There’s a scene in The Dark Knight where star Christian Bale stands on a ledge on top of the Sears Tower. Is it real or is it CGI? It’s real; the way director Christopher Nolan likes it and the way he believes an audience should see it.
He filmed Bale from a helicopter above the real Sears Tower. His lead actor isn’t in a studio. Bale isn’t in front of a green screen pretending to be in awe of the view. The actor is part of the view from the top the world’s fifth tallest building at 1451 feet.
In Nolan’s film The Prestige rival magicians try to outdo one another. One relies on gritty reality while the other relies on technology. An interesting theme for the director who revived Batman. His vision of Batman chooses reality shot on film locations over the world of digital effects.
Wired.com interviewed the director about his decision to keep it real as much as possible. There are still special effects in the film, but Nolan wanted to shoot on location, not in a studio. Not only did Nolan want to keep it as real as possible he wanted to capture some of that reality on IMAX. He’s the first director to use the IMAX format for a feature film.
But to do so he had to be prepared for some of the drawbacks of shooting in IMAX’s huge 65mm format. IMAX film can capture reality at its most detailed, but using digital effects on IMAX film is more expensive than on 35mm because of that larger format. So, he would have to capture what he wanted on IMAX and use as little digital enhancement as possible later on.
The IMAX camera weighs 60 pounds and is noisier than a 35mm camera. Nolan likes to get the actor’s dialogue from the shoot during the performance, rather than return months later to dub parts that aren’t clear. But for Nolan the detailed, high definition IMAX, even with its difficulties, was worth using for the aerial shots, such as the one with Bale on the Sears Tower, an armored car chase and the final confrontation with the Joker.
Nolan did use special effects as they were needed. Bale’s Sears Tower shot is a prelude to Batman leaping from the tower but that was done with effects. But even the effects were given a human fingerprint by adding a layer of human generated camera motions to the special effects shots.
The director wanted “the human element of choice: the little corrections, little imperfections. Certain uncertainties.”
Nolan strove for reality to keep the camp at bay. As everyone remembers who had the misfortune of seeing it, the last Batman film, Batman and Robin, was a campy disaster that clipped Batman’s wings, though the franchise was going downhill fast before that.
The inspiration of Frank Miller’s darker vision of Batman helped the character come back to life. Yet, even though Batman Begins was a success Nolan wasn’t sure he wanted to work on a sequel. The trouble was he knew how he wanted the story to end and he couldn’t abandon that vision.
Nolan wanted The Dark Knight to live up to its name. He wanted the darkness inside his characters to drive them. Bruce Wayne is sublimated to his Batman persona, Harvey Dent, the DA, will go through a metamorphosis into Two Face. All this while the Joker is the embodiment of anarchy causing havoc with glee.
Speaking of the Joker, Nolan wants to be sure people know when you see Heath Ledger as the Joker you’re seeing Ledger, not any digital fill ins or replicas of the late actor. Nolan made sure to reiterate that the actor completed every aspect of his performance before his death.
It wasn’t just locations or the IMAX format that translated to reality for Nolan. It was the lives of this dysfunctional group of characters from the superhero to his arch enemies. In the world of superheroes Batman has a complexity most other’s lack. He is a dark personality in the dark city of Gotham. Christopher Nolan worked hard to bring real drama to an unreal set of characters.
On July 18 we’ll find out if he succeeded in keeping it real.