305-Aces High

The last time I saw a movie at the Imax theater was Superman Returns. Lena and I went with the whole family as a Sunday outing. Now I have to admit that I wasn’t excited going out the door, I wasn’t planning on paying more than matinee prices for Superman and Imax is usually about 130% of a premium ticket. My ex-dad is always whiney and unpleasant company, and this day in particular he was in rare form. My mom had brought my grandmother, who considers Doris Day to be the limits of acceptable taste, salad to be hippy-liberal health food, and still doesn’t understand why black people would get offended at being called the N-word. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandmother with all my heart, but thinking this was going to be her kind of movie was the same kind of thinking that led to the Spruce Goose, the sinking of the Titanic, and the re-election of Bush.)

Oh the humanity.

We sat in bottom right-hand corner of the theater, (my parents never arrive early when almost too late will do) which in an Imax movie is akin to sitting inside one of the actors’ noses. We were then treated to Superman Returns, which would have been interesting for its special effects in 1970, but after Spiderman and The X-Men was just kind of insulting. I left with a sore neck, a crabby grandmother, and a promise never again to darken the doorstep of any Imax establishment.

Two years later Heath Ledger died.

I liked Heath. For whatever personal problems he might have had, I was a big fan of his work. Not as big a fan as Lena was, and nowhere close to as big a fan as my sister Kristy. There was never any doubt as to whether we were going to see The Dark Knight together, only a question as to where. (I’m sure you see where this is headed.)

Had it been anyone other than Kristy (or Lena… who knew better) asking, I would simply have refused on the spot. But it was my little sister, and Heath’s passage made it a sort of pilgrimage — and if a pilgrimage is easy you’re probably doing it wrong. So we ordered our tickets online and showed up at the World Golf Village Imax theater an hour early for a movie I hoped and prayed wouldn’t be ruined for me by the ordeal of seeing it there instead of my old favorite, the Orange Park AMC.

It occurred to me as we waited to enter the theater that the experience was already better than Superman had been. It took a moment to zero in on the absence of the ex-dad’s puerile kvetching as the reason. We entered and took our seats — high in the middle, just perfect — and waited for the show. Without going into detail, I was blown away.

Batman: The Dark Knight was filmed both with standard movie digital hi-res (as if the word “standard” has any useful meaning in such a sense) and with the more specialized Imax camera equipment. The scenes are intercut throughout the movie, the image size expanding when the action moves outside to encompass the entire six-story screen and compressing to an eighty-foot wide letterbox during interiors and character scenes. The transitions are handled so naturally that unless you are paying attention to the craft of it, you might not even notice. The effect was dizzying at moments, and incredibly focussed at others.

The movie is a crime drama, with obsessive and unstable personalities in abundance. It plays as hard-bitten and gritty as any Sam Spade novel, with an inventive resourcefulness that commands rapt attention for the entire two and a half hours of its telling. All the performances were top-notch, but I suspect that it’ll be difficult for any of the actors to get much attention in the glare of Heath Ledger’s Joker. His possession of the character is so complete and so nightmare inducing as to be at times uncomfortable to watch. Gone is Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top, ham-fisted rendition of the Joker as lunatic clown, and gone is Ceasar Romero’s perfectly turned out neighborhood gangster. This Joker has a purpose, and it ain’t making people laugh. (Comic fans will recognize thematic similarities to DC’s The Killing Joke, from which the story draws inspiration.)

Maggie Gyllenhaal is haunting as Rachel Dawes, and Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is by turns entertaining, moving, and terrifying as the movie progresses. Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are as wonderful as they always are, Michael Cain adroitly gives the movie its “old friend” feel, and Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman continues to show why he is the best Caped Crusader to ever wear the cowl. (And apparently the girls like him too. Whatever.)

In the end, I loved this movie. There were a few nitpicks, but they were pretty insubstantial and I don’t want to spoil anything this early in the game. Unexpectedly, I felt like watching it in the Imax theater added a great deal to my experience, and I am extremely glad I did. (Shout out to Little Sis for that! Yowza!) If you have the opportunity, you should consider it.

Oh, and leave your parents at home. Trust me, it’s better that way.

Watchman trailer.

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