‘The Dark Knight’ is a 2008 Academy-Award-winning film by Christopher Nolan. It is the second part of Nolan’s film series focused on the adventures of the DC Comics character Batman. The movie was inspired by the Joker’s adventures in the comic books. The movie was filmed mainly in Chicago and in several other locations. One of the distinctive features of this film is Nolan’s usage of an IMAX camera to film certain moments of the film. The movie itself is notable for the usage of special effects, for its general setting, usage of costumes and sound, and especially for its mise-en-scene that adds to the general mood of the movie and makes it stand out amongst others.
Since the beginning of the film production, Nolan was determined to show that Gotham attracts psychotic criminals because of the presence of Batman. Thus, the escalation of conflict and the confrontation betwixt good and bad are the main motives of the movie, and Nolan did a great job to adapt the cinematic techniques to reflect them. Since the movie is based on the comic books, the setting and the costumes of the characters should correspond to the fantastic side, yet they should be made as realistic as possible in order to catch viewers’ attention and make them as interested in the movie as possible. The movie itself is famous not only for its script but also for developing the darker theme of Batman universe established by the award-winning Batman Begins movie.
The opening scene of the movie is one of the most effective ones in the history of cinematography in terms of character introduction and setting out the narrative genre and characteristics of the film. At the beginning of the film, the viewer can see the wide shot that establishes the general location and setting of the movie, specifically the city of Gotham that can be understood from all the skyscrapers visible in the shot. Steadily, the wide shot begins to zoom in and is accompanied by a violin going from low note to a high one in order to create tension and anticipation of something to happen. Then, as the shot is zoomed in completely, the viewer sees the window bursting and a person in a clown mask. One may than assume that since the clown mask covers the person’s face, the robbery is going to be set, and thus the person is introduced as an antagonist and a criminal. In this shot, the music also changes to a ticking drum tune to accompany the events. Then, in one quick motion, the shot cuts to a low angle showing the back of the criminal. In this shot, he is also holding the somewhat iconic clown mask, an indication that the before mentioned robbery is something bigger and more complex than it might have seemed. The viewer understands that there is more than one person and that the robbery is thoroughly planned.
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As the group of individuals sets in motion, the camera cuts between parts of the team. Shooting the actions of the criminals, the camera is positioned in such a way that it is able to show all of them positioning on the roof and a bit to the right over a shoulder from the back of the vehicle. As the group begins to talk, shots change between them in a chain way. They finish each other’s sentences implying their unity and yet the not full awareness of who is in control – it is apparent that even though they are talking about the Joker, they do not know who he is. This short sequence swiftly establishes the movie to be a thriller, an action movie and a crime, since it involves the robbery and the murder of one of the antagonists – on the roof when one shoots another after the work is finished. Thus, it is obvious that the members of the team involved in the robbery are not well acquainted with one another. Each robber then performs his role and the camera is following them from various angles. The entire opening is set with great thoroughness and care. The mise-en-scene is present in every single shot, showing the city of Gotham and the bank that looks so real, that the viewer might assume it was rented for shooting the scene. As the scene progresses, all the criminals are killed with only one left standing, who then reveals himself to the bank manager to be the Joker. Thus, it becomes obvious that the Joker is the main psycho-antagonist of the movie. Therefore, the cinematographic elements at the beginning of the movie are united so efficiently, that the viewer understands what kind of movie it is going to be and what kind of character the antagonist is. Nolan has stated that the movie is concentrated not on the origin of the Joker, but on his rise and on being an absolute evil already. The opening sequence does an amazing job and fulfills Nolan’s intension.
The design of costumes of the main heroes of the film is also meaningful and efficiently adds up to the general mood and setting. The Joker’s look surely adds to his personality, showing that he is not the one to care about his looks, and still is a bit edgy and grungy. He is not dark-looking as the villains usually are, the colors and the texture of his costume are so vivid, that the viewer might actually imagine how it smells and feels. The Joker looks like an anarchist, and his clown mask represents the essence of the character. Even though one would expect the main positive hero of the movie to be wearing certain colors, Batman, as usual, comes dressed in all black, not in a typical superhero outfit that makes him even more frightening and powerful. This costume, however, adds up to the movie, since Batman is always in the centre of attention of any shot that he appears in. The costume of Batman is somewhat different from the one used in the first movie. It corresponds to the idea that Batman uses more sophisticated technology and still makes him more similar to Batman presented in the comic books and animation. However, the colors and costumes fit into the general theme of the movie, highlighting the crime/action superhero genre of the film.
Many scenes in the movie are shot with the help of IMAX cameras, since Nolan believed them to be better than the usual cameras, regardless of the challenges they present for a filming process. Christopher Nolan uses various camera angles in the movie in order to attract the viewer’s attention. Quite often, he uses close-ups when showing faces of the main antagonists and protagonists, which enables viewers to memorize the main characters in order to pay attention to them throughout the movie. What is more, there are many behind-the-back shots that make the audience involved in the general movie setting and make them interested in the action on the screen even more. Throughout many conversations on the screen, Nolan switches shots betwixt the speakers so that the audience would understand who is talking and would be able to recognize the voices later in the film. There are also reaction shots throughout the film making action more real and vivid, making the audience feel like they are actually in the shot all the time. The scenes of the film are also distinct due to the usage of dark colors to convey the mood. Many scenes are set up during the night because that is when the crimes usually happen in the real world. The lighting in the film is set in such a way for a viewer to clearly see what is happening on the screen, but they are not theatrically overused, so that the scene looks more natural and real.
In addition, Christopher Nolan used sounds and other elements of cinematography to set and highlight the mood throughout the entire film. The usage of music in the general film setting is worth mentioning. There are always certain low-pitched sounds when something bad is about to happen – in order to prepare the audience and set the mood. The sounds interchange in order to show the moods of the heroes and to increase the tension of certain scenes. Fade-ups in the music happen, when either the main antagonist or protagonist enter the scene. Music is often aligned with the play of the darkness and light in the frames. For example, when the Joker steps out of darkness, with the music rising, audience understands that this is the main villain, who is in control of nearly everything bad that happens.
The first appearance of Batman is also accompanied by the rising music and many close-ups to identify that he is in fact the protagonist. Recent fade-ups in the music also add to an increasing tension betwixt the audience and the film itself. Sometimes, when the action scene appears on the screen, gunshots might be interrupted only by the music to highlight the loudness of the shots and to make the mood of the audience change and make them understand that this is actually an action/crime film. In one of the scenes of shooting, the gunshots started to fade out when the Bat-mobile appears in the scene. This way, the audience understands that Batman is here to save the day. As he arrives, the silence falls in order to build up the dramatic effect of the scene. Quite often, when the protagonist appears, the music fastens in order to add the feeling of action and to make the fight scene more nerve-racking for the audience. Batman always moves fast and the music accompanies his deeds effectively as he is dealing with the enemies adding the sounds of him beating up the enemies. During many critical moves in the film, the music stops suddenly to create the tension and suspense. In addition, there are mixes of sounds during the fight scenes in order for the audience not only see but also feel the action.
To conclude, Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ is truly remarkable for the usage of various cinematographic techniques, as well as for the general setting of the movie. The audience feels involved in the action, gets the feelings of suspense and tension throughout the entire film and is able to distinguish betwixt the positive and negative heroes. The audience understands that this is a fantasy film, but is able to be attached to the situation because of the realistic setting and professional approach to the movie decor.
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