Batfans, We Might Have a Problem: A Look at The Dark Knight Rises IMAX Prologue

Last Friday, Operation Early Bird kicked off after a short viral campaign of “leaked CIA” redacted documents suggested an imminent surprise. The surprise was a countdown at www.operationearlybird.com. As the day went on Friday, points began to appear on a map. A few hours after these points appeared, links from pop-up balloons gave Dec. 13, 2011 – 10pm as a date and time at various IMAX theaters around the country, followed by a link to purchase tickets.

As fans guessed, it was a sneak preview of The Dark Knight Rises prologue attached to this Friday’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol release in IMAX.

SPOILERS (OBVIOUSLY) PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

If the short six minute IMAX teaser that hit select cities in the past week is any indication, Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises (2012), is in need of some serious work. Let’s flashback a couple of years to the Dark Knight (2008) teaser. Nolan not only introduced us to the film’s chief villain, Joker (Heath Ledger), but gave us an action sequence that had as much punch as it did polish. We were given a glimpse into the mindset of the Yin to Batman’s Yang that was wrapped in gorgeous, vertigo inducing skyline shots of Gotham City. In comparison, the prologue teaser for DKR is not only underwhelming but sloppy.

The prologue begins with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) addressing a crowd at a memorial for Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He states that he believed in Harvey Dent and that his death has left a hole in Gotham City’s moral fabric that needs to be filled. Nolan then cuts to a jeep in a third world country carrying a team of CIA operatives with some hooded thugs and Dr. Leon Pavel (Alon Abutul) in their custody. The jeep arrives at an airstrip where the team meets up with their squad leader (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Game of Thrones), who promptly demands that the prisoners be loaded onto the plane. Soon, we discover that Bane (Tom Hardy) is one of the masked men and the whole plan was a ruse to discover how much information the CIA had on Pavel. A zero-gravity fight breaks out and we’re left, appropriately enough, with more questions than answers.

There are several problems with the prologue that worry me. First, and many critics and writers have already noted this, you cannot understand 90% of Bane’s dialogue. Not only is Hardy performing with what sounds like a Russian accent, but Nolan has spun that accent through modulators and distortion filters that leave him sounding like a descendant of General Grievous. We cannot understand most of the plot in the prologue because it all comes out like a coughed muffle. Now, this can be fixed with some post-production work but I cannot help but wonder why Nolan would rush this material if it wasn’t ready. It’s more embarrassing than awe inspiring (and this is coming from a huge Nolan and Batman fan, a prejudice that should be taken into account). Secondly, the dialogue by Christopher and Jonathan – at least in the case of the CIA ringleader – is on the nose to the point of being kind of hilarious. When the squad leader realizes he has sprung Bane’s trap, he shows off his Ph.D. in Obviousness by asking “What was the next step in your master plan!?” Nolan could have simply given us a concerned look on Gillen’s face; it would have accomplished the same effect without inducing a silent groan. Finally, Nolan’s staging of the action was pretty stale. While Jim Emerson has taken Nolan to task for giving us sequences that lack any spatial clarity in The Dark Knight, what blew my mind was how similar this sequence was to the hallway fight in Inception (2010): both scenes involve zero-gravity fisticuffs as people slam around an confined space.

Now, it’s important to note that we still have over half a year before The Dark Knight Rises hits screens. That gives Nolan plenty of time to loop Bane’s dialogue and refine some of his editing. On the prologue plus side, cinematographer Wally Pfister continues to get more and more comfortable with the IMAX format and we do get a couple of stunning shots (particularly the climax to the airplane hijacking). Moreover, composer Hans Zimmer has given Bane a theme that can perhaps rival that of his sinister suite for the Joker. Overall, I believe in Christopher Nolan but I remain a tad pessimistic after this sample.

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11 Comments

  1. Perhaps the lowered expectations are the point! It's like a politician playing down a debate performance so when they don't perform well, everyone already engaged in that narrative. So maybe we're being primed not to expect something very good in TDKR.

    One thing I do find curious, and perhaps you can point me in a direction, is the general assumption that Nolan rushed this and is responsible for it being released like this. Because a release of a tease like this has more to do with marketing than the director.

    Yes, Nolan was no doubt aware of the looming deadline for the tease, but there's a lot of stuff to take care of, and I'm sure a largely unnecessary tease (does this movie really need hype?) wasn't at the top of his priorities; it was just at the top of the studio's.

  2. I agree it is likely a marketing thing, but despite that Nolan still is an artist who loves his craft, and you'd think that the first tease of your new work would be to the highest standard possible. My wife mentioned to me this morning that she thought the prologue could have been a test to hear Bane's voice and audience reaction. Given the wide complaints about Batman's voice in The Dark Knight, its possible!

  3. Given that Nolan is now the WB Golden Boy and that he and his wife are producers on the film (which was done through his production company), I assume he has quite a bit of control over the marketing and yes, I agree with Mike, Nolan is also a director who puts care into his craft.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Noel! 🙂

  5. Eh, I remain unconvinced of Nolan's influence in marketing until I see something from someone about it. Yes, he is CO-producing the film through Syncopy with Legendary, but the property is ultimately Warner Bro.'s, not his, and I imagine that they ultimately have more say over this sort of thing, regardless of how much Nolan loves his craft.

    Of course, I could be wrong, too. No way of knowing unless we see contracts for everyone.

    I do agree with the idea of this potentially being a test bubble for Bane's voicework, and attempting to sort that out. Yay for free audience testing!

    And now let's talk about Bane's whitewashing casting! (Just kidding. Let's not.)

  6. Yeah, I still couldn't see the contracts for the Superman movies from the 70s when I contacted WB last year. Just seems odd to release two trailers where you can barely understand the dialogue (the first one had muffled Jim Gordon). At least the posters have been keeping me happy!

  7. OMFG! Nolan iz a god! HOW DARE YOU CRAP ON HIS AWESOMENESS!! LETS SEE U MAKE A MOVIE IF YOUR SO GOOD AT IT! HACK!

  8. Holy Toledo, so glad I cilkced on this site first!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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