July 17, 2008 / 4:49 AM / 10 years ago

In a digital world, "Dark Knight" takes film route

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - From chilling close-ups of Heath Ledger’s Joker to heart-pounding aerial photography, few summer movies have attracted filmmakers’ attention like Christopher Nolan’s landmark addition to the Batman franchise.

Heath Ledger is shown in an undated publicity photo as The Joker in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action drama “The Dark Knight.” REUTERS/Warner Bros./Handout.

With digital processes all the rage in Hollywood, Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight,” which opens Friday, takes the film route, in part using Imax 65mm film cameras — a first for a Hollywood production — while shooting the rest of the movie in “anamorphic” widescreen 35mm.

But what viewers likely will remember is the exciting cinematography, which has depth, clarity and dynamic range.

A 100-pound Imax camera might look as much like a contraption developed for Batman at Wayne Industries as it does a filmmaking device. But for the film’s director of photography Wally Pfister, the decision to bring it on set was a simple one.

“For more than any other reason, because it is the absolute highest-quality image-capture system available,” says Pfister, a two-time Oscar nominee for the Nolan films “Batman Begins” and “The Prestige.” “What that means for Chris is he can put on quite a show. It makes a much more epic event of the movie.

“For me, at a time when a lot of filmmakers are choosing to go with lower-resolution digital systems, it gives me an opportunity to use the highest-quality film negative available. You expose 65mm and it is printed to 70mm.”

Until “Dark Knight,” the camera had been used only on Imax documentaries, but Pfister used the system in just about every way imaginable for a narrative feature. “We did hood mounts on the cars, we hung it off a crane arm, helicopter and tracking vehicle,” he says.

Imax cameras were used to shoot big action sequences — about 35 minutes of the film’s total run time. When played in Imax theaters, the anamorphic scenes will appear in letterbox form. For the Imax sequences, the aspect ratio will change to fill the entire screen.

“In this time when it is going to get trickier to get people out of their homes and into theaters, I think Imax is one of the exciting exhibition formats,” Pfister says.

He admits, though, that there are challenges to the Imax film route, which is “roughly four times the expense of shooting 35mm,” he says.

“The Dark Knight” reportedly cost about $180 million to make.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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