Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Here's What's Wrong With The Bat For IMAX

USA Today have broken the news that The Dark Knight will be released to IMAX cinemas. Sounds like a good move, eh? It's not that simple however... we'll get into that in a moment... but first... the pictures.

Yep, they also included two pictures - one of masked bank robbers, one of whom may be The Joker (my money's on the one in the back) and another in which, indeed, The Joker appears without his mask. Let's take a look at them, before we go on...

Quite a cleverly chosen pair of pics, I feel. I've been quite impressed by the marketing of this film so far.

So, back to the problems. What's up with this decision to shoot on the IMAX format? Well, there's two things.

The first isn't specifically an issue this time round but in the case of every feature film shot on IMAX. Simply put, composing images and editing them together for a screen of that size is a trickier thing than working for, say, a decent sized cinemascope frame.

Imagine a simple conversation comprised of two set-ups, each of them over the shoulder shots. Now imagine the sequence cutting back and forth between the two of these pieces of footage. The eye has to travel, on each cut, from side to side of the screen, and this takes time, particularly as the eye has to read a large area ofd information to find a new focal point. And this time is instrumental in the precision of an edit. The difference in scale between a small cinema screen (think about those in the dark recesses of a smaller multiplex, where films wind up after five weeks on release or so) and an IMAX screen is enough to require different edits. Really - to make your cuts absolutely smooth in even a simple conversation scene can require a frame or two, maybe even three or four, of alteration between these two scales. That's assuming, of course, the perfect
edit is something we're seeking.

Okay, this isn't a deal-breaker when we're only talking about conversations, about the ping-pong back and forth between two over the shoulder shots. When you start dealing with fast action, multiple angles and complicated shifts in screen geography, however, you might start finding your film unravelling a little. The kinetics of a sophisticated action sequence can be disturbed quite seriously by not taking the scale of the finished product into account.

So, the question now becomes, does Nolan leave a buffer in his edits to allow for the massive scale of the IMAX screen, of the immense, detailed images that the eye has to navigate - even though this might make the film seem a tiny bit sluggish in a normal auditorium or on TV? If he can't work the format pefectly, he'll be left with a trade off between clarity and pace when, really, both are equally important.

That's always an issue, and not specific to this case. And there are solutions, there are ways to stage and cut your sequences to sidestep the problem. But these solutions are tricky to keep in sight, aren't something directors and editors are widely skilled or experienced in, and not everybody is going to be able to pull it off.

And of course, to make matters worse, Nolan is using the IMAX format for only the action scenes of his film - where the above problem will be at it's most noticeable. But this fact also leads us on, however, to the other problem, the one specific to this project.

According to USA Today, the IMAX format is only being used for four action sequences. Nolan explains that these four scenes will 'fill the IMAX screens' - the implication being that the others won't.

Just a few days ago I was listing films that are in more than one aspect ratio during their running time - suddenly, here's another for the list. In the other cases, however, the change was always made horizontally: the film widened, or narrowed. That isn't the case here - this time, the film is to become taller, to expand vertically. And while a horizontal shift isn't exactly invisible, it's much less distracting than a vertical change - at least at this scale.

So, four times throughout his film, Nolan is to suddenly shift the window on his film's world. Four times throughout his film, he's to take his audiences by the scruff of their necks and pull them back into their cinema seats, remind them just how artificial an experience they are having. This is just the same problem the IMAX version of Superman Returns had (without the sideshow bonus of 3D). It's simply not a good idea - and four times, throughout the film? And just as momentum is supposed to be building?

Terrible move. Terrible.

My early recommendation is to avoid the IMAX release of The Dark Knight altogether. Hopefully the compositions in the action scenes will work fine on a normal cinema screen too, and the film will therefore at least have one 'optimum' version.

We're only just starting to see the damage that DVD and home cinema have really done to cinema. They've squashed audience sizes just enough that studios, directors, exhibitors and distributors are turning to William Castle novelty and chicanery, no matter the cost to the film. I hope they stop these silly sideshow gimmicks right now and simply get on with the matter of making all of their films in 3D. That's not only the best solution they have, it represents a genuine step forward in cinema.


Anonymous said...

Wrong end of the stick!

They wont be shooting in IMAX 15perf 65mm format.

It will have an IMAX release, with the Digital Intermediate master upscaled and output to produce 15perf 70mm IMAX film prints.

ltar said...

Excellently written article. Very comforting to know someone else thinks of these issues the way a few others do, and has the avenue to express them. Unfortunately, like the chain Regal Cinemas here in USA, (who inexplicably, in MOST of their screens, doesn't even use an anamorphic projector, instead, SHRINKING the screen on an anamorphic movie....so that the screen fits the image, not the image filling a wider screen.......inconceivable), most people won't notice, won't say anything and studios will continue to think nothing is wrong with the current model and that people aren't going because films aren't shot in IMAX. Please just fix today's theaters to exhibit half as well as Sony theaters do (sold because of bankruptcy...inconceivable) and stop shrinking the screen. The only gacks who don't care about bad exhibitions are the only audience still swarming to the movies...teenagers. And since they don't complain, nothing is done.
All this technology means nothing...if only a third of the screens in America exhibit them well.
Anyhow, I'm rambling, please continue the thread of this issue, and kill IMAX and fix everything else, and BRING ON AVATAR! 3-D is the next step.

Adam said...

Look at both pictures again. Closely.
If the top picture is indeed the Joker...then he's in the FOREGROUND of the bottom picture.

Anonymous said...

I just figured it out - The Joker in this movie looks like Pris from Blade Runner with more red around the mouth.

Brendon said...

They WON'T be shooting in IMAX format? At all?

That's not what USA Today believe. Seems that 4 scenes will be, and the rest will be upscaled...?

ltar said...

This from wikipedia:

For its IMAX release, Nolan had four major action sequences, including the Joker's introduction, shot in the format. Nolan admitted he wished he could have shot the entire film in IMAX, and felt, "I figured if you could take an IMAX camera to Mount Everest or outer space, you could use it in a feature movie."[43]

Robby Villabona said...

I watched SPIDER-MAN 3 on IMAX -- and (setting the bad story aside) it was a horrible idea. I couldn't follow the action sequence effectively. It was like watching TV with your face 6 inches from your screen.

Piglia said...

Totally agree. IMAX is the new Cinerama. Bad move by Nolan. Salutes from Argentina.