or dark so it must've been the theatre u were in. By far one of the best movies I've ever seen! If ur going to see it pay the extra $$ and see it in Imax.

Angie F on Jul 18, 2008


This article and previous articles about the film is true. The IMAX experience was magnificent and I can honestly say this is the GREATEST film I have ever seen....until the projector in my theater burnt out. So....bascially, I still have 20-40 minutes left to watch the movie and it SUCKS. So for ~2 hours, the movie was DAMN good. I'm hating life right now. I've waited in line since 1am for a 3am showing and the movie just stopped. Thought the movie will replay, but it didn't because the projector broke. Now the movie is just eating away at me until I finish this epic film. I truly mean EPIC by the way. The previews really just scratch the surface of the whole experience. O...and 2 free movie tickets does not compensate for the lost experience that is the Dark Knight.

htjia on Jul 18, 2008


i guess it shud b the my theatre's problem really hate it when such a great movie being spoilt juz becuz of a poor theatre now i hav to go for an ordinary theatre too bad ther is only one imax theatre in my country 🙁

Travis on Jul 18, 2008


damn i already bought tickets for the normal experience, looks like now i have an excuse to see it again in IMAX!

Curtis on Jul 18, 2008


I've seen it twice in IMAX; once at the early Joker screening on Tues, once again at midnight on Thursday. And all I can say is: HOLY. COW. The 70mm portions of the film are unlike anything I've experienced. If an IMAX theater is anywhere within driving distance of you, I wouldn't recommend seeing it any other way...how often are you going to have this opportunity in the future? Don't ruin your first experience with such an amazingly suspenseful film by not seeing it the way it was intended to be seen!

Karla! on Jul 18, 2008


Hi Travis. Im from Malaysia too. The quality of IMAX theater here is very poor. It looks worse than ordinary cinema and the whole movie are much darker. It totally ruin the TDK which i waiting for so long. I wonder there are any IMAX standard francais rules in worldwide. I doubt that the TDK showing at IMAX Malaysia is 35mm system. I feel like cheated and very disappointed with the IMAX theater at my area.

Giggsy on Jul 18, 2008


I refuse to watch this film in any theatrical format OTHER than IMAX. It's THAT worth it, and THAT stunning. I feel bad for anyone who can't experience the film this way.

Icarus on Jul 20, 2008


I think that if they are going to call it Imax they need to film ALL of it in Imax. I saw it in Imax and was disappointed and felt ripped off.

David Sutton on Jul 21, 2008


seeing it in IMAX was well worth the $12. it was absolutely amazing to see those sequences shot using IMAX film. it is a bit disappointing when you go to see a regular 35mm film in IMAX because dont they just blow it up? so it might lose a little bit of the picture quality compared to regular theaters. but it also depends on the theater. #22-shooting IMAX film and equipment is very expensive. plus, with each reel only holding 2.5 minutes, it would take FOREVER to shoot the film. and if any scenes needed to be longer than 2.5 minutes, they would have to be cut or altered in some way. until they find a way to reduce the costs and speed up the process, i dont think we will get many mainstream movies shot entirely on IMAX film.

Allison on Jul 29, 2008


Travis, Giggsy and Joeg in Malaysia - Just stumbled on this site while searching IMAX Listings and saw yr comments. FYI, IMAX has ceased operations at Times Square in 2008. But before their lease expired, they already sold the real IMAX projector and after that continued to show films with a normal cinema projector until the lease was up, afterwhich the IMAX theater became part of the Berjaya Times Square Cosmos Theme Park. Essentially, the big screen and audio system in the stunning new facility of the IMAX theater (just four years old) is now reduced to a theme park circus attraction for kids. So, yes Giggsy, you were definitely and knowingly cheated that time without you realised it. It is shameful that at city/country the size of KL/Malaysia cannot support even one IMAX Theater. They just did a very lousy job of managing, promoting and maintaining the business operations there. Well, are you really surprised though? It's just so typical.

Jack on May 27, 2009


Jack and the rest from KL, Malaysia, yeh I agree that the IMAX operations at Times Square was a definitely failure, which was a shame really, cos watching movies in IMAX was meant to be an attraction. Only managed to see The Polar Express when it first came out, but then it's been lousy and a major dissapointment. No wonder that the cinema itself does not get any crowds and it'll probably shut down alltogether soon.

Zeke on Jul 9, 2009


Best movie!

George on Nov 14, 2009

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