In 2008 the director Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight,” the second in his trilogy of Batman movies, introduced some audiences to a character not before seen in the franchise, or any studio narrative feature until that time. But that character wasn’t on the screen. Itwas the screen.
That would be Imax, a vast screen that can be as tall as an eight-story building. Though the name is popularly used to refer to screens, it is primarily a format involving special cameras and large-scale film, and before “Dark Knight” it had been known best for short documentaries about ocean life and space travel. Mr. Nolan shot parts of “The Dark Knight” using Imax cameras, with 30 minutes of such footage making it into the final film. When those images were seen in an Imax theater, they filled the screen from top to bottom with a giant, high-resolution image.
Other directors soon followed. For the 2009 “Transformers” sequel, “Revenge of the Fallen,” Michael Bay included over seven minutes of Imax-shot footage. And Brad Bird’s 2011 installment in the “Mission: Impossible” series, “Ghost Protocol,” included about 25 minutes of Imax-shot scenes.
Mr. Nolan’s latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” — he says the film, due Friday, will be his last in the series — features 72 minutes of Imax footage, currently the most any studio film has used. The rest of the movie is presented in 35 millimeter, a squatter, more rectangular look that may be likened to letterbox. The film freely changes format from scene to scene, but viewers who look closely may notice one transition in particular: a gate slams down, and the screen goes from standard to Imax within the shot.
“The sharpness and the depth of the image, projected onto those enormous screens, is simply the best quality image that has ever been invented,” Mr. Nolan said by phone from Los Angeles.
How does that quality translate to the big screen? And in what ways is the difference noticeable? Take a look at these stills, below, from “The Dark Knight Rises,” from a scene in which Batman (Christian Bale) returns to Gotham City after a self-imposed exile, better to understand Mr. Nolan’s enthusiasm.
The image was shot in Imax, but the smaller still represents what audiences will see in a 35-millimeter print at a standard multiplex. Batman’s right hand is cropped out at the bottom of the frame, as is much of the smoke and fog above the buildings at the top. The sprocket holes (for the projector) are on the sides, running four per frame, with the soundtrack vertically to the right of them.
By comparison the Imax version of the frame is about 10 times larger with 10 times the resolution. Greater detail makes it in the shot, like the smoke and fog, and also more vivid-looking extras. To allow for as much screen space as possible, Imax runs its film through the cameras and projectors sideways, with the sprocket holes — 15 per frame — at the top and bottom instead of the sides. And the audio track doesn’t appear on the film print, but on a separate program that is synced to the projector. All this makes for more surface area on the frame to create a denser, sharper image.
Its pretty cool stuff, right? There is also a new photo gallery with nine new images featuring all the usual suspects. I particularly like the picture of Bane in the Gotham offices of Wall Street.
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