Making Movies

QUICK NOTE: THIS POST DOES NOT CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors working currently in cinema. The reason is simple: The Dark Knight Rises is more than just a film; more, even, than a great (and it is truly incredible) film . It’s a blueprint for how movies should be made.

Comparison of IMAX vs 35mm film

At a time when most of the industry is getting sidetracked into making films 3D, or relying too heavily on computer-generated effects, Nolan eschews all that crap in favour of something far more important: realism. Instead of resorting too readily to computer visuals, he does as much as is possible as visual effects in-camera. Instead of distracting, unnatural and often poorly-done 3D, Nolan instead shoots where he can in the IMAX format. There are few directors doing this currently; most of the films you can go see at your local IMAX cinema are the result of a process called Digital Media Remastering (DMR), in which films shot on standard 35mm film are ‘blown up’ to fill the IMAX screen. In fact, only The Dark KnightTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Dark Knight Rises have had sequences shot in true, 70mm IMAX (and the Star Trek and Hunger Games sequels are the only films on the horizon that are planning to make use of the format).

In the credits of The Dark Knight Rises is a line that is perhaps the most telling: Shot and finished entirely on film. The team working on TDKR are clearly proud of the work and methods they used to bring the film to the screen.

This sort of filmmaking excites me. I prefer film to digital cinema; digital is cold and inorganic compared to 35mm. And doing as much as possible as physical effects makes for a far more realistic looking film – no matter how good the CG, there is always a part of you that still knows its fake.

I really hope The Dark Knight Rises is a successful film (it certainly deserves to be) that leads to this style of filmmaking becoming more widespread. TDKR may not be my favourite film of all time, but watching it in the BFI London IMAX (the UK’s biggest screen) was the single greatest cinema going experience I’ve ever had. The difference between the footage shot in IMAX in comparison  to the 35mm scenes that had been through DMR. The gap was almost like standard definition versus high definition. The IMAX shots were truly jaw-droppingly amazingly stunning. In the wide, sweeping aerial shots of Gotham City you could see people on streets and rooftops. When there were closeup shots of people it felt like you could see individual skin cells.

It wasn’t just the resolution that was amazing; the daylight IMAX scenes were bright as much as sharp.

And the sound! The subwoofer sounded capable of concussing household animals, it actually made the seats shake. The opening sequence was a complete barrage against the senses, shot entirely in IMAX, loud, and above all without special effects. The best opening to a film since… well, since The Dark Knight.

This, however, is where my wife and I disagree on our methods of enjoying films. Whereas she is entirely engrossed in the story, I am also  impressed by the technical expertise that has gone into making the film. We both may have come out of the cinema gushing about the movie, but I was largely talking about the technical aspects; basically, the elements I’ve already covered in this post. Holly, meanwhile, loved the story (I felt compelled to tell her not to talk too loudly on the train, lest she give away spoilers; it was weird, I think I wanted to ensure everyone had the same epic move experience as I’d just had). It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the story of a film, but for me there is more to films than that. I can’t help noticing the technical side of a film; I’ve worked as a projectionist and in video editing so the construction side of a film interests me. My wife couldn’t really care less that they accidentally destroyed an IMAX camera filming both The Dark Knight (destroyed in the epic tunnel chase sequence) and The Dark Knight Rises (someone drove the BadPod into one). I’m surprised they still let Christopher Nolan shot IMAX, those cameras are about $300,000 each.

To me, 3D is a gimmicky filmmaking technique. Even the film that made the best use of 3D to date, Avatar, was a bit gimmicky in its implementation. I saw Avatar in the London IMAX and despite the impressive visuals, The Dark Knight Rises is the visually superior film, partly because of the higher resolution of the IMAX photography. I find the extra sharpness far far more engrossing than 3D. When done well, it can be effective, but that fact you’re watching three dimensional images on a two dimensional screen is damaging to the verisimilitude, no matter how effective it is.

When it comes down to it, we want to go back and see The Dark Knight Rises again, and I’m planning for it to once again be at the IMAX. I’m also very tempted to attend on of the midnight screenings of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, because if there’s one thing I really regret, it’s not seeing TDK at the IMAX.

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