DVD & Blu-ray Festivals London Film Festival

The London Film Festival 2015

This year’s London film festival featured many high profile films primed for the awards season, yet many other delights were to be found.

The opening night gala Suffragette (Dir. Sarah Gavron) was a solid portrayal of how English activists fought to secure votes for women. Carey Mulligan was impressive in the lead role of Maud Watts, but there was all too brief cameo by Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and the direction by Sarah Gavron from Abi Morgan’s script felt a bit pre-packaged at times.

The effective tension of the climatic scene at Epsom Derby was somewhat lacking throughout the rest of the film. Although the core issues of this film are still undeniably vital, it doesn’t ultimately do them justice and feels too much like an undercooked BBC television drama.

A superior issue-based film was Trumbo (Dir. Jay Roach) which managed to deftly combine history and politics of a later era, namely the blacklisting of Hollywood screenwriters during the 1950s through the figure of Dalton Trumbo. In the title role Bryan Cranston does an excellent job, bringing charisma and a surprisingly comic edge, given the travails Trumbo and his family had to endure during the Hollywood blacklist period.

It also takes risks (which mostly pay off) by showing iconic Hollywood figures of the period, like Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and John Wayne (David James Elliott), which along with Jay Roach’s intelligent direction make this one to look out for.

One might suspect a documentary about British comedian Russell Brand’s rise to fame might be a PR exercise, but Brand: A Second Coming (Dir. Ondi Timoner) was anything but. Charting his early life and later rise to fame, from UK TV shows to moderate Hollywood success, radio infamy with the Sachsgate affair and later YouTube political activism, this is a fairly riotous affair, skilfully weaving news footage and more intimate interviews.

Surprisingly, Brand has distanced himself from the project, saying he was uncomfortable watching it when it premiered at SXSW in March. Perhaps it was the raw depictions of his personal life that he didn’t like. But this is far from a hatchet job, rather a skilful portrait of a media figure, balancing his somewhat  with a raw honesty and a wry wit.

Since the advent of digital cinema and smartphones, the possibility of shooting an entire feature film with a camera in your pocket has felt tantalising close for indie directors. That dream now seems to have fully arrived with Tangerine (Dir. Sean S. Baker), a low-budget film shot on iPhone 5S, with special lens adapters. It is the tale of a transgender prostitute (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), just out of jail, who discovers from her friend (Mya Taylor), that her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransone) has cheated on her.

The resulting film is an energetic romp around nocturnal LA which uses the limitations of its budget wisely to create a film which made a splash at Sundance and the festival circuit. Performances are good all around and actually helped by the use of non-professional actors, which lend it a lot of charm and authenticity. The next challenge for director Baker is whether he will be able to repeat this winning formula on a bigger canvas.

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, perhaps the decade, was Beasts of No Nation (Dir. Cary Fukunaga) – a devastating portrait of child soldiers in war-torn West Africa. It follows the young Agu (an astonishing Abraham Attah) on his journey from innocent boyhood to gradual brutalisation as he comes under the sinister influence of a self-styled ‘Commandant’ (a brilliant Idris Elba).

Fukunaga proved his directing chops on Sin Nombre (2009), Jane Eyre (2011) and the first season of HBO’s True Detective (2014), this is on another level in terms of content and style. Shot with a stark realism – aside from a few memorable deviations – this is a highly absorbing piece, layered with stunning technical work and horrific sequences shot on location in Ghana. Although it bears some similarity to Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Johnny Mad Dog (2008), this is essential viewing.

There can often be interesting talks and events at the London Film Festival and for me the highlight this year was Screen Talk: Christopher Nolan & Tacita Dean & 35mm: Quay Brothers Meet…. A two-part event at NFT1, the first section was a lengthy discussion about the merits of shooting and projecting on celluloid film (especially 35mm and 70mm). As you might expect, Nolan gave a passionate and convincing case for the format he loves, going into detail about the benefits of shooting on film.

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Dean was equally effusive, as an artist who has worked in film her whole life. The panel could have benefitted with a digital advocate, perhaps Tangerine’s director Sean S. Baker, but nonetheless was an absorbing experience. The second part, three avant-garde shorts by the Quay Brothers introduced by Nolan, was more curious. One in particular sounded like a 10 minute loop of a helicopter exploding.

Sometimes it is easy to forget the simple pleasures of a solid, well-made documentary and Hitchcock/Truffaut (Dir. Kent Jones) didn’t disappoint on this score. An admirable compression of the lengthy interviews the two iconic directors conducted in 1962, it also managed to include sterling contributions from contemporary directors such as Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, and Olivier Assayas.

A feast for cinephiles, both the choice of archive material and editing were all excellent. It would be fascinating if Jones could somehow make a series for pay TV or VOD platform that utilised the full interviews. Although the original interviews go into considerable depth about Hitchcock, the choice of questions by Truffaut are also revealing about the French director, who had only made three films at this point in his career.

The success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) prompted a mini-boom of graceful martial arts films (also known as ‘wuxia’) such as Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). The Assassin (Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien) is part of this tradition of filmmaking, telling the story of a female assassin (an excellent Shu Qi) recruited to kill a key member of a rival dynasty.

It subverts the genre by introducing a slower pace with longer edits, minimal dialogue and a square frame (1:37 aspect ratio) which often makes characters look surrounded by the landscapes of 8th century China. A gorgeous film to sink in to with stunning costume work and production design, director Hou Hsiao-Hsien has created a sensory feast. A polite warning: ignore anyone who says this film is ‘boring’ or ’too slow’. It richly deserves the prizes and praise it has collected since premiering at Cannes in May.

Although partly inspired by grim real life events Room (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson) is a brave and incredibly moving film. Novelist Emma Donoghue adapted the screenplay from her own novel which explores the kidnap and imprisonment of a woman (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay). Potentially difficult themes are sensitively handled, with director and writer providing a solid platform for the main actors to do some terrific work.

Larson and Tremblay are both extraordinary, bringing a range of emotions to their roles: the former builds on her excellent work in Short Term 12 (2013) whilst the latter gives one of the best child performances in years. It is amazing how several sequences wring out such tension in enclosed spaces and seemingly regular locations. A tough watch, but a rich and rewarding one that shows that smaller, independent films can still pack a real punch.

Among the film-related documentaries to show at the festival was Listen to Me Marlon (Dir. Stevan Riley), a startling portrait of acting icon Marlon Brando. In form and content this film is impeccable, brilliantly blending Brando’s own personal audio tapes with archive footage and stylish recreation of locations. For those who only remember Brando as the sad, reclusive figure of his later years, this film is essential viewing.

Like a cinematic time machine we are transported back: to his early life in Nebraska (an abusive, alcoholic father but a loving, sensitive mother; then on to New York, where he came under the tutelage  of famed acting coach Stella Adler; and the his stage and film breakthrough, with roles like The Wild One (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954) and later on The Godfather (1972). His seismic impact on acting and culture is well conveyed and the later tragedies of his life are handled with sensitivity and tact.

In a world of overblown franchises and dark arthouse material, audiences hungry for more elegant fare are often left feeling empty handed. However, the virtues of simplicity are evident in  Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley), a skilfully crafted tale of immigration and love. Set amidst the contrasting landscapes 1950s rural Ireland and the New York borough of Brooklyn, screenwriter Nick Hornby and director John Crowley powerfully bring to life Colm Toibin’s novel with care and affection.

This is aided by some convincing production design by François Séguin on a relatively low budget and the excellent costume work by Odile Dicks-Mireaux. But the real heart of this film is the acting, most notably Saoirse Ronan in the lead role as a woman torn between two lives but, also from Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Emory Cohen. A polished jewel of a film and one of the highlights of the year, let alone the festival.

Horror is a genre that has badly lost its way in recent times, from the endless slew of torture-porn to more smarty pants hipster work. But a new and striking wakeup call was The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers), a genuinely creepy period piece set in 17th century Puritan New England. When a family is banished from their home village they are forced to survive in a sinister wood where mysterious things start to happen.

Although there are shades of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) and Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009), this retains its own distinctive flavour. What makes this debut from Eggers so interesting is that it eschews obvious cliche and instead uses suggestion, soundscapes and realistic touches. Grounded performances and excellent location shooting also made this another festival highlight.

An interesting hybrid of drama and comedy Youth (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino) is another fine example of the the kind of delicious cinematic banquet served up by Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino. The setting is a Swiss health spa, where a famous conductor (Michael Caine) contemplates his life, amongst a variety of fellow guests (including Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz) and the backdrop of the Swiss Alps.

In a way this is a departure for the director, with none of the masterful intensity of Il Divo (2008) or the boozy magnificence of The Great Beauty (2013). However, the more muted and elegiac tone here is offset by some terrific performances (Caine in his best role for years) and the usual technical excellence Sorrentino and his crew provide. Whilst the film may divide audiences, alienating those who want a quick hit, this felt like something that may grow in stature as the years go by.

Stop frame animation got a new jolt with Anomalisa (Dir. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson), screened in this year’s surprise slot. The problem in describing this marvellously inventive work is that there are few comparisons to turn to. As someone who generally agrees with the ‘Every thing is a remix’ idea (i.e. that no film can be 100% original, this stretched that notion to breaking point. The story depicts the stay of a successful but melancholy writer (voiced by David Thewlis) at a motel in Cincinnati, where he meets a woman (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who he connects with.

From the first frame to the last, one is struck with the craft and inventiveness on display. The dialogue, voice acting (including one treat I won’t spoil) and overall look of the film is stunning. In its own way this is ambitious as Kaufman’s last film – Synecdoche, New York (2008) – but perhaps Duke Johnson has helped add a slightly lighter tone to proceedings. There are scenes in this film which are as funny and truthful as any in recent memory.

Sometimes a film can be so audacious in content and style that it leaves you mentally exhausted. This one-take film Victoria (Dir. Sebastian Schipper) is just that, a heist movie which gloriously upends the genre. When a young woman (Laia Costa) is approached by a group of men as she leaves a Berlin nightclub, she doesn’t realise the long and eventful night ahead of her. Although, the narrative takes time to build (and hinges on on some implausible moments) it is well worth the ride.

Although there is no conventional editing, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen and director Schipper constructed a fluid shooting style that not only works like editing but also feels true to the story. It goes without saying the actors and crew all contribute to this exercise, but Costa here is the standout. A lot rests on her shoulders as the main character and she delivers with flying colours in what is a remarkable achievement.

The closing night gala Steve Jobs (Dir. Danny Boyle) was a mixed bag – a technically impressive work, undermined by a  misguided and flawed screenplay. It presents the life of Steve Jobs in three acts: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT system in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Each segment in shot on different formats (16mm, 35mm and digital), which gives them a distinctive flavour, and a neat way of showing how technology progresses.

However, Aaron Sorkin’s script is the elephant in the room. Not only does it have a highly selective approach to Jobs personal and professional life but is so littered with outright inaccuracies that the whole enterprise comes crashing down. The lead actors all do their best but sequences involving Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen border on the utterly ludicrous and there is no mention of cancer (the disease which killed Jobs) or Apple’s most iconic product, the iPhone. Of course screenwriters must compress, but here Sorkin took several liberties and in doing so wasted a golden opportunity, because the material he omitted was much more interesting.

> Official website for the 2015 London Film Festival
> Past winners of the Sutherland Trophy at Wikipedia

Cinema Reviews Thoughts


A film of enormous ambition and stunning technical accomplishment, director Christopher Nolan’s space epic dares to dream big and mostly succeeds, even if its reach occasionally exceeds its grasp.

Set in a dystopian future where Earth’s resources are running dry, widowed farmer, engineer and ex-test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is confronted with a dilemma when offered the chance to lead a last-ditch mission to save humanity by the elderly NASA physicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

This involves using custom-built spacecraft, advanced theoretical astrophysics and travelling to the far reaches of space and time. Apart from the obvious risks, he will have to leave his family behind: young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), who are both devastated to see him go.

Joined by Brand’s own scientist daughter (Anne Hathaway), two other NASA (Wes Bentley and David Gyasi) and a multifunctional robot called TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin), the team venture into the unknown, searching for potentially habitable worlds.

To say much more about their mission would be entering dangerous spoiler territory, suffice to say that what they experience in deep space is truly a sight to behold.

Nolan’s own challenge was to blend real-life theoretical science (with the help of world-renowned physicist Kip Thorne), interstellar space travel grounded in a semi-plausible way, and finally to explore the emotional toll this takes on human beings.

It is a tall order and using a blend of practical and digital effects, and a scientifically literate script, the writer-director weaves a patchwork of influences which he just about pulls it off.

The twists and turns of the story may be too much for some on first viewing, but this one where you have to strap in and embrace the ride into other worlds.

Dust-filled Earth and chilly deep space are realised with stunning clarity and imagination: cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) shoots the dark wonders of space and other worlds with a piercing intensity.

Visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin complements these with seamless digital transitions, working from stock NASA imagery and Thorne’s theories, the work he and his team at Double Negative have achieved here is truly exceptional.

Editor Lee Smith also brings a wonderfully brisk pace to an epic that lasts 166 mins, whilst utilising the crosscutting technique that Nolan used to such great effect in his Batman trilogy (2005-12) and Inception (2010).

The production design by Nathan Crowley, costumes by Mary Zophres and sound design by Richard King all create a rich, immersive and at times even tactile quality, which is surprising for a film as expansive as this.

Given all the technical brilliance at work here, and perhaps because of it, the performances of the actors are occasionally dwarfed by the sheer scale, but McConaughey, Foy, Hathaway and Irwin are the standouts.

McConaughey especially delivers the goods as the engineer burdened with courage and a seemingly impossible inner conflict and Ellen Burstyn burns brightly in a small, but critical role.

Surprises abound in Interstellar, and although the obvious sci-fi influences are here – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – perhaps less expected are traces of Reds (1981), Field of Dreams (1989), The Abyss (1989), Solaris (2002) and Sunshine (2007).

Like Nolan’s other films it will almost certainly repay repeated viewing, but it bears all the hallmark of his very best work: smart, technically accomplished and leaving the viewer with a desire to experience it all over again.

> Official website
> Reviews at Metacritic
> Interstellar at the IMDb
> Roundtable interview with Nolan and his cast with THR (26 mins)


Film Notes #14: Following (1998)

Christopher Nolan’s debut film is #14 in our Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this series of posts involves me watching a different film every day for a month, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a current cinema release.

Hopefully it will capture my instant thoughts about a movie, providing a snapshot of my film diet for 30 days and some interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Following (1998) which I watched on DVD on Friday 6th April.

  • The debut film of Christopher Nolan that he made for just £6,000
  • Originally conceived as ‘no budget’ movie, it is just 78 minutes long
  • Idea of the narrative was to not just tell a story chronologically but to construct a modular narrative that consists of three sections that pull at one another
  • The plot is about a young writer in London who starts following random strangers but when he comes across a burglar named Cobb, he gradually becomes sucked into a web of deception.
  • We absorb the story of the film in the fractured, fragmented way we do in real life.
  • Shot in and around London – principally Central London, Southwark and Highgate
  • Bolex wind up camera used to shoot Central London scenes at the beginning
  • There is a shot of Hungerford Bridge by Charing Cross Station
  • Nolan used a lot of natural light and real locations that he was able to get some kind of access to.
  • Although he often only had a day’s notice to shoot scenes on location, his actors had done 6 months rehearsal so they could adapt pretty easily to most situations
  • They shot without permits using real locations, which often included flats belonging to friends or family.
  • Did they use Framestore CFC as the location for the cafe?
  • Producer Emma Thomas can be seen in the background of that cafe scene early in the film.
  • Nolan got the idea for the film when he lived in Central London and constructed a story around the idea of focusing on one person in the crowd.
  • The story explores the barriers we put up by virtue of having to live in a city. In a sense it covers similar themes to TAXI DRIVER (1976) and CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986).
  • Note that the burglar character is called Cobb – also the name of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in INCEPTION (2010).
  • The other influence on the script was when Nolan’s flat was burgled in the early 90s and he realised that it wasn’t the lock on the door keeping them out but social convention.
  • Police told Nolan after his robbery that thieves often steal a bag during the robbery to their things in. He worked this into the script.
  • All the flats belonged to relatives or friends.
  • Shooting on rooftops is a handy way of getting a landscape view of city without permits.
  • Nightclub scenes shot at a bar called Detroit in Covent Garden.
  • Only had 3 or 4 lights to use in the nightclub – although it was “murderous” lighting job, it would have been harder to do in colour.
  • Note that make-up gets less severe as the film progresses
  • The Batman logo is on the door of the flat they rob!
  • Theobald’s physical appearance is a signifier of where the plot and narrative is at.
  • Nolan used an ARRI BL camera to shoot
  • The film plays very different on subsequent viewings – even then Nolan was very interested in the narrative possibilities of cinema.
  • Cobb knows the hidden side of London, which is what Nolan used for the locations.
  • Fractured narrative recalls Nic Roeg’s BAD TIMING (1980)
  • The guy who has his skull smashed looks a lot like Harry Potter
  • It would be interesting to know what system Nolan edited this on. It was just as digital, non-linear systems were becoming mainstream.
  • Black and white lighting is used to very good effect – gives it a film noir vibe
  • Typewriter and Minolta camera Theobald uses are actually Nolan’s.
  • Dialogue is a bit on the nose in parts but given the unusual structure that’s perhaps intentional.
  • Lucy Russell’s line on the intercom was ADR’d by Emma Thomas at the last minute as they needed it for the sound mix the next day.
  • The rooftop fight sequence posed a problem for post-synching as most no-budget films can’t really afford it.
  • Nolan got around this by maintaining the rough, unpolished vibe of the piece. The sound mix works within the world of the film.
  • You can see the seeds of MEMENTO (2000) in this film: haunted protagonist, fractured narrative, people deceiving each other and the rug being pulled out from the audience
  • Director’s uncle John Nolan is the policeman questioning Theobald at the beginning and end.
  • Note the pacing and editing as the film reaches its climax.
  • Final shot of the film was done at waist height so no-one could look into the camera (although if you look carefully somebody does for a split second).
  • The film was written and designed for the budget it was shot on – it made very good use of it’s limitations.
  • Is this the lowest budget feature film of all time?
  • It premièred at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1998 and Nolan got an agent and attention from other festivals including Slamdance, Amsterdam and Toronto.
  • He began principal photography on MEMENTO (2000) in September 1999 and it later had its world première at Venice in September 2000.


Del Toro and Nolan on Memento

Earlier this year Guillermo Del Toro sat down with Christopher Nolan to discuss Memento in Los Angeles.

It was after a screening at the Egyptian Theater to promote the restored Blu-ray release of the film and was a fascinating discussion between two of the best directors currently working in Hollywood.

Although it looks like it was officially filmed for future release, Michael Midnight was in the audience and managed to capture edited highlights of the conversation.

Amongst the things they discussed were:

  • The influence of Jorge Luis Borges on Nolan’s writing
  • Why Nolan has never watched the ‘chronologically correct’ version
  • Distribution chief Bob Berney (who masterminded the release of Memento and Pan’s Labyrinth)
  • Why seeing Memento connect with audiences inspired Inception
  • The importance of ‘restless’ actors like Guy Pearce
  • The mix of emotion and genre
  • How Nolan’s brother Jonathan persuaded him to never reveal the truth about the ending
  • Nolan’s stripped down approach to dialogue
  • Casting Guy Pearce and Carrie Anne Moss
  • The IMAX film camera

> Christopher Nolan and Guillermo Del Toro at Wikipedia
> Visual representations of Memento

Technology Thoughts

From Celluloid to Digital

The digital revolution in how films are seen and made is currently spelling a slow death for celluloid.

Since the early days of photographic film in the late 19th century, moving pictures have been captured and then projected via some form of celluloid print.

The origin of the name “film” even comes from the process and has been the primary method for recording and displaying motion pictures for over a century.

But with the advent of digital technology over the last decade the days of film-based production and projection are numbered.

This also presents an an interesting paradox: what will we call films once they are no longer shot or projected on film? (Should I rename this very website?)

But whilst we ponder that, it is worth exploring why this is all happening and the differences between the old and new processes.


From the early days of cinema until very recently light has shone through a piece of celluloid and the resultant moving image was then projected on to a cinema screen.

This video by the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley shows how film projection has traditionally worked:

In the last few years cinemas around the world have been gradually replacing the above method with digital projectors, which essentially replace cans of film with a large hard drive of data which is then projected via a computer system.

This video from the Electric Cinema in Birmingham shows how a local UK cinema is dealing with the transition to digital:

But why is this happening?

Think back to the first four months of 1998 when Titanic was dominating the global box office.

In cinemas around the world 35mm prints of that movie had been delivered in cans and spooled through projectors on to screens.

Although it was a box office phenomenon that played for an unusually long time, James Cameron has since revealed an interesting technical paradox about its success.

At the Cinema Con conference back in April he claimed that the only reason it didn’t play longer was because the prints physically wore out after 16 weeks.

“Titanic played so long that our prints fell apart. We actually only left theaters because our prints [had become] unwatchable. We hit the upper boundary of how long prints can run in theaters, and I can tell you how long that is – its 16 weeks. It’s a good problem to have but for the last half of that [theatrical run] they looked pretty ragged, they were all scratched up… so all that stuff is in the past and we’re really in a brave new world right now.”

The rise of digital cinema projection began in 1999 just when digital optical discs were gaining traction in the home market with the DVD format.

The first major film to be digitally projected was Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, although it was only shown on a limited number of screens in New York and Los Angeles.

Over the next decade, digital projection gradually become a reality: 2002 saw the major studios form a joint initiative to agree on technical standards and by 2007 many multiplex and arthouse screens in the UK began upgrading to digital systems.

But for wide acceptance the new system still needed a boost and in the same way that Star Wars in 1977 convinced cinemas to upgrade their sound systems, Avatar would be a game changer for visuals.

When James Cameron was making his sci-fi epic, he felt that 3D films would ride on the back of digital cinema, only to find out that its staggering commercial success actually drove the digital conversion of the remaining cinemas, as 3D movies can only be shown on digital screens.

So in the heady days of early 2010 as Avatar was overtaking Titanic as the all-time box office champ, many executives in Hollywood were convinced 3D was a magic formula, especially as it was quickly followed by the huge commercial successes of Tim Burton’s 3D version of Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3.

You could debate that those films were going to be hits anyway but studios and cinema owners looked at the numbers and felt they would be missing out if they didn’t have digital screens to show 3D movies, even if the quality was poor (as was the case with Clash of the Titans that Easter).

During 2009 there were 650 digital screens in the UK, but just a year later this had nearly trebled to 1400, with 1080 of them 3D enabled. This meant that 80 per cent of all cinema releases in the UK were on digital prints, compared to France where the figure was just 20 per cent.

Another driver has been hugely profitable animated films in 3D, such as the recent Pixar movies (Up, Toy Story 3) and even less acclaimed films like Ice Age 3 and Rio, which have been enormously profitable for studios.

The formula is a seductive one – they aren’t as risky or expensive to make as a big-budget live action film and they have a wide appeal to family audiences who often go more than once and buy their kids related merchandise.

This is why cinemas during school holidays increasingly resemble an animation convention.

But the post-Avatar boom in 3D titles has given way to a dip of sorts, with some questioning just how much it has boosted recent blockbusters, but whether the 3D trend continues or not, digital projection is here to stay.

But how long before film-based projection will effectively end?

It seems the end of 2013 will be a key moment.

Part of what is driving the digital revolution is raw economics and the reduced costs of shipping digital versions of movies to cinemas as opposed to cans of film.

At a movie conference in Australia earlier this year a participant said that major studios have made deals that will effectively end the wide distribution of film prints by 2013.

After that an independent cinema could still rent an old celluloid print, but the rise in costs will make it prohibitive for them, so in a few years this projection method will effectively be over.

At CinemCon earlier this year in Las Vegas, the head of NATO (North American Theater Owners) John Fithian said that almost 16,000 screens out of a total of 39,000 had been converted to digital and confirmed that the end of 2013 was effectively a cut off date.

He essentially urged members who hadn’t made the jump yet to get on board or go out of business:

“For any exhibitor who can hear my voice who hasn’t begun your digital transition, I urge you to get moving. The distribution and exhibition industries achieved history when we agreed to technical standards and a virtual print fee model to enable this transition. But the VPFs won’t last forever. Domestically, you must be installed by the end of 2012 if you want to qualify. Equally significantly, based on our assessment of the roll-out schedule and our conversations with our distribution partners, I believe that film prints could be unavailable as early as the end of 2013. Simply put, if you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.”

Is this a sad development or the start of a new and exciting era?

There is a lot of misplaced nostalgia about a print being lovingly threaded through a projector by a dedicated projectionist and that there is something inherently special in 35 mm.

It is true that a good print in a decent cinema looks great, but if you ventured outside of the premium cinemas that critics and filmmakers view films on, there was a different story.

Back in 2007 I saw Ocean’s Thirteen projected digitally at Warner Bros in London and it looked and sounded great – colours popped and the image was stable.

When I saw an analogue equivalent a few weeks later at a multiplex in East London, the image was dim, the print was scratched and the whole experience was less than satisfactory.

During 2009 I saw major releases such as Funny People and Sherlock Holmes on opening night at a suburban multiplex and not only were the celluloid prints degraded but it was also shown in the wrong aspect ratio (i.e. the widescreen image was clipped at the sides).

Part of the reason you don’t often hear about poor projection in the media is that most audiences don’t know any better (and who would they complain to if they did?) whilst journalists writing about films tend to see them at preview screenings at decent cinemas.

Hence you hear a lot about the decline of the projectionist as opposed to how poor the image and sound quality could be for most people who weren’t able to get to a decent cinema.

But with digital projection there are issues that still need to be addressed such as the brightness levels of 3D films and the wrong projector lenses being left on for 2D films.

As with any new technology, there will be teething problems. During a press screening at last month’s London film festival at the Odeon Leicester Square (probably the most high profile cinema in the country) faulty audio issues meant that the film had to be paused (as it was digitally projected, the image held on screen just like a DVD player)

But this isn’t primarily a technical issue, but a human one – if cinemas employed the right people to make the necessary checks then issues like this wouldn’t happen.

Multiplexes should actually continue to employ projectionists to oversee what the audience sees – cutting costs here is damaging to the long term health of the cinema experience.

In an age where it is much cheaper for audiences to rent or download a wide range of high quality films in the home, this is something they should be wary of.

As for the art-house chains in the UK, such as Picturehouse and Curzon, you could argue digital has been a success: not only is there a reduced cost for distributor and cinema but a film like Senna definitely benefited.

Watching Asif Kapadia’s documentary this summer at the HMV Curzon cinema in Wimbledon was an eye-opening experience: not only were the sound and audio excellent, but it was a good example of how digital can benefit lower budget films, as well as the big tent pole releases.

Although distributed by the UK arm of a major studio (Universal) it was a specialist release at selected cinemas which needed careful planning and the reduced costs in digital distribution almost certainly helped it become the highest grossing documentary so far this year.

It is also worth noting that digital has reduced costs for documentary filmmakers, which is perhaps why we are seeing a resurgence this year with films shot in the format from such heavy hitters such as Errol Morris (Tabloid) and Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss), along with directors newer to the genre like Kapadia.


The death of celluloid as a projection medium is only two years away, but arguably has a longer life as a tool to capture the action we end up seeing on screen.

But the long term future is less assured.

Last month the world’s leading film camera manufacturers – Arri, Panavision and Aaton – confirmed that they would cease production on traditional cameras and now focus entirely on digital models.

Arri’s VP for cameras Bill Russell said to Creative Cow recently:

“The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared. There are still some markets – not in the U.S. – where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent. In two or three years, it could be 85 percent digital and 15 percent film. But the date of the complete disappearance of film? No one knows.”

Although there will still be plenty of older camera bodies available for some time to come, it did seem to mark the end of an era: what would the medium of film be without film stock?

That question would seem to lie with Kodak and Fujifilm, the two main suppliers to the film industry.

But with the proliferation of consumer digital cameras in the home, 2011 is not a great time to be manufacturing celluloid – back in September the Wall Street Journal reported that Kodak’s share price had dropped to an all-time low as it hired lawyers to help restructure its business.

Ominously for fans of the older process, the large service companies that print and distribute celluloid for the major studios, principally Technicolor and Deluxe, have been hit by the rise of digital and are moving their processes in accordance with the times.

Technicolor recently shut their film labs in Hollywood and Montreal whilst Deluxe ceased processing 35mm and 16mm negatives at two UK facilities.

In preparation for a recent exhibition, artist Tacita Dean was shocked to discover that Deluxe had stopped processing 16mm film stock altogether.

Her latest work is simply called ‘Film’ and is essentially a love letter to the declining medium – a silent 35mm looped film projected onto a monolith standing 13 metres tall inside the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London.

In the Creative Cow article, Deluxe executive Gray Ainsworth basically admitted that they were preparing for a digital future:

“From the lab side, obviously film as a distribution medium is changing from the physical print world to file-based delivery and Digital Cinema. The big factories are absolutely in decline. Part of the planning for this has been significant investments and acquisitions to bolster the non-photochemical lab part of our business.”

With Technicolor also making investments in visual effects and 2D-to-3D conversion it seems that that two pillars of the old order are preparing for a future without celluloid.

However, film capture will remain for a few years to come with high profile directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan staying loyal to the traditional photochemical process.

But there is no doubt that over the last decade digital has gradually found favour with filmmakers such as Michael Mann, David Fincher and James Cameron.

If you take A-list directors as a group they are at something of a crossroads, with the film side claiming that digital is still visually inferior, whilst the digital camp say that cameras have not only caught up, but will get better and that a digital work flow saves money and time.

This split was best seen in early 2010 at a panel during the Santa Barbara Film Festival in the run up to last year’s Oscars when Quentin Tarantino declared that he would rather burn his LA repertory cinema down rather than show a digital print there [beginning at 5.20].

Whilst the crowd are laughing and applauding at Quentin for his defence of 35mm film prints, fellow panellist James Cameron can be seen shaking his head slightly as if he couldn’t disagree more, given his advocacy for digital capture and projection as the future of cinema.

Only a couple of months ago he was unveiling a new 3D rig for Arri’s Alexa M camera and said:

“People are welcoming that they can finally drive a stake through the heart of film”

From Cameron’s point of view the hurdle has been two-fold: to get filmmakers conditioned to using celluloid to embrace digital cameras and 3D.

Part of the reason is that film-based processes don’t work if you are shooting natively in 3D (as opposed to post-converting) as you need to sync both stereo channels with precision, which can’t really be achieved using conventional film cameras.

Whilst the jury may be out on 3D, it seems that the last 18 months have marked a tipping point for sceptical directors and cinematographers.

Arri were instrumental in shaping the film camera throughout the twentieth century, inventing the world’s first reflex shutter camera in 1937 – the Arri 35 – and then its successor the Arri 35 II, which is amongst the most influential 35mm cameras ever built, with its portable and durable design gracing numerous features and documentaries.

The Arri Alexa could be to the digital era what the 35 II was for the age of celluloid, with world class cinematographers like Roger Deakins and Robert Richardson using it, with Deakins saying in a recent interview with the British Society of Cinematographers:

“I was surprised how quickly I became comfortable shooting with a digital camera”

Richardson shot the new Martin Scorsese film Hugo in 3D using the aforementioned Alexa M camera and films such as Melancholia, Drive and Anonymous were all shot using the camera and the quality of the images appears to have won over many digital sceptics.

Anna Foerster, the DP on Roland Emmerich’s new film Anonymous, has said of the camera:

“It was interesting because so far I have always shot on 35 mm and I kind of felt lucky that I had escaped digital for so long. I think that the moment I was confronted with digital was the moment we reached a level that is absolutely amazing and incomparable to what has come before”

The pioneering company in the digital realm were RED whose cameras were embraced by Steven Soderbergh, Doug Liman and David Fincher and with the new Hobbit films being shot on them it would appear Peter Jackson has fully signed up to the digital revolution.

Soderbergh has shot all of his recent films on the RED camera (starting with Che in 2008) and talks here about what it means for directors:

Interestingly, the biggest release of next year will buck the digital trend – The Dark Knight Rises will be shot on a combination of IMAX and 35mm film stock, which will provide resolutions higher than any current digital camera can muster.

But even Christopher Nolan has admitted that the bulk of camera research and development over the last decade has gone into digital, so he represents an exception rather than the rule.

However, Nolan and his DP Wally Pfister are stout defenders of film-based cameras for a reason – the image captured on them can look phenomenal if done correctly.

At this year’s Cine Gear Expo 2011 Rob Hummel gave a talk as to why film is still a superior capture format:

Again at the recent London film festival I saw back-to-back press screenings of Like Crazy and Pariah on the NFT screen at the BFI Southbank, which is one of the best cinema screens in the country.

There was no question that Like Crazy (shot on Canon DSLR cameras) looked inferior to Pariah (shot using 35mm on an Arri Camlite), which demonstrates that film stock still has a place as a capture medium.

Cinematographer John Bailey spoke earlier this year about why he still shoots on film and the dilemma facing movie archives if we eventually move in to an all digital world:

But what does this march towards digital capture and projection mean for the industry and the average cinema goer?

Whilst some audience members won’t immediately notice the difference, digital projection means greater stability of image and perhaps an opportunity for lower budget films to make a greater mark, as it reduces distribution costs in the long run.

For many filmmakers, it represents the dawn of a new era in which workflows and resolutions will improve as sensors, lenses and on-set data systems (such as those used on Hugo) allow greater flexibility once they have adapted to the possibilities afforded to them by newer and ever improving technology.

For celluloid though the end has already begun, as the photochemical process which sustained cinema for over a century slowly fades into an oncoming digital reality.

> More on film stock at Wikipedia
> Matt Zoeller Seitz at Salon on the death of film
> WSJ on Kodak’s problems
> DLP cinema
> Time Out on the decline of projectionists


Christopher Nolan and David Fincher on Terrence Malick

Fox Searchlight have released a video of directors Christopher Nolan and David Fincher talking about Terrence Malick.

Used as a way to promote The Tree of Life ahead of its wider US release on July 8th, it makes for interesting viewing.

Nolan has often cited Malick as one of his favourite directors, whilst Fincher has listed Days of Heaven (1978) amongst his all-time favourite films.

It is a smart way of marketing The Tree of Life to audiences concerned by the unusual nature of the film and perhaps says to geekier audiences that there is more to cinema than just comic book adaptations and Hollywood conventions.

The Tree of Life is in limited release in the US and opens wide on July 8th, the same day as the UK release.

> Watch the featurette in HD at Apple
> Official site
> Malick spotted in Cannes
> Reviews of The Tree of Life at Metacritic (currently has a score of 87)
> Find out more about Terrence Malick at Wikipedia and MUBi

Behind The Scenes Images Interesting

The Dark Knight Rises in London

Various photos of the upcoming Batman film The Dark Knight Rises shooting in London have recently surfaced online.

Chris Nolan has a history of directing films in the capital city.

Not only was his micro-budget debut Following (1998) shot all over London (with key locations in Southwark, Covent Garden and Highgate) but Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) utilised London locations for various scenes.

A wonderfully prescient shot in Following even features a Batman logo – who could have predicted that Nolan would asked to reboot the franchise a few years later?

Earlier this month the third film in the Batman series The Dark Knight Rises (2012) began filming at the Farmiloe building in Clerkenwell.

The location was used as the Gotham City Police Station in the last two films and for sequences in Inception.

The building is adjacent to a public street, so some people were able to take photos and videos of cars, trucks, cranes and lights, although it seemed the filming took place behind closed doors.

But Craig Grobler of The Establishing Shot took an interesting set of photos at the location (no real spoilers) and caught glimpses of Nolan, Wally Pfister and a bunch of extras dressed as the Gotham SWAT team.

Check out the full gallery here:

There is also some video here:

In addition, filming has also taken place in Croydon and other locations around the UK before heading to the United States.

The Dark Knight Rises is scheduled to open in July 2012

> The Dark Knight Rises at the IMDb
> Batman on Film
> The Establishing Shot

Amusing Interesting

Inception Spelling

Have you noticed what the first letters of each of the main character’s names in Inception spell?

Yes, they spell the word ‘dreams’.

Clever, huh?

(Apparently this has been floating around the web for a while but I only just noticed it at the IMDb trivia section).

> Inception review, infographic and cool real-time video
> More on Inception at Wikipedia
> Click a red button for the Inception bong sound

Awards Season Thoughts

Oscar Special Mentions

As the awards season comes to a close, let’s forget about the campaigning and debate about what would or should win and reserve a special mention for some of tonight’s nominees.

In what has been a strong year these are various people I think deserve special mention, regardless of whether they win tonight.


Javier Bardem in Biutiful: The most powerful performance of the year was Bardem’s searing portrait of a decent man on the edges of modern Barcelona.

Don’t Forget Me
Biutiful at

Although the film’s relentless focus on death turned off dweeby critics, Bardem’s acting will be remembered for years to come.

Christopher Nolan for Writing and Directing Inception: The enormous commercial success of Nolan’s career has strangely obscured his very real creative accomplishments. Fashionable contrarians and elederly members of the Academy were turned off by the gorgeous labyrinth that was Inception, mainly because it was ‘too loud’ or ‘too clever for its own good’.

The fact that Nolan (as director) and his veteran editor Lee Smith were snubbed still hints that some Academy members don’t get his films. But for a generation of filmmakers it will be discussed, analysed and appreciated for years to come.

Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter for editing The Social Network: One of the crucial aspects of Fincher’s drama that makes it work is the phenomenal edit job by Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter.

It might take a couple of viewings to fully appreciate, but the criss-crossing timelines and overall construction of sequences is masterful. Some Academy voters might not have got the film on first viewing but repeated viewings highlight the dazzling, but often understated, work that went into it.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography for True Grit: Although already something of a legend for his amazing body of work, Deakins managed capture the haunting beauty of the west in True Grit whilst providing some indelible images.

Many people think it is his time to be awarded an Oscar and who would begrudge him a statuette this year?

The Visual Effects in Inception: The team at British SFX house Double Negative who worked on Nolan’s film (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley, and Peter Bebb) deserve a lot of credit for helping build convincing dreamscapes through live action and CGI.

The inventive blend of real locations, stuntwork and CGI were stunning and in the hotel fight sequence, limbo city and the overturning of Paris have set a new standard for effects work at this level.

The score for The Social Network by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: One of the most startling and arresting scores in recent memory was this wonderfully discordant electronic score. The way in which the dialogue driven opening scene gives way to the unsettling title sequence is one of the most memorable film transitions of the year.

Just a few minutes later the urgency of the Face Smash sequence is powered by an unforgettable frenzy of beats and noise. In some ways the score to the film is what gives the film it’s unique flavour, with no cliched strings or cliched tracks from the time, it gives the story a distinct and original feel.

The Sounds of Inception: People always get confused between sound mixing and sound editing. To simplify, editing involves how the parts are assembled, whilst mixing is about the whole soundscape is put together.

It is a crucial and often undervalued aspect of movies and in the case of Inception, Richard King did an incredible job of recreating the sounds of all the different dream levels, which involve trains, guns, explosions, punches, car chases. The construction of the audio landscape in Inception was one of the great unsung reasons as to why it worked so well.

Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job: The documentary category this year is incredibly strong but Charles Ferguson’s documentary about the financial crisis deserves special mention.

Brilliantly dissecting the way Wall Street has essentially captured a generation of politicians and held society hostage for their own ends, it is a chilling reminder of how the political orthordoxies of the last 30 years have wreaked havoc but largely gone unpunished.

Full list of Oscar nominations for 2010-11
Official Oscars site
83rd Academy Awards at Wikipedia
> Analysis at Awards Daily and In Contention

Interesting Viral Video

Inception in Real-Time

Someone has edited together the different sections of Inception so that they play in real-time.

If the climax confused you then it is a neat way of seeing how the film played around with slow motion and time.

(As there are some heavy spoilers in this video, you shouldn’t watch it unless you’ve seen the film)

[Via Buzzfeed]

> Inception Blu-ray review
> Infographic explaining the levels of Inception (spoilers)


Blu-ray: Inception

Christopher Nolan’s ambitious heist film was one of the most talked about blockbusters of the year and Warner Bros have given it a worthy Blu-ray release.

The story revolves around a gang of hi-tech thieves led by international fugitive Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who steals valuable information from people’s dreams.

After a job on a Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, he is faced with the daunting challenge of ‘inception’: instead of stealing information, he must secretly plant some inside the mind of an wealthy tycoon (Cillian Murphy).

Assembling a team of experts (which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy) who can help him execute the mission, he must also deal with his own troubled past, which endangers his ability to do the job at hand.

For writer-director Nolan, this is a return to the territory of previous films such as Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006), where he explores the themes of illusion and reality whilst playing an imaginative game with the audience.

We are firmly in the realm of science-fiction here, but interestingly the settings are very real world: imagine if Michael Mann had decided to mash up The Matrix with Ocean’s Eleven and you’ll get some idea of the terrain here.

With some concessions, the subconscious dream worlds appear as realistic as the conscious waking world, creating a persistent question as to which is real: a clever conceit, given that cinema itself is arguably the closest art form to a dream.

There are many stylistic nods to action films of the 1960s: a team of experts assembled for a job; glamorous locations; vivid production design and costumes; and a sense of mystery and wonder.

The Bond films of that decade seem a particular touchstone – one sequence plays like a homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – and there are echoes of TV series from that era, such as Mission: Impossible and The Prisoner.

The huge success of The Dark Knight has allowed Nolan a particularly large canvas on which to paint, and he has filled it with gleeful abandon, mixing the traditions of the spy thriller and heist movie inside a surreal, shifting dreamscape.

Cutting between the real and virtual worlds bears similarities to The Matrix (minus the bleak, sci-fi dystopia) and Avatar (minus the alien planet) and Inception appears to be drawing from the same cultural well as those films.

Their success appears to be how they tap into the virtual nature of modern existence (through social networks and the web) as well as the escapist nature of watching a film, as a reality unfolds before us on screen.

All this is helped by being presented in an intriguing story on a grand scale, with the technical aspects especially outstanding.

The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is stunning, using real world locations to marvellous effect; Wally Pfister’s cinematography (utilising several formats including 35mm, 65mm and Vista Vision) captures intense emotions and epic action beautifully.

The visual effects (by Double Negative and Plowman Craven) are stunning and augment the in-camera action so well that they never feel like conventional CGI.

In addition, there are some highly imaginative sets overseen by special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, especially one amazing sequence involving a hotel, which bears comparison to similar scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.

A special mention must also go to editor Lee Smith, as the third act involves some inventive warping of time and space, which must have proved a particular challenge in the edit suite.

Much of Nolan’s previous work rewards repeated viewing, revealing a meticulous attention to detail and subtleties not always apparent first time around.

The same is true for this film and viewers will be pleased that it is up to very high technical standards of Nolan’s recent films on Blu-ray (The Prestige and The Dark Knight), arguably surpassing them.

Nolan and his D.P. Wally Pfister are take great care in how they shoot and master their films and visually Inception looks stunning in HD, with the varied landscapes of the film and all the action sequences depicted with amazing clarity and detail.

The audio is equally impressive and, if you have the right sound system, the powerful DTS HD Master Audio Track is crisp and powerful, especially in the action sequences.


Warner Brothers have released this in a three-disc version: Disc One includes the film with a special ‘Extraction Mode’ feature which allows viewers to access making of footage; Disc Two is dedicated solely to special features; and Disc Three contains the DVD and Digital Copy data.

  • Extraction Mode (Disc 1, HD): This allows viewers to access over 45 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes alongside with Nolan and his crew as they discuss the ideas, characters, performances, and visual effects. Rather than use the traditional Picture-in-Picture mode it goes between the main film and Warner’s making-of materials. (An added bonus is that the individual behind-the-scenes featurettes can also be accessed from the main menu.)
  • 5.1 Inception Soundtrack (Disc 2, HD, 39 minutes): Hans Zimmer’s epic score is presented in 5.1 surround sound via a DTS-HD Master Audio mix and the only negative here is that the screen remains empty during all of them.
  • Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (Disc 2, HD, 44 minutes): Joseph Gordon Levitt hosts this documentary about dreams which features doctors, psychologists, scientists and other experts to discuss the science of sleep.
  • Inception: The Cobol Job (Disc 2, HD, 15 minutes): This was released on the website to tie in with the theatrical release and is a Motion Comic, explaining the backstory of how Cobb, Arthur and Nash were enlisted by Cobol Engineering.
  • Project Somnacin: Confidential Files (Disc 2, HD): This allows you to access the secret tech files for Inception’s dream-share technology through a BD-Live portal.
  • Conceptual Art Gallery (Disc 2, HD): Over thirty pieces of concept art and pre-production images.
  • Promotional Art Archive (Disc 2, HD): A collection of the US and international posters for the film.
  • Trailers and TV Spots (Disc 2, HD, 16 minutes): A theatrical teaser, two full trailers and thirteen TV spots.

There is also a Limited Edition Briefcase edition that consists of a briefcase containing the Triple play pack (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy), a spinning top, theatrical Dream Machine leaflet and four art cards showing the main key art.

Inception is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 6th December from Warner Home Video

> Buy Inception on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Official site
> Inception at the IMDb
> Reviews of Inception at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes
> Various Inception links at MUBI
> Find out more about Christopher Nolan at Wikipedia

Images Interesting

Memento Visualisations

An Italian research lab have posted some interesting graphic visualisations of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000).

A thriller about a man named Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffering from memory loss, it explores his hunt for the murderer of his wife and is best known for its innovative structure, which contrasts two alternating narratives.

One in colour, which is told in reverse chronological order, whilst the other is in black and white and unfolds in chronological order, showing Leonard on the phone with anonymous caller.

Watching the film for the first time can be confusing and even after several viewings, key plot points provoke certain questions.

The basic structure of the film can be seen in this graphic on Wikipedia:

But in 2007-2008 some highly creative visualisations of Memento’s narrative structure were created at Density Design, a research lab in Milan.

(To see the full versions on Flickr just click on each image)

This one visualises the narrative's horseshoe shape
This one contrasts the progression of the film through the colour and B&W timelines
Using tattoos on a human body, this references how Leonard remembers things
This seems to be a reference to the chart Leonard actually makes in his motel room
This one measures the audience's uncertainty through different colours
The structure of the film is shown as a board game

Here is a Flickr slideshow of all the designs:

> Memento at the IMDb and Wikipedia
> Density Design


If Inception Was A One Minute Film

Click this link for the appropriate sound effect.

[Via SomethingAwful and Buzzfeed]

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Memento

Memento (Pathe/20th Century Fox Home Ent.): The classic 2000 thriller with an ingenious flashback structure about a man suffering from a memoray condition (Guy Pearce) trying to find out who killed his wife with the aid of a police officer (Joe Pantoliano) and a bartender (Carrie-Anne Moss) who may or may not be out to help him.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, it firmly established him as a major talent with its clever narrative structure: one happens in reverse chronological order whilst the other shows Leonard in a hotel room on the phone as he explains more about his condition.

Although on first viewing the structure can be disorientating, the effect puts us in the position of the protagonist and also – like much of Nolan’s work – repays repeated viewing.

But aside from the cleverness of the construction, the film isn’t just a technical exercise and is a compelling tale of death, grief memory and revenge.

For only his second feature, after the low budget noir Following (1998), it was filled with technical expertise. Wally Pfister‘s cinematography created a distinctive blanc-noir look, Dody Dorn‘s editing made the fractured narrative run smoothly and David Julyan’s synth-heavy score established a moving sense of loss.

It is easy to forget just how good the performances are: Guy Pearce is outstanding in the tricky lead role, painting a riveting portrait of a haunted man adrift in a sea information he can’t process; Carrie-Anne Moss is a convincing femme-fatale with a twist, whilst Joe Pantiolano is wonderfully smarmy as the cop who may or may not be trusted.

A major independent hit that crossed over into the mainstream, it firmly established Nolan as a talent to watch before he went on to bigger Hollywood blockbusters such as The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010).

The special features on the Blu-ray include extras from previous DVD versions but add a few more (most notably the Anatomy of a Scene and the Memento Mori video):

  • Audio Commentary by Christopher Nolan
  • IFC Interview with Christopher Nolan
  • Interview with Guy Pearce
  • Anatomy of a Scene Featurette
  • Shooting Script to Film Comparison
  • Memento Mori video narrated by Writer Jonathan Nolan
  • International Trailer
  • Production Skills and Sketches
  • Props Gallery
  • International Poster Art
  • Production Journal
  • Blogs
  • Tattoo Gallery
  • Easter Egg: The Beginning of the End

It is notable how well the film still stands up ten years on, with Nolan’s attention to detail apparent in both the script and visuals.

A film almost designed for repeated viewing, despite a lot of articles purporting to explain the conclusion (e.g. this Salon article), there is something tantalising out of reach about the climactic revelations, as though Nolan wanted us to be like the central character: confused and grasping about small details.

Despite all of Nolan’s Hollywood success since, this remains his most fascinating film and ranks amongst the very best of the decade.

> Buy Memento on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Memento at the IMDb
> A long explanation of the film at Salon (Warning: Spoilers)

Viral Video

Inception Viral Marketing

The online marketing campaign for Inception featured a clever use of Facebook and even a YouTube video featuring director Christopher Nolan and the best digital marketing companies.

Although it is now an established international hit, the film was a tricky one to market despite an A-list director and star.

For a big summer release it is unusual in that it wasn’t based on an established property (like a comic book or TV show) and the story isn’t that easy to explain in one line (although I’d go for Ocean’s Eleven meets The Matrix).

For Warner Bros this presented a challenge and Michael Tritter, Senior VP for Interactive Marketing at the studio, recently explained to KCRW how they dealt with it:

You have this movie which is going to have a pretty big built in fanbase …but you also have a movie that you are trying to keep very secret.

Chris [Nolan] really likes people to see his movies in a theater and not see it all beforehand so everything that you do to market that – at least early on – is with an eye to feeding the interest of fans.

So out of the idea that they had to drip feed the fans whilst also maintaining an air of mystery, they created an online game called ‘Mind Crime’ in which people could play and unlock various hints and pieces of information about the film.

As part of this campaign they used an official Facebook page to get people discussing what they had found and what the film might ultimately be about (this also paid off when the film came out and many wanted to discuss it further).

Facebook has a large number of gamers (think Farmville and Scrabble), so the ‘Mind Crime‘ game was a neat way of building viral buzz about the film whilst not explaining too much.

Another intriguing aspect within this campaign was a YouTube video entitled “Chris Nolan Research Footage” which was ‘leaked’ and saw the director interview three dream experts, in what appears to be his office.

It popped up back in late April under the username eclectic10167 and Nolan can be seen speaking to three dream researchers, two of whom are real whilst the other is an actress.

When she starts talking about ‘military research’ – an allusion to the world of Inception – funny things start to happen.

If you look closely you will see a poster for Nolan’s debut film Following in the background (a film also featuring a lead character called Cobb) and what appear to be a lot of Blu-rays on a shelf, although it is hard to be sure.

It should also be remembered that Warner Bros spent millions on outdoor posters, internet banners, trailers and TV spots, so where does the interactive element fit in to the wider campaign?

Of the balance between them, Tritter says:

I think there is not one without the other.

There is a level of engagement that a certain amount of the audience is going to expect, and that you really want to engage with.

And at the same time I think you would never not want the broad, mainstream part of it too.

In a sense, the marketing complemented the nature of the film. But I think that the very nature of the film itself was perhaps the most effective marketing tool.

It was complex and clever for a summer blockbuster, but executed in such a way that made you think constructively about what was going on.

The added bonus for Warner Bros was that people wanted to talk about it (and spread word-of-mouth via friends) and see it again (thus boosting the box office).

> Listen to Michael Tritter on KCRW’s The Business
> Econsultancy article on the marketing of Inception

Interesting Random

Batman logos in early Christopher Nolan films

Christopher Nolan became an A-List Hollywood director with Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) but his early films contain intriguing images related to the caped crusader.

In his debut film Following (1998), there is a sequence in which two characters (played by Jeremy Theobold and Alex Haw) break into a flat which has a Batman logo on the front door.

When Nolan was shooting this film on a tiny budget of around $6,000 it would have been fanciful to imagine that just a few years later he would be the director entrusted by Warner Bros to reboot the Batman franchise with a budget of $150 million.

It was something noted recently by Theobold in a recent interview with Empire:

…the apartment of my character, ‘The Young Man’, was my flat in Iliffe Street, Walworth. Which is also where the bat was.

Keen-eyed viewers have spotted a Batman logo on the door of the flat. Some call it ironic (incorrectly), others say it’s prescient. Actually, I’d put it up in 1989 when I moved there; there was a film out called Batman that year…

And that was the way we made the film. None of the sets were designed, few were dressed. We made do — or rather, Chris chose places he thought were suitable and would take little arranging.

So far, so coincidental.

But it doesn’t stop there, as a screen grab Nolan’s next film Memento (2000) recently surfaced featuring …a Batman logo:

If you zoom in to the top right of the frame (timed at 0:47:58 on the DVD) you can see the logo for Batman alongside one for Superman.

Here is a close up of the image:

The other twist is that Warner Bros have also entrusted Nolan with producing a new Superman film.

Was it fate? Destiny? A cunning career plan?

It is almost as spooky as that Shining-style picture of ‘Simon Pegg’ at Bobby Kennedy’s funeral.

As someone on the Nolan Fans forum has pointed out:

If only we could find a bat symbol in Insomnia… ;)

Has anyone spotted one?

> Christopher Nolan at the IMDb
> Nolan Fans

[Memento photo via NolanFans]

Images Interesting

Inception Timeline Graphic


If you saw Inception recently and came out of the film wanting to to clarify some aspects of the plot, then this graphic by dehahs at DeviantART visualises the main mission along with the different characters, dreams and kicks.

I would recommend you skip it for now if you haven’t seen the film, but if you have then it is a good starting point for debating aspects of the puzzles Nolan created.

For a larger image click here.

[Via /Film]

> Inception review
> More about the film at Wikipedia

Cinema Thoughts


A blockbuster with brains and style, Inception is Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film to date, although how mainstream audiences respond to this intricate tale is an open question.

The story revolves around a gang of hi-tech thieves led by international fugitive Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who steals highly valuable information from people’s dreams.

After a job on a Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, he is faced with the daunting challenge of ‘inception’: instead of stealing information, he must secretly plant some inside the mind of an important businessman (Cillian Murphy).

Assembling a team of experts (which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy) who can help him execute the mission, he must also deal with his own troubled past, which endangers his ability to do the job at hand.

To say any more about the plot of Inception would be wrong, as one of the chief pleasures in this lavishly intricate film is the way in which it unfolds, puzzling and surprising the audience like a virtuoso magician.

For writer-director Nolan, this is a return to the territory of previous films such as Memento (2000) and The Prestige (2006), where he explores the themes of illusion and reality whilst playing an imaginative game with the audience.

We are firmly in the realm of science-fiction here, but interestingly the settings are very real world: imagine if Michael Mann had decided to mash up The Matrix with Ocean’s Eleven and you’ll get some idea of the terrain here.

With some concessions, the subconscious dream worlds appear as realistic as the conscious waking world, creating a persistent question as to which is real. A clever conceit, given that cinema itself is arguably the closest art form to a dream.

DiCaprio is very solid in the lead role and his team have also been well cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt is a charming point man; Ellen Page nicely combines innocence and gravity as the rookie ‘dream architect’; Tom Hardy relishes his part as a forgerer; Ken Watanabe is a pleasingly enigmatic boss figure; Cillian Murphy conveys surprising depth as the rich mark and Michael Caine hits the spot in a smaller than usual part.

In a more challenging role, Marion Cotillard doesn’t quite hit the emotional mark required but her subplot is cleverly woven into the film and also bears some striking similarities to a key part of Memento.

The realistic touches inside a surreal world of dreamscapes, lends a sheen of believability and although the plot is an intricate hall of mirrors, there is enough exposition baked into the narrative to keep discerning audiences focused.

One could characterise Nolan’s Hollywood films so far as alternating between personal projects (Memento, The Prestige) and more commercial fare (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), but Inception is an intriguing hybrid.

The dreamscapes and narrative open up at times like Russian dolls on acid, so it has a challenging art-house vibe, but it is also one of his most commercial to date in terms of scale and look.

There are many stylistic nods to action films of the 1960s: a team of experts assembled for a job; glamorous locations; vivid production design and costumes; a sense of mystery and wonder.

The Bond films of that decade seem a particular touchstone – one sequence plays like a homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – and there are echoes of TV series from that era, such as Mission: Impossible and The Prisoner.

The huge success of The Dark Knight has allowed Nolan a particularly large canvas on which to paint and he has filled it with gleeful abandon, mixing the traditions of the spy thriller and heist movie inside a surreal, shifting dreamscape.

The cutting between the real and subconscious worlds bears many similarities to The Matrix (minus the bleak, sci-fi dystopia) and if it does hit home with audiences, then I’m sure this will be obvious reference point for many viewers.

As is now customary for a Nolan production, the technical aspects of the film are especially outstanding.

The production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas is stunning, using real world locations to marvellous effect; Wally Pfister’s cinematography (utilising several formats including 35mm, 65mm and Vista Vision) captures intense emotions and epic action beautifully.

The visual effects (by Double Negative and Plowman Craven) are stunning and blended in so well that they never feel like conventional CGI.

In addition, there are some highly imaginative sets overseen by special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, especially one amazing sequence involving a hotel, which bears comparison to those in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.

A special mention must also go to editor Lee Smith, as the third act involves some inventive warping of time and space, which must have proved a particular challenge in the edit suite.

Warner Bros may be concerned that mainstream audiences will be confused by the puzzle Nolan lays out. It should play well to most critics and discerning audiences eager for intelligent summer entertainment.

The litmus test for many will be the extended opening sequence. Go with it and you should not have a problem with the cinematic maze Nolan has built.

A lot of Nolan’s previous work rewards repeated viewing, revealing a meticulous attention to detail and subtleties not always apparent first time around.

Inception is no different and I look forward to seeing it again with a better understanding of how the narrative will map out. It works on first viewing but there are times when the ride is intense and you have to hold on to keep your bearings.

For Warner Bros, this must have proved something of a nightmare to market but the trailers and TV spots so far have actually done a good job in selling the central concept of the film.

As far as the studio was concerned I imagine the risks of this production were offset by Nolan’s track record with the Batman films and DiCaprio’s A-list star power.

A sense of mystery has helped make a TV series like Lost such a success, so an optimist might predict that Inception could tap into a similar audience hungry for intrigue and it may even be one they return to in significant numbers.

The quality and surprising nature of this summer blockbuster has led to some effusive early praise, some of it a little over-the-top, but perhaps understandable given the current standard of studio films.

No doubt this will lead to a backlash of sorts (perhaps geeks wanting to stand out as refuseniks on Rotten Tomatoes?) but there is no denying the technical brilliance on display here in service of an audacious story.

Not all of the balls juggled stay in the air – and further scrutiny may uncover inconsistencies in the densely woven script – but, like a dream, you accept the thrilling reality of this film whilst you experience it.

Inception is a rare thing: a summer blockbuster filled with intelligence and craft, which in the current reality of remakes and sequels, feels like a dream itself.

> Official site
> Inception at the IMDb
> Reviews of Inception at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes
> Various Inception links at MUBI
> Find out more about Christopher Nolan at Wikipedia


BP Inception Poster


What if Christopher Nolan directed a new thriller about the BP oil spill?

[Click here for a larger image]

In Production Trailers

Inception teaser trailer

The teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan‘s new film Inception is here.

‘Inception’ Theatrical Trailer @ Yahoo! Video
> Official site
> More on Inception at Wikipedia
> /Film report on scenes shot at UCL in London
Cinema Thoughts

How Chris Nolan rebooted Batman

Today the new Batman film The Dark Knight hits US cinemas and will be opening in the UK a week later.

It is one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year and so I thought I’d write about the history of Batman on film, how the franchise was rebooted under director Christopher Nolan, the latest film, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, how some of the film was shot on IMAX and the viral marketing campaign.

Hopefully the videos, images and links will help you get in the mood for what looks like one of the most interesting blockbusters in quite some time.

I’m seeing it tonight, so I’ll put up some reaction over the next 24 hours, but in the meantime let’s begin with the history of the caped crusader on film.


The Batman character (created by Bob Kane in the late 1930s) has inspired a TV show, an animated series and a previous series of movies. The first feature film – simply called Batman – was directed by Tim Burton and had Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.

It was the biggest film of 1989 in the US (though Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade pipped it worldwide) and sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise, becoming a pop culture phenomenon.

A sequel was inevitable and in 1992 Batman Returns saw Keaton reprise his role as the caped crusader with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Danny DeVito as The Penguin.

Similar in tone to the original it was also a big hit, grossing $266 million worldwide, although not as big a hit as the original film.

However, Tim Burton had grown weary of the demands of making summer tent pole movies and when the director and Keaton opted not to come back for a third film, Warner Bros took the character in new – and lighter – direction.

Val Kilmer was cast in the lead role and the directing reins were taken up by  Joel Schumacher.

An all star cast included Jim Carrey as The Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face/Harvey Dent, Chris O’Donnell as Robin and Nicole Kidman as the love interest, Doctor Chase Meridian.

Some cast members, such as Michael Gough and Pat Hingle, were kept on but the film was markedly different in tone and style. Despite that, it was still a huge hit and led to another sequel two years later.

Batman and Robin was the fourth film in the franchise and was scheduled to be Warner Bros biggest blockbuster that summer.

However, things started to go wrong when Val Kilmer (like Keaton before him) refused to return and was replaced by George Clooney, who was then breaking into mainstream movies after the success of the hit TV show ER.

Like Batman Forever, it had an all-star cast with Clooney and O’Donnell as the dynamic duo, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl.

However, the camp tone, poor script and shoddy direction all contributed to a mess. It would be 8 years before another Batman movie but in retrospect the release Batman and Robin was quite interesting.

The negative advance buzz saw a major studio realise that online buzz could have an influence as much of it was fanned by Harry Knowles of Ain’t Cool News, a site then just over a year old.

Harry posted negative reviews from people who had seen advance screenings and the film – which opened to respectable numbers – never did the business the accountants at Burbank were expecting.

Knowles accurately summed up how a lot of people felt in his review, saying:

Because no matter how bad you have heard this film is, nothing can prepare you for the sheer glorius travesty of the 200-megaton bomb of a film this is.

This film is so bad, so awful, so vanity ridden with horrible over the top performances, that nothing I can say, can prepare you for it.

Even George Clooney seemed to agree, joking that:

“I think we might have killed the franchise.”

But it is interesting to note how his career has progressed since then. He would soon go on to be a major star, often appearing in films that were more left field than many might have expected.

Whilst managing to please the studio with the success of the Ocean’s franchise, he also directed and starred in more personal and challenging fare such as Good Night, and Good Luck and Michael Clayton.

Another interesting aspect of the film was that it marked the virtual end of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long run of success as a movie star.

Although Terminator 3 in 2003 was a big hit, he was no longer the massive star he was in the 80s and early 90s.

His role was something of a bad joke with endless puns on cold and freezing littered throughout the film.

By 2003, he was Governor of California and effectively put his movie career on hold.

For director Joel Schumacher it took a while to recover – he even recorded a semi-apologetic commentary for the DVD release – and he went back to basics with the low budget Tigerland, a film that effectively launched Colin Farrell‘s movie career.


In the following years things started to get a little interesting.

After the success of X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002 a rash of comic book adaptations hit the big screen and it was a logical move to start from scratch and give the character a reboot.

A number of projects were considered – perhaps the most tantalising being Batman: Year One with Darren Aronofsky directing – but things finally started to happen when Christopher Nolan was hired to direct a new film in January 2003.

Nolan was an interesting choice, as he had only made two films up to that point – Following (1998) an ultra low budget tale of a writer obsessed with following people around London and Memento (2000), a dazzling neo-noir thriller about a widower (Guy Pearce) struggling with short term memory loss.

It won widespread critical acclaim for its innovative narrative structure – the screenplay was nominated for (but somehow didn’t win) an Oscar – and established him as major directing talent.

His next film Insomnia (2002), was a more conventional thriller about a police officer (Al Pacino) in Alaska on the trail of a killer (Robin Williams), who is haunted by guilt and is unable to sleep. A remake of the 1997  Norwegian film of the same name, it was still a highly accomplished piece of work.

Nolan said at the time of getting the Batman job that he wanted to re-imagine the franchise by:

“Doing the origin story of the character, which is a story that’s never been told before”.

In stark contrast to the Schumacher films, the emphasis here would be on portraying Batman realistically.

Entitled Batman Begins, it would show the origin story of how Bruce Wayne became a crime fighter who dresses up like a bat.

Christian Bale was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Nolan stated that Richard Donner‘s 1978 Superman film was an inspiration, especially the first half which has – for a superhero movie – a long, extended backstory for the main character.

He also wanted big name actors in supporting roles to give the film more credibility and stature which meant experienced leading actors like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Rutger Hauer had key supporting roles.

Some of the key influences on the story were Batman: The Man Who Falls (a story about Bruce Wayne travelling around the world); Batman: The Long Halloween, (which features the gangster Carmine Falcone) and Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.

The latter comic book influenced the plot details of Bruce Wayne’s extended absence from Gotham City, the idea of a younger Commissioner Gordon (who in this film is a Sergeant) and the general setup of a corrupt city that is crying out for an outsider to bring justice.

Another important influence on the film was Blade Runner, which Nolan screened to his cinematographer Wally Pfister to show the kind of look and tone he was aiming for. The casting of Hauer (who came to fame as replicant Roy Batty) was also a nod to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic.

When it was released in 2005, the film was warmly received by critics and audiences, going on to earn nearly $372m worldwide and becoming the 8th highest grossing film that year.


After completing The Prestige in 2006 – his dark and complex tale of two rival magicians (played by Bale and Hugh Jackman) – Nolan got to work on the Batman sequel The Dark Knight with co-writer David S Goyer.

Batman: The Long Halloween was an important touchstone for the story. The 13-part comic book series takes place during Batman’s early periods of crime fighting and involves a mysterious killer who murders people around the holidays.

Along with District Attorney Harvey Dent and Lieutenant James Gordon, Batman has to solve the murders and uncover the killer. This film also sees the return of The Joker, a development that was strongly hinted in the final scene of Batman Begins.

Nolan was resistant in doing a full on origin story but was influenced by the iconic villain’s first two appearances in DC comics, which were both published in the first issue of Batman in 1940.

They even consulted Jerry Robinson, one of the Joker’s co-creators, about the character’s portrayal. Instead of a straight origin story they focused on his rise to notoriety, saying:

“We never wanted to do an origin story for the Joker in this film. The arc of the story is much more Harvey Dent’s; the Joker is presented as an absolute.

It’s a very thrilling element in the film, and a very important element, but we wanted to deal with the rise of the Joker not the origin of the Joker….”

He also cited Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke and Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama Heat as inspirations for a story that would show Gotham’s key characters in the context of a crime ridden city.


Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker after Nolan had expressed interest in working with him in the past. After Batman Begins, Ledger went for an interpretation consistent with the more realistic tone of that film.

Reportedly, Ledger prepared by living alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character’s physical movements and voice, even keeping a diary of the Joker’s thoughts and feelings.

It would become a much darker character and he said that the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange and Sid Vicious were starting points for the character.

The aim was for a colder kind of sociopath, far removed from the lighter versions popularized by Cesar Romero in the 60s TV show or Nicholson’s in the 1989 film.

Ledger’s portrayal was key to a lot of the early marketing to the film and anticipation was high, especially after his Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain.

However, tragedy struck on January 22nd this year when Ledger died in New York during a short break from filming Terry Gilliam’s forthcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. His work on The Dark Knight had been completed but it none the less was a deep shock to the film world and his colleagues on the film.

Nolan penned a moving tribute in Newsweek:

Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day.

There aren’t many actors who can make you feel ashamed of how often you complain about doing the best job in the world. Heath was one of them.

When you get into the edit suite after shooting a movie, you feel a responsibility to an actor who has trusted you, and Heath gave us everything.

As we started my cut, I would wonder about each take we chose, each trim we made. I would visualize the screening where we’d have to show him the finished film—sitting three or four rows behind him, watching the movements of his head for clues to what he was thinking about what we’d done with all that he’d given us.

Now that screening will never be real. I see him every day in my edit suite. I study his face, his voice. And I miss him terribly.

All of Ledger’s scenes were unaffected and Nolan added no “digital effects” were used to alter his performance posthumously.

Recently Christian Bale has been quick to dismiss the idea that Ledger playing such a dark role had any part in his death.

On the Today show with Matt Lauer they discussed the issue:

Lauer: So much was made of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. It was such a dark role.

In some way, perhaps, do you think in real life, it caused him to slip across some line of reality and may have had some role in his accidental death?

Bale: Personally, I find it to be a complete lack of understanding of acting. I also find it very rude to try to create some kind of sound bite for such a tragedy. The man was a complex man, a good man, but you know what?

I saw him having the best time playing The Joker. He was someone who completely immersed himself in his role. As do I. But in the end of the day, he was having a wonderful time doing it, He couldn’t have been happier doing it.”

Watch the full interview here:

Nolan has dedicated the film in part to Ledger’s memory, as well as to the memory of technician Conway Wickliffe, who was killed during a car accident while preparing one of the film’s stunts.


On a technical level, The Dark Knight is the first mainstream movie to have several major sequences shot in the IMAX format.

Nolan was particularly enthusiastic about shooting on the larger cameras, saying:

“There’s simply nothing like seeing a movie that way. It’s more immersive for the audience. I wish I could shoot the entire thing this way.”

Typically, feature films that play in IMAX cinemas are converted to fill the enormous screens.

With The Dark Knight the sequences shot in IMAX will fill out the full screen, whilst on traditional cinema screens they will appear more vivid than usual.

However, there were obstacles in shooting in the format such as the bulkier cameras (IMAX film stock is 10 times the size of standard 35mm), the extra cost and the noise they make, which made filming dialogue scenes difficult.

So far, showing films in IMAX cinemas doesn’t have a huge effect on the overall grosses as there are currently only about 280 IMAX theatres worldwide.

But The Dark Knight could be an important film in making the format more popular, as it will be released on IMAX the same day as it is in regular cinemas (in the UK there was nearly always a delay between the two).

Last December I saw the opening sequence at the BFI London IMAX and producer Charles Roven spoke to the audience afterwards about the film.

I noted down some of the discussions that came up in the post-screening Q&A:

  • Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker because of his range and his initial meetings with Chris Nolan about the character
  • 3-D was never really considered as an option for the IMAX portions of the film
  • Prior to these Batman films he’d been trying to work with Nolan ever since he saw Memento
  • The Alfred/Bruce Wayne relationship continues
  • It is the first time Christian Bale has repeated a role
  • There is a sequence actually set in Hong Kong – they filmed a key sequence there where Batman jumps off a building. The idea of the setting was to get outside the world of Gotham and place it in a more believable context as a world city.
  • They aren’t even thinking about the villain for the next movie.
  • David Goyer, Chris Nolan and Jonathan Nolan wrote the first draft of the script and Jonathan wrote the later drafts whilst Chris was filming The Prestige.
  • The story is not directly based on anything by Frank Miller but has been influenced by him and other classic Batman writers.
  • Chris Nolan reportedly used the London IMAX cinema during the making of the film.

You can read the post I did at the the time here.

Filming took place in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Hong Kong, the latter being a real location in the story.


Perhaps more than any other recent blockbuster The Dark Knight has benefited from a long and detailed viral marketing campaign.

Since May last year, Warner Bros have been running a marketing campaign under the film’s “Why So Serious?” tagline.

The website features the fictional political campaign of Harvey Dent (played in the film by Aaron Eckhart), with the slogan “I Believe in Harvey Dent.”

Gradually the site revealed itself to be “vandalized” with the slogan “I believe in Harvey Dent too,” and revealed the first image of the Joker. It was then replaced with a hidden message that said “see you in December.”

The site encouraged visitors to find letters composing a message from the Joker which said:

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”

In October last year the film’s official website turned into another game with hidden messages, telling fans to uncover clues in certain US cities.

Those who finished that task were directed to another website called Rory’s Death Kiss (which was how the film was referred to on location). There fans could submit photos of themselves dressed as the Joker.

In December last year, the opening sequence of the film – which involves a bank raid featuring the Joker – was shown in selected IMAX cinemas before selected showings of I Am Legend.

After Heath Ledger’s death in January Warner Bros marketing campaign shifted a little, as up to that point the Joker had been a central part of the campaign.

On the whysoserious website there was even a black ribbon in memory of the actor.


Today sees the release at cinemas in the US on regular and IMAX cinemas.

If you are in North America and Canada, Film School Rejects recently posted a list of the different places where you see it in IMAX (click here for the full list).

If you are in the UK, next week you can see it at the following IMAX cinemas:

Curzon Street
B4 7XG

GLASGOW / IMAX Theatre at Glasgow Science Centre
50 Pacific Quay
G51 1EA

LONDON / BFI London IMAX Cinema
1 Charlie Chaplin Walk
020 7902 1234

MANCHESTER / Odeon Manchester
6-8 Dantzic St.
M4 2AD

BRADFORD / IMAX Theatre at the National Media Museum
West Yorkshire

If you are in the rest of the world go to and there you can find the nearest cinema to you when it opens in your country.

If you have already seen the film then feel free to post your thoughts below.

> Official site for The Dark Knight
> Reviews at Metacritic
> IMDb entry
> Find an IMAX cinema near you

[All images Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures Inc]