I couldn’t help but pause this running commentary on War and Peace to do a review of the IMAX version of The Dark Knight. I should preface this by saying that in my teenage years, early 20s, I was hugely into movies. I think, on average, I was at the cinemas every week and a half watching something or other. Give me a quiz on any of the films that came out in the latter half of the 90s, and I’ll be able to do fairly well.
But now, with a two-year old at home, and a data projector for a TV in the lounge room, I find that I either don’t have the spare time to go to the movies or that, even if I do, that a regular cinema is not that much more exciting than watching something on my projector at home.
Which is why I think I’ve been more and more enthused by the IMAX cinema here in Sydney bringing out feature films in IMAX. There’s something so huge and exciting about the experience, and so much more spectacular than the regular cinema-going experience, that it makes for a fun night out.
However, it should be said, that most of the films that make it to the IMAX are more about the spectacle than anything else. The last one I saw was Beowulf which made great use both of the IMAX size and the 3D technology – but was ultimately, a bit of a mindless bash-em-up sort of thing.
I was, at worst, expecting the same sort of thing from The Dark Knight. But I was completely blown away – I’ve seen a few superhero films in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film so completely transcend the genre as this one.
Director Christopher Nolan has gone out of his way to make this world real. So, yes, while we do still have Batman (Christian Bale) wearing a cape, and he’s got all the gadgets, and yes, he’s up against the super-villain, The Joker (the late Heath Ledger), far from feeling fantastic and strange (like a kids movie for grown-ups), it actually feels far more reminiscent of a tough, gritty cops and gangsters movie. (It reminds me very much of the movie Heat with Al Pacino and Robert de Niro, which was one of the defining crime films of the 90s.)
Unlike Tim Burton’s 1989 film, where The Joker had his crazy laughing gas that killed people and big poisonous balloons, there’s nothing like that. Ledger’s Joker is a makeup-wearing psycopath who likes killing and causing trouble, just for the sake of it. Also, he has no back story. Unlike Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the Burton film, who was a gangster who fell in a vat of acid, we’re not given much insight into where the Joker comes from or why he acts the way he does. The Joker gives us a version of a back story in an early scene, but then a few scenes later, we get hints that that maybe was not really the truth.
Also different is the type of crime that’s at stake. The film involves a fairly complex plot involving the Mafia, a large sum of money, a new DA trying to clear up crime, corrupt cops – all of which is far more a police movie than a superhero movie. This may make the film more boring for kids – but I tell you what, it makes it a heck of a lot more interesting for the grown-ups among it.
I also have to say, I really appreciated the way the film delved into the issue of vigilanteism. One of the things that increasingly disturbs me about films nowadays is that so often the hero is a tough guy who takes the law into his own hands (or even her own hands, if we think about Jodie Foster’s recent movie The Brave One). I think this is quite a dangerous concept to promote, and it comes as no surprise that people in America wander around shooting one another and that there’s lots of violent crime – a huge number of their stories, both in books, TV and film – promote taking the law into your own hands and getting “revenge”.
So, in this movie, it’s quite refreshing that this issue is actually explored and dealt with. Batman is a vigilante (and thus the DarkKnight) of the story, but the other side of the coin is Harvey Dent, the honest DA (the White Knight, if you like). Harvey is trying to prosecute crime honestly, using the law. He doesn’t have a mask or cool gear to use, so he has to rely on a sense of honesty to do so. And Batman recognises that the world actually needs heroes like Harvey, who can work within the law to bring about justice. If you only have a constant need for a vigilante like Batman operating outside of the police, then you’re really admitting that the justice system is corrupt and no good for anything.
So the strength of the story, and the issues it deals with, is this one of how to achieve justice and right wrongs in a way that is actually right. (Not just the simplistic “justice no matter how” message we so often see.) I may not have explained this very well, but it will make sense if you see the film.
If all of that sounds too heavy for you, then let me just say this – the use of IMAX in this film is phenomenal. Christopher Nolan actually wanted to shoot part of it with IMAX cameras. (As opposed to previous films I’ve seen at the IMAX, which are just regular films blown up on the IMAX screen.) So for most of the aerial shots in the film, driving scenes (all the really, really cool stuff, in other words), the frame suddenly blows up to a massive towering height, filling our vision. Sometimes it’s almost a bit too much, but the overall effect, combined with the excellent soundtrack (which apparently comes through a lot more clearly in the IMAX version, from what I’ve read) just combines to make the whole film a thoroughly dark, but entirely exhilarating experience.
If I’d seen it on a normal cinema, I probably would have given this 4.5 out of 5. But if you can catch it on the IMAX, it’s a 5 out of 5. Absolutely worth the $25.