‘The Dark Knight’ Turns 10: How Christopher Nolan Launched an Epic Battle to Make Imax Blockbusters

With a fisheye lens, people watch the premier of
Audiences watch the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” inside the Liberty Science Center IMAX theater.

The Dark Knight” was a certified game changer when it exploded onto screens 10 years ago: It made Hollywood take comic-book adaptations seriously, heralded Christopher Nolan as one of Hollywood’s most bankable directors, and even sparked a change in the Oscar’s best picture nominations — but the movie’s biggest talking point was its use of Imax, the first time the format had ever been used on a feature film.

With Warner Bros. re-releasing the movie on Imax screens to mark the 10-year-anniversary, the time is ripe to explore the significance of Nolan’s achievement with the format, and the battle to keep this unique big-screen cinematographic approach in use over the years.

The format, which utilizes 70mm film with a greater amount of perforations, had been limited to documentaries for its first few decades until features began to be formatted to be shown on the gargantuan Imax screens, which reach over 100 feet at their tallest. Film series like “The Lord Of The Rings” and “The Matrix” earned great success via the grain-reducing “DMR” (Digital Media Remastering) process, paving the way for more widespread adoption. The most important example of this was “Batman Begins,” and large-format lover Nolan pushed to take things to the next level with “The Dark Knight,” since the success of “Begins” granted him the freedom to shoot select scenes with Imax cameras.

“The Dark Knight”

Imax’s larger-than-life; almost hyperreal images fit Nolan’s desire to create a more believable comic-book setting, and played a big role in its spectacular visual design, with “true” Imax images filling the entirety of the screen with an aspect ratio of close to 4:3 rather than the cropped 2:35:1 “widescreen” images. It created a convincing scale for the monolithic Gotham City, evident right from the opening shot.

Rave reviews followed, with the common consensus being “see it in Imax,” but despite the rapturous response – and a box office haul that surpassed $1 billion – shooting films in Imax has not become commonplace. In fact, without Nolan’s continued perseverance, the list is depressingly small: Not counting his subsequent directing credits, only seven other features have used Imax for select sequences since “The Dark Knight,” including “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” However, the most significant one was “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” which utilized Imax’s unmatchable scale for the vertiginous Burj Khalifa scene.

Imax hasn’t been able to match the 3-D boom that emerged after the release of “Avatar.” Like Imax, 3-D offers great box-office potential, but was simpler to implement, since it didn’t require special screens. And while Imax exhibition has grown, it is limited to “DMR” films. True Imax remains a rarity and continues to draw parallels with another spectacular film format: Cinerama.

Christopher Nolan shooting
Christopher Nolan shooting “The Dark Knight Rises”

The three-panel, three-projector film process than created immersive panoramic images during the 50’s and 60’s saw an even scanter cinematic use than Imax, and the formats share many of the same problems. They are loud and heavy in the shooting…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

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Sasha Harriet

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