NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Warner Bros. took the wraps off what is arguably its biggest movie of the year Monday, unveiling "The Dark Knight" in a splashy Manhattan premiere.
The event -- which shut down a block of Broadway as media and gawkers crowded a busily trafficked street to glimpse the likes of Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman -- featured an opening performance that was as much sound-and-light show as premiere. Composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer played a piece of the score accompanied by an elaborate lighting number with a Bat Signal as its centerpiece.
The Imax screening was the first large-scale presentation of the film, which the studio will roll out to a screening-packed schedule this weekend.
But for all the pyrotechnics, the event also had another potential purpose: as a quiet, backdoor test of the movie's awards potential, especially for Heath Ledger and his performance as arch villain the Joker.
Studio executives, who congregated with a kind of nervous energy in the top-floor lobby of the Sony Lincoln Square, may have gotten what they had hoped for: There were several small midscreening ovations for the late actor.
The screening reaction of both the media and the industry proved not just a test of the movie's drawing power -- it's already expected to challenge for the biggest opening in history -- but whether it could gain traction as an awards contender. Big summer movies generally have been passed over by the Academy for all but technical awards for the past several years.
In some ways the event resembled another Warners premiere of several years ago: the debut of Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." Like "Knight," the movie also had a buzzy New York premiere that was meant as a precursor to a big opening but which quietly set the stage for a successful awards run.
The mainly insider audience also provided some focus-group info of sorts when it murmured excitedly at the first of many Imax-enhanced overhead shots.