I haven’t been to an IMAX cinema since I was teenager and I’ve hardly been to any kind of cinema at all this last year, so I was very excited when I sat down to The Dark Knight.
It was immense, frightening, thrilling, moving and ultimately a bit puzzling, but what interested me almost as much as the film, was seeing it at the IMAX screen. I read that it was the first feature length movie to use IMAX cameras and that they were only used for about 20 minutes of the film.
This raised a number of questions. Like how did they mix 35mm and 70mm film? (IMAX film is like 70mm film, only upended and it runs 3 times as fast). Did they shoot the IMAX sequences with an IMAX camera and a 35mm camera simultaneously, or did they crop the standard frames from the IMAX film? If so how did they compose the shots knowing they would lose chunks off the top and bottom? Would they crop the sides off the 35mm film to fill the screen and sacrifice massive amounts of resolution? And with that in mind, would the sequences shot with the IMAX cameras look significantly better? I’ve been lying awake at night pondering these questions.
When the movie began, there was no mistake the opening scene was shot with an IMAX camera. There was no visible grain whatsoever and the image stretched from the floor to the ceiling. There were aerial views of Gotham (Chicago) that were breathtaking. They were so real, in fact, I felt nauseous for the first 10 minutes of the film. I even thought I’d have to leave the cinema for a moment. Once I was over that, it was just awesome.
Apparently IMAX film has an image resolution equivalent to about 70 megapixels. Standard 35mm film weighs in at about hgh gold 10-15 megapixels. When the first scene shot in 35mm began, the difference was stark. Film grain suddenly became visible and the clarity dropped significantly. All my questions about how they mixed the 2 formats were immediately answered. When the film switches to 35mm the top and bottom of the screen simply goes dark and you see the standard cinema aspect ratio. The effect is not as jarring as it might sound, though when the film transitioned from an interior shot on 35mm to an aerial shot on the IMAX camera, the sudden visibility of the bottom of the frame heightened the feeling of falling into the screen.
That snatch of Wall-E I saw a couple of weeks ago was projected using a Digital Light Projector, and whilst the image was very bright and vibrant, it was a bit too much like a big plasma screen TV for my liking. Not so much in the movie itself, but in the trailers and some of the text I saw preceding it. I am not usually a traditionalist about digital technologies, but I did much prefer the image quality at the IMAX. Projected as it is, using real film. Massive, 70mm film. So impressed was I, I am resolved to seeing everything that is released in this format at the IMAX. Take note studios – I will pay the extra $7, so please make more films like this.
In case you want to know what I thought of the film, I liked it a lot. I liked the first third, I loved the second third, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the third third. If I were IMDB I’d have it at 8.9. I hope that isn’t too vague a review, I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for anyone.
Here’s a size comparison of IMAX film and 35mm film from slashfilm.com
Quite a difference huh?