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The Fire Rises: A Review of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Prologue
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BAADASSSSS!   |  
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The last time I set foot in the Science Museum of Virginia’s IMAX Dome theater was sixteen years ago. It was a laser light show set to the music of Pink Floyd. That was also the first time I can recall seeing anything on an IMAX screen outside of school field trips, but those were also memorable experiences to be sure.

Last night I went with my friend Mark to see the much-talked-about prologue from next summer’s The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy. I managed to snag a pair of free passes to see it last Friday from the Operation Early Bird site that had been set up as part of the film’s viral marketing campaign. Before that happened the news was that despite the presence of several impressive IMAX screens in my hometown, the prologue would not be screened anywhere in Richmond. The IMAX Dome at the Science Theater is said to be the largest movie screen in the state. Imagine my surprise when this amazing opportunity arose and I had the foresight to not pass it up.

By the time The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters next July it will have been four years since Nolan and company took us to Gotham City and in the process nearly destroyed it in the modern action epic The Dark Knight. The sheer excitement at seeing the first footage from Nolan’s return to the series that helped set a new standard for how movies based on comic book properties are made was nearly overwhelming. The footage we saw didn’t not disappoint.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The prologue opens with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) delivering a eulogy at the funeral of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), just as he did at the end of the last film, but Gordon’s lines in this scene are either new or were cut from The Dark Knight. Once Gordon delivers his closing line, “I believe in Harvey Dent,” the scene cuts to an all-terrain vehicle hurtling through a wheat field towards an isolated air strip. In the backseat are two hooded individuals. Once we reach the airfield a man claiming to be from the C.I.A. greets Dr. Leonid Pavel (Alon Aboutboul) and there is some discussion about a character named “Bane”. When the car arrives the hooded men are interrogated about what they know on Bane but nothing is said.

Once the plane is in flight the C.I.A. man puts a gun to one of the hooded men’s heads and demands to know who Bane is. He won’t talk. Just as the spook is about to pull the trigger the other hostage speaks up. His voice is muffled but his words immediately gets his captor’s attention. His hood is removed, revealing a fearsome visage mostly obscured by a face mask, but his eyes are narrow and tense. This is the man they’ve been looking for. This is Bane (Tom Hardy).

Of course as all this is going on the plane is being followed by a larger plane, which opens up and unleashes a group comprised of masked men who attach themselves to the aircraft carrying Bane and Dr. Pavel and launch a violent assault. When the smoke clears Bane has taken control. Meanwhile his henchmen have attached cables running from their plane to the smaller one. Just as our masked menace prepares to make his grand exit he speaks to one of his disciples who has elected to stay behind while the others escape. The parting words he shares with Bane are “the fire rises”. The larger plane starts to haul up the smaller one, stripping it of every part save for the fuselage. Bane and Dr. Pavel grab one of the cables and hold on for dear life as the remnants of the plane plummet to the earth below.

The prologue closes out with a montage of images: Batman (Christian Bale) clutching that strange-looking weapon from the recent cover of Empire; Bane cutting an imposing figure as he walks among his followers out of a Gotham courthouse; glimpses of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Gotham cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); the Bat-Wing/-Copter in flight low over the city streets; Batman slugging it out with Bane; and an overhead shot of a large group of Gothamites running riot. The final chilling shot comes right from the recently-released teaser poster and shows Bane clutching Batman’s broken cowl before dropping it to the ground.

Most of these shots were given extensive coverage in those behind-the-scenes videos that have been circulating online over the past few months, but it’s cool to finally see them as Nolan and his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister do. Plus it’s a safe bet that this montage is also a preview of things to come as a new theatrical trailer is expected to debut this weekend before Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Seeing this sequence in the glory of IMAX last night was a genuine thrill. Because my friend and I arrived at the theater only a few minutes before the screening began we had to take seats closer to the front than we wanted. Let’s just say if we had seen the entire movie that way we would been in neck braces for at least a month. The screen ran the length of the inside of the theater’s domed roof and the projected image was magnificent. It truly felt like the audience was a part of the action. The actual take down of the plane looked like it was down in camera; not a trace of CGI or green screen work could be detected, at least not by me. The sequence also featured a portion of Hans Zimmer‘s score, which incorporated the eerie chanting that we first got a taste of when the film’s viral campaign launched early this year. It seems that Zimmer has created a theme for Bane that echoes the musical “voice” he gave to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, and much like the rest of the prologue the tiny taste left me wanting more.

In fact the Dark Knight Rises prologue shares many similarities with the opening bank robbery sequence from The Dark Knight that was screened in IMAX seven months before the entire movie premiered: both featured a group of characters talking about the movie’s primary villain without knowing that he’s among them the whole time, and he conceals his face until it’s time to execute the final stage of his grand strategy, which of course comes in the form of an unexpected action.

The only problem I had with this sequence, and it’s one that a lot of people have already voiced their disapproval, was Bane’s voice. For some reason most of the character’s dialogue could barely be understood. I couldn’t make head or tail or what he was saying some of the time but I got the point. Maybe it was a combination of things, like Bane’s tweedy British accent filtered through that Darth Vader-esque apparatus on his face, or it possibly could be a matter of the final sound mix not being in the place for the prologue. I would hope that’s what it was, but then again there has been so much hype surrounding the nationwide roll-out of the prologue that for Nolan and company to not have the sequence completed down to the most scant of details doesn’t seem right to me. The picture quality was outstanding, the editing precise, and the music sounded finished.

Perhaps the filmmakers along with actor Tom Hardy had an idea about how Bane’s voice and were using the prologue screenings to road test the concept. I sincerely hope that whatever pretentious notions they had about Bane get tossed out the window and the voice work is repaired via ADR. Otherwise Christopher Nolan has just shot his movie in the foot and is pouring salt on the wound with malicious glee. But I trust that this flaw will be fixed long before the movie opens next summer, and do you know why?

Because I believe in Christopher Nolan.

The Dark Knight Rises opens on July 20, 2012.

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