Thursday, July 19, 2012

"The Dark Knight" - A Retrospective

What more can be said about The Dark Knight that probably hasn't been said?  Not that much.  It was the second most successful movie of the last decade, majority of people have seen it, loved it, and gone on and on about it by now.  I'm not here to rave some more about The Dark Knight, but rather reminisce about the first time I saw it.

There are certain moviegoing experiences that will stick with you your entire life, and the first time I saw The Dark Knight is one of them.  This particular story, however, does not start in July of 2008, but in December of 2007, to get in the proper frame of mind.

I was a Senior in high school, and one Friday morning in December I woke up, got ready for school, like I always did.  After I was dressed I always got on the computer for a little bit before I went to school.  I had heard that the trailer for The Dark Knight was going to be attached to I Am Legend, and so I figured there would be a bootleg copy of the trailer up online by that morning, seeing as how I Am Legend had midnight screenings.  Of course, my hopes weren't high.  Studios tended to take down bootlegs almost as soon as they showed up.  Personally, I am against bootlegging, but I wanted to see this trailer so badly, I succumbed to the dark side.  Like a geek I went onto a forum and found a link taking me to a bootleg of the trailer.  It had been cleverly disguised under a different name on youtube, and I was able to see the first theatrical trailer for The Dark Knight in all of its shaky, yet awesome glory.  Check it out, the official version and try not to be amazed by it:

Upon seeing the trailer I rushed into my parent's bedroom -- true story -- just jumbling together my words, but I remember saying, "If the whole movie is like those two minutes, this will be my favorite movie of all-time."  That's how excited I was for The Dark Knight.

Now fast forward to July of 2008.  I had graduated high school and was working a Summer job for a local theatre company, working as a stage hand for their production of Beauty & The Beast.  July 18th was the magic day, the day the film was to be released.  When July 17th rolled around, I had already made plans with three of my friends to see the film at midnight.  Even though we had a performance that I didn't get out of till 10:30, I was not going to let even the tiredness keep me from seeing this movie.  To make a long story short, I was there with plenty of time, we got fairly good seats near the top, although slightly to the right of center screen, which is my coveted spot.  Even still, it doesn't matter, because once the film began I was lost in Gotham City, terrorized by the Joker along with the rest of the characters.

To say exactly what my expectations for the film were at that time, I'm not entirely sure.  I knew I wanted action, and I knew that I wanted to see the same depth of character from Batman Begins in the sequel, but I really was just hoping that it would be just like Batman Begins and follow the traditional three-act structure for a blockbuster and I'd be happy.  That's not what happened.  It was fairly evident from the first twenty minutes or so that this was not going to be Batman Begins, but be something different.  The approach was noticeably more serious, and I know Batman Begins is a serious film, but The Dark Knight took it to a level of few to no jokes being had.  In Batman Begins, there was the occasional zinger, but instead of entertaining the audience through the traditional blockbuster formula of some action mixed with a touch of humor and emotion, The Dark Knight was intent on unsettling the audience.

From the first moment the audience saw Heath Ledger's Joker on the screen, they were transfixed.  I can remember the collective breath of the audience being held when Joker was interrogating the fake Batman on the news.  It's one of those strange moments where you could just feel the room, as if everyone took a deep breath and was not coming up for air.  That same feeling happened so many more times during the screening.  When the Joker crashes Dent's party (a spine-tingling moment for myself), when the funeral for Commissioner Loeb is held, when that image of the burning fire truck flickered across the screen to be followed swiftly by the Joker's eighteen wheeler stalking the SWAT vans.   This was suspense at its most gripping, and never had I before or since been a part of an audience that was so in tune with what was happening onscreen.

When the Batpod emerged from the ruins of the Tumbler there were insane amounts of cheers.  In fact, one of my friends jumped out of his seat at that moment, shouting, he was so excited.  And when the film reached its finale, with Batman taking the wrap for Dent's murders, you could feel that this was not the ending anyone was expecting.  Batman Begins ended with Batman a hero, The Dark Knight ended with him failing, and yet the ending was perfect.  I remember when Gary Oldman gave his eloquent monologue and Batman rode up the ramp on his Batpod, disappearing into the blazing light, I felt chills sweep over me.  For myself, whenever a movie manages to sends shivers down my spine, then I know it has done something right, because I have become so overwrought with emotion, it's no longer within my control.

When the film finally ended, I was literally speechless for at least the first minute.  I couldn't articulate what I actually felt about this movie, because never in my life had I had a moviegoing experience as interactive or as impactful as the one I had just experienced.  Still, to this day I haven't.  It truly was a rarity and I was so fortunate to have been a part of it.  Suffice to say, I loved the movie, seeing it four more times in theaters, twice more on opening weekend.  For a spot of fun, check out my initial review of the film from four years ago.

And now, that brings us to four years later, the finale of Christopher Nolan's Batman series coming out tomorrow, The Dark Knight Rises.  I will be there at midnight, just as I was for Batman Begins, and just as I was for The Dark Knight.  I know now after my experiences with the first two films, that a film can never be replicated, and I am not looking for that to be the case.  I want The Dark Knight Rises to be its own entity and create its own set of memories associated with it, the same way that my experiences with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were so vastly different.

With each movie I was at a different point in my life, one still in high school, the other just graduating, and now here I am, with this one at an even bigger crossroads having just finished up college and looking to pursue my dreams of making movies.  I'm at a different place now, and it's a place that will affect my viewing of The Dark Knight Rises, and I cannot help it.  I do not want The Dark Knight Rises to be The Dark Knight or Batman Begins, and the point I am trying to make, is that I am not expecting it to be.

Too often with sequels, critics and fans tend to put the previous movie on a pedestal and feel it can't do any wrongs.  They want the same experience they had the previous time, and if they don't get it, they're dissatisfied, and that's just not the right way to approach these things.  I for one still prefer Batman Begins over The Dark Knight.  Does it mean I don't like The Dark Knight?  No, it just means I can watch Batman Begins more often and not tire of it as easily, but to be honest, the two are so vastly different in tone, they create a different kind of feeling when I watch each of them, because one is more tense and the other is a little more fun.

The fact of the matter is, I am not worried about critical or fan reception for this film.  The Dark Knight Rises will be what it is, and I can't wait to see it come midnight.  For now, here's the final trailer to tide us all over:

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