Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight - Dir. Christopher Nolan

Due to my moroseness over the fact that I was not able to attend the 4th Annual Pitchfork Festival in Chicago for the 4th straight year this weekend, I am going to attempt to assuage the pain from not being able to blog about it to blogging about the only vaguely sociable thing I did this weekend, which was to see the Dark Knight, a movie that was filming in Chicago around this time last year, which was wrapped in mystery and with good cause. This is one of the few movies that doesn't give away that much in the trailers, at least up until now. Who knows if that will change as the marketing strategy changes after opening weekend, if such things as trailer editing for television spots does change after a film opens, the whole business of this industry mystifies me, but up until now the marketing strategy was not to give too much away, and I will attempt not to do that in this review. However, I have to say this marketing strategy is also in your face everywhere, at least here in L.A. Practically every single page of the Calendar section of the L.A. Times is plastered with an ad for the movie. I went to on Friday and it was plastered with a "Dark Knight" template. Also, the movie earned a 9.6 out of 10 rating, and was currently rated as the #3 film of all time.

Is that accurate? Is it a 4-star, 9.6 out of 10, Best Picture nominated, all-time classic film? I hate to overhype anything, but I have to say I found it immediately better than the original Batman directed by Tim Burton, and that is a film that I grew up with and have loved for ages. So yes, I think Nolan's re-imagining is more relevant for our times, and never seemed to drag in any segments the way Burton's original did and does. Unfortunately, there are no Prince songs, but they would have seemed uncommonly out of place in this film. It is a very dark, nearly solemn film, though not without its sense of comic relief. There is a very large cast, and every actor does exactly what they need to with their role, and in several cases, more. The screenplay is a rather extraordinarily balanced thing, with this thought in mind. The action sequences, a few notably filmed in IMAX, are as good as any that have come before. Ultimately the Dark Knight should get its share of nominations. It would be ridiculous at this point to say it would win Best Picture, but I do not think it would be wrong to say it should get nominated for it. It is an excellent achievment on every level.

It bears mentioning how one views the movie, because if it is possible to see it in IMAX, that is what I would do. We went to see it at the Universal Studios CityWalk, and were duped by a non-informational website into buying regular tickets, so not only do we pay $10 for parking, but we also just get to see it in a regular theater. In any case it was fun to see Universal Studios for the first time, though of course we weren't going to the theme park. CityWalk was interesting enough, with its outdoor-bar-atmosphere and notably, the machine that simulated skydiving, where people get inside with some weird suit on and fly up like fifty feet inside this tube powered by wind. It was pretty sweet--I may do it sometime, but also it seems kind of scary now that I think about it. We went inside to the movie and waited in a line maybe thirty feet long roughly forty minutes before the film was to start. They were nice enough to let us into the theater about a half hour before it started, but most of that time was spent voicing our disappointment that we weren't in an IMAX theater. However, this is mostly a personal anecdote and not really relevant for regular would-be viewers of the film, except to say, if you want to see it in IMAX, be careful about which ticket you buy if you do it online, because at least during opening weekend, most of the shows were sold out.

An opening night show at 9:10 was something of a spectacle, with many teenagers wearing newly minted Heath Ledger t-shirts, which at first I mistook for merely being a Sex Pistols t-shirt or something like that, but then I realized more than a few were wearing the same one. I found this rather offensive, that a t-shirt company is opportunistic enough to capitalize on the tragedy and to mass-market it to teenagers in a "punk rock" styling. I remarked that I wondered if the profits went to his family. Who knows, in any case, the culture of death that surrounded this film was singularly remarkable. The nearest comparison I could make would be when The Crow opened like fifteen years ago or whatever. Except Brandon Lee was not quite as popular a figure, and his manner of death was so bizarre as to simply confound. Also, The Crow kind of sucks and The Dark Knight is really awesome. It is without question the best Batman movie that has been made. However, one has to admit that the tragedy which befell its most consummate performance has cast an entirely different shadow over the film, and has given the film a weight unlike the vast majority of films are ever capable of bearing. The separation between fiction and reality is blurred and skewed just vaguely enough so that the film becomes a document of the psychology of our times.

The only annoying thing about the movie was the kid sitting next to me who was audibly moaning in pleasure after the first three or so of Ledger's scenes. He would say quietly, "Oh my God, that's so scary," or "That was the creepiest thing I've ever seen in my life" or "Jesus Christ that was so amazing," and I wasn't quite sure if he was saying it for the benefit of his friend on the other side, or for our general five foot radius. In hindsight, I almost wish I had joined in with him, and been like, "Oh my God, I know, I'm like creaming in my pants now." Regardless, this was only a minor inconvenience (of a similar variety and less burdensome than the one when I went to see There Will be Blood, when an elderly man gave his own running commentary of the film for the whole 150 minutes), and there were many true moments of solemnity in the sold-out theater, a rather amazing thing. Though when the Warner Brothers logo came up at the beginning, some kid shouted, "Finally!" and some guy shouted, "Shut up!"

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film, beyond Ledger's performance, is the metaphor for our current national situation--that is, Gotham as a symbol of America. True, it does not seem anywhere near as corrupt, however this government has certainly given us our doubts as to whether the "good guys" are really on our side or not, an element that is echoed in the film by the seemingly untrustable nature of the police force. To be honest, that is one element I did not understand. However, when Morgan Freeman sets up the cell phone signal surveillance system, and Christian Bale sets it up so you can see around the immediate vicinity of every cell phone that is on in the city, and Morgan Freeman sees this, and becomes upset by this method of spying on people, a political message emerges. Of course the technology in this scene and the year-long current-event the FISA Bill are not all that unrelated. One might be going too far, however, to suggest that Aaron Eckhart's performance is representative of this current regime's notion of right-versus-wrong when it comes to pursuing and capturing evil-doers. Nevertheless, the manifold associations one draws, the emotions stirred up, and the plain mastery of the storytelling all establish The Dark Knight as the most outstanding feature of the year thus far. The only problem with blogging about it is that it seems kind of redundant. It's not exactly like I'm saying anything different from everyone else.

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