Friday, July 18, 2008
The Dark Knight
Posted by 50PageMcGee
It takes a certain kind of runaway nerdery to insist on seeing a comic book movie at 3:30 AM on opening night. I nominally belong in this category of Nerd because I hang out with the people who write for this blog, but having never waited all night to see an opening before -- not for any of the Star Warses, not for any of the Harry Potters, not for any of the Lord of the Ringses -- I was missing a vital notch on my nerd belt. That was until this morning. I caught the second screening of Dark Knight on IMAX at the Metreon in San Francisco and before the film began, I took a moment to gaze around the theater at the other moviegoers. The Metreon IMAX seats over 600 people and you bet your ass it was sold out. Yay nerds!
I'm so glad I went to the IMAX screening too -- as has been well documented, there's about 22 minutes of footage, spread across the film, shot specifically for IMAX viewing. The (Ebert) and Roeper review claimed that this footage will translate well to a standard screen, but if you can part with the extra five bucks for an IMAX viewing, it's soooo worth it. There are several exquisite aerial shots of Gotham and a few of Hong Kong where the story takes us for a brief interlude. Most of these Gotham shots were actually of Chicago, the most massive city in the country and it's a rush, drifting above the sheer hugeness of the place for a few seconds before settling back into the story.
The IMAX camera was also used on a few of the interior shots, which are also quietly breathtaking. You've seen parts of these in the ads -- the one that stuck out the most for me was the shot of Bruce Wayne's substitute "Batcave": a broad, windowless warehouse room somewhere in the middle of the Wayne Enterprise's downtown headquarters. It's the huge room with the ceiling made entirely of white panels of light. That light-ceiling is marvelous and one of my favorite shots in the film comes as Bruce and his butler Alfred are leaving it.
The snazzy camerawork is bolstered by really beautiful color. According the IMDb trivia, Christopher Nolan was heavily influenced by Michael Mann's Heat and it shows. Dark Knight is bathed in that same sad blue saturating Heat. Watching Batman gazing down on early morning Gotham from the tops of its tallest towers, I thought of Edward Gorey in The Unstrung Harp referring to, "the blue horror of dawn."
"Gotham isn’t beyond saving. There are good people here,” says Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. At the time, he was referring primarily to Commissioner James Gordon and Assistant DA Rachel Dawes. Gordon is back in Dark Knight and, one film later, he's still so subtle in the role it's easy to forget that it's Gary Oldman behind those glasses and that tired grimace.
Rachel is back as well, but with Maggie Gyllenhall and not Katie Holmes playing the part. And Dark Knight is so much better off for the switch. Gyllenhall is noticeably more comfortable in the part and her version of Rachel is bold and aggressive in a way that her dainty predecessor wouldn't have been able to manage. Previews show her in direct confrontation with the Joker and it's worth mentioning that it's Rachel initiating the confrontation -- she stands up to him, terrified but resolute. More on that moment later.
New to the cast, and completing the trio of stars is Aaron Eckhart, playing DA, and former Police Internal Affairs detective, Harvey Dent. He is as relentless in his pursuit of justice as Batman, but in contrast to Batman's sinister midnight aura, Dent is the symbol of a brighter, cleaner future. At a fundraiser for the District Attorney's office, Bruce introduces him in glowing, optimistic tones -- this is a special scene: to the guests at the fundraiser, Dent is getting Bruce Wayne's seal of approval, but he's also getting Batman's seal of approval and neither Dent, nor any of the other guests are even aware of this.
If you know anything about the Batman comics, you know that Harvey Dent eventually becomes the villain, Two-Face (and if you didn't, oops). A tragic event leaves him with a horrifically disfigured face (outSTANDING job on the makeup here -- Dent's face has been melted down to the sinew and at one point, a piece of his charred flesh peels away from his chin and he spends the duration of the film with a gruesome white patch of exposed jawbone). Two-Face goes on a vigilante rampage against the people who, for a variety of motives, set him up -- it's a twisted spin on his Internal Affairs days. His earlier compassion and lawful earnestness give way to contempt for the limits of the law. His system of justice now rests, literally, on the flip of a coin.
Then there's Heath Ledger as the Joker. I think what's most riveting about the performance is how casual it is. He's far from a raving lunatic. In fact his thought process is rather lucid, all things considered. He's a brilliant person who once had a terrible thing happen to him -- not unlike Dent. Only Dent is operating under extreme contempt for the law, but still maintaining some system of fairness. For the Joker, on the other hand, contempt isn't even on the spectrum of the way he evaluates the world. "Do I really look like a man with a plan, Harvey?" he asks Dent, "I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things."
The character of the Joker occasionally makes cameos in other DC titles -- you see him as a face in the window on the door of his cell, looking out, grinning, saying nothing. I wondered what it'd have been like to catch a momentary glimpse in a later Batman film -- one that has nothing to do with the Joker -- of Ledger's face peering out, curiously patient eyes, from behind the bulletproof glass.
I mentioned something about Rachel Dawes's bold confrontation with the Joker at the fundraising party; she's not even the first to speak up. The first is an old man, maybe in his late seventies, who defiantly declares that the partygoers aren't afraid of the painted villain. This courage and gallantry has bloomed in the hearts of many of the citizens of Gotham -- this is a story of heroism, but not just among the few stars; there are moments of startling courage coming from even the most minor characters.
For example, there are several copycat Batmen patrolling the city -- the heroics of the real Batman have inspired ordinary citizens to launch their own righteous attacks on the Gotham criminals. One of these amateur renegades gets kidnapped by the Joker and his abduction is videotaped and broadcast. In the recording, the Joker asks him why he's running around dressed as a superhero. The chubby hostage replies bravely, through his trembling, that the citizens of Gotham refuse to be intimidated anymore by villains -- pretty darned nervy considering he's in a room with the most terrifying bad guy in Gotham, and there's nobody around to back him up.
There are several moments like this, and I was pleased to hear the Metreon crowd deliver some modest applause when the non-stars displayed such gumption.
I was giddy watching this. Dark Knight was captivating from start to finish, and I do believe it has instantly become my favorite action film of all time.
at 10:21 AM