Director Chris Nolan on the Batman success: The phenomenon just happened

Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) - July 16, 2012 - 12:00am

If you are planning to catch the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, you better heed this advice: Make sure that you are sitting comfortably and that you are 100 percent ready the minute the cinema darkens and the opening title cards start to roll because the first 15 minutes of the movie is literally jaw-dropping!

The choreography and the execution of the very complicated stunt are simply extraordinary! This writer will not divulge any more details to avoid potential spoilers but believe me, this movie, the finale of visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking trilogy, is going to be one of the most-talked about movies of the year. I was invited to the IMAX screening of the movie inside the Universal Studios last week and the jubilant applause the movie received even before the end credits could start rolling was an incredible proof at how movies as excellent as this could really move its audience.

The Warner Bros. release will open in the Philippines on July 19 and I just can’t wait for everyone to watch it. The movie lived up to its pre-release buzz — and more! But again, I’m not at a liberty to disclose what’s “more.”

The final installment of the magnificent three-part saga of the caped crusader picks up eight years after Batman was forced to take the blame for the death of beloved Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent. The hero became the villain and Bruce Wayne was forced to retire Batman into seclusion.

Oscar-winner Christian Bale returns for the very last time as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He is joined by fellow Oscar winners Michael Caine, who reprises the role of Alfred, and Morgan Freeman who returns as the gadget genius Lucius Fox. Oscar-nominated actor Gary Oldman is also back as Commissioner Gordon.

New members of the cast include Anne Hathaway, who plays the mysterious cat burglar Selina Kyle; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, Commissioner Gordon’s new assistant; and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, Bruce Wayne’s on-again, off-again love interest.

This epic final chapter introduces the audience to one of Batman’s formidable villains, the masked and ruthless terrorist Bane who is portrayed to great menacing effect by Tom Hardy, who made a splash opposite Leonardo Di Caprio in Nolan’s own mind-bending masterpiece Inception two years ago.

I wish I could tell you more about the movie but I can’t. Oh, it’s hard!

But this writer met with the cast of the movie last Sunday during the junket held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills — and what happened during the event and what we talked about, I could freely share.

Most of the cast were present at the junket save for Hardy, who as the fearsome Bane, is perhaps, to this writer’s limited knowledge of the Batman Universe, one of the hero’s worst adversaries ever! Even more scary than the late actor Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker in the previous installment of the movie.

“I was just staggered by what Tom did,” Nolan told us during the group press conference. “The first time I saw him in make-up, he was just remarkable. You know you are seeing something you have never seen before.”

“It was very important to me that we not try and follow and do something that is a pale imitation of what Heath had done,” Nolan added. “I wanted Batman to come up with a primary physical adversary. I wanted to watch Christian as Batman stand toe-to-toe with the villain and not knowing who’s going to win that fight. It’s something I haven’t seen before and it was intentional in the film.”

And out of respect to the memory of Ledger who died tragically just days after filming his last scene in the previous Batman movie, the director took the decision, even before commencing work on this final movie, to not reference the Joker or provide any avenue for fans to unjustly compare Heath’s memorable performance of the character to Hardy’s starkly different but equally impressive turn as Bane.

“I took the decision very early on that it would be inappropriate,” Nolan said. “I felt that someone who’s a friend and a colleague, who suffered a terrible tragedy, to try to reduce that as plot point in the movie just felt wrong to me.”

Many observers claim that the massive success of the last Batman movie — it was the third highest grossing movie of all time after Avatar and Titanic for a couple of years until The Avengers took its spot just recently and was the movie that finally prompted the Oscars to tweak the number of possible Best Picture nominees after a huge outcry erupted when The Dark Knight failed to snag a nomination — were attributable to Heath’s indelible turn and how the filmmaker transformed what was primarily a genre movie into a topnotch, thought-provoking movie on the real tragedy of a superhero’s heartbreaking and lonely existence.

But for the director, the enormous success of The Dark Knight was something he didn’t particularly envision when he was doing it. And even if the buzz right now in Hollywood centers not on whether The Dark Knight Rises would be able to duplicate the success of its predecessor but by how much bigger it will be, Nolan would rather focus on delivering a movie that would satisfy everyone.

“I think it would be crazy to try and chase that kind of success. The film was a phenomenon! No one can really explain that, it just happened. It was great. But my responsibility, I feel, is to try and make a film for the studio and make their money back, that’s really the pressure.”

Among the actors, it was Hathaway who felt some pressure walking into the set. The pressure didn’t stem from the success of the previous Batman but more on the fact that among the main cast of the movie, she was the only one who has not worked with Nolan before.

The lovely actress, who was radiant in a white flowing dress on the day of the junket, shared that she felt nervous in the beginning being the newcomer on the set but that “motivated me to work even harder because I didn’t want to stand out.” Hathaway’s emphasis on “stand out” (or “mess-up” in ordinary language) drew laughter from her co-stars. “Everybody was actually very warm. I was not treated any differently.”

Another challenge to her was the tight body-hugging suit that she would have to wear during some of the more action-packed scenes in the movie. She related how she trained for those scenes featuring her in the suit while wearing some of the most fearsome pair of stilettos to appear on the big screen ever. She recalled the difficulty she had although she ultimately had fun learning how to fight describing it as “one of my happiest experiences I ever had as an actor.”

For Gordon-Levitt, who has previously worked with Nolan in Inception, described his experience on The Dark Knight Rises as the equivalent of a “dream-come-true moment.” He remembered watching The Dark Knight twice and had no inkling that he would be involved and be part of the final chapter of the saga.

 He considered working on the final Batman movie a “delight” because “I’ve been a fan of Chris’ movies since Memento; because I had such a time of my life doing Inception; because I loved the first two movies so much; and also, because I had a Batman costume when I was four years old. I love the character! He’s the cool one. He just always has been.”

But for the rest of the cast who have been part of the production from the very beginning, the idea that the series was drawing to a close distracted them from the other pressures that are normally associated with the commercial side of making movies, i.e., performing better than the previous movie, etc.

“What was very important was that we are finishing our story,” Nolan said. “I have been working on Batman for almost 10 years and it’s been incredible. It’s definitely been a journey and I leave that with certain sadness. But I will never say goodbye to all these guys. It’s bittersweet. It’s been a very important year in my life.”

But the incredible, extraordinary, astonishing (you supply your own superlative later after watching the movie) ending never came to him just recently. “That was the first thing that we had. We had it for a long time,” Nolan revealed. “For me, the ending is the most important thing. It’s important to any film. It always comes first.

And for Batman himself, Bale, who sat nearly quiet for the entire 45-minute press conference, getting into the Batman suit for the very last time was also a little bittersweet experience.

Asked what he feels about leaving Batman behind, the notoriously detached actor just plainly declared, “When it’s time to say goodbye, it’s time to say goodbye.”

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