Thinking Outside the Box: 8 Ways The Dark Knight Shines

the joker The Dark Knight
Creative Commons License photo credit: ?NiJoKeR?

There are only a few movies that break the norms and become something special because they didn’t do what everyone else did before them. The latest Batman movie The Dark Knight is just one of those movies.

I should probably preface this post with the fact that honestly, I’m not that much of a Batman fan. Growing up I enjoyed the Old Skool Batman movie with Michael Keaton, but since then I’ve had a hard time with all of the later Batman movies. Still, I managed to snag a much-coveted ticket to a midnight showing of The Dark Knight, and was incredibly impressed. I won’t give another gushing review, because you can read those anywhere. But I do believe this movie will win actual awards (Best Actor, Best Movie?) from the Academy later on.The Dark Knight is an exceptional movie because the people who created it thought completely outside of the box.

Starting From Scratch

The writers of The Dark Knight completely tore down all stereotypes surrounding the Batman movies. By completely re-thinking every aspect of the movie, they were able to create something exceptional and unlike any other comic movie ever. Here’s how they did it:

1. Sparse and creepy music – Instead of crafting a film score like other action/superhero blockbusters, The Dark Knight takes a minimalist approach to film score. Instead of using loud, broad music to set the tone in the movie, the film score effectively steps out of the way, letting the incredible acting by Heath Ledger and Company take over the tone of the movie.

The music also has another interesting twist to it: When music is actually present, it’s done with almost a horror movie feel. When the Joker is going to do something creepy, there is a slight buzzing sound that grows. It’s not an instrument, just a buzzing sound. Very creepy, and very effective.

2. Going IMax – Shooting a film largely with IMAX cameras had been a goal of director Christopher Nolan for a long time, but the right project hadn’t come along until The Dark Knight. There are many obstacles to shooting in IMAX. First, they’re much heavier and bulkier than traditional cameras, so Nolan had to modify the camera arms so that they could support the weight. However, an even bigger obstacle proved to be the limited film was the fact that IMAX cameras have 2 and a half minute load times.

Even though there were many obstacles to filming the movie in IMAX, the results are breathtaking. The frames are much larger and clearer, and everything comes to life. By overcoming obstacles with IMAX technology, The Dark Knight was allowed to reach a whole new level of engagement.

3. NOT geared towards children – Children are what put the dollars in the bank for hero movies. It seems almost crazy for a comic book company to not market their movie towards children and add dialogue and sequences (a la some guy getting hit in the nuts) that children love. Not so with The Dark Knight. As a matter of fact, it’s as though the writers completely ignored the children that would be watching the movie. This was an adult film, through and through.

Yet I don’t think that ignoring the kiddies is going to hurt the money made from this movie. Kids will still buy all the toys, memorabilia and everything else that they normally would (if not more). The only difference is that parents are loving the movie just as much as the kids. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend the movie to small children, as it’s really dark.)

4. No cheese – Comic book movies (X-Men, Spider Man, etc.) tend to have a lot of “cheese” written in to the dialogue. There always tend to be dumb one-liners thrown in, either to appeal to kids (see #3) or to make the movie like the comic book. Yet I couldn’t count a single one in The Dark Knight. And there were plenty of opportunities for it too. But the writers made a savvy move by not making the movie seem like a bunch of action sequences thrown together with cheesy dialogue, like most action movies.

5. Relied on real acting as opposed to special effects – I’ve never walked away from a movie and been so amazed by the quality of acting from all actors in the movie. This is not usually the case for action movies, or any movies for that matter. By holding out for the best actors and getting the right chemisty between them, the writers and cast and crew ensured that the movie was a step-above all other action movies this summer.

6. Re-working the Joker’s character from the ground-up – A common theme to the direction of the movie was to “re-work” every aspect of the movie. There’s no better example of this than Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. Instead of taking the typical, mostly-funny and hardly scary crack at one of the most portrayed villains, Ledger created something altogether different. The Joker is insane. He is by far scarier and altogether demented. In fact, that’s what makes him so scary. You can still tell he’s a person. Just the most twisted person you’ve ever seen. Instead of a playful villian, he’s something that any city would fear to have running loose.

7. Less like a comic book – Instead of making the movie a grandiose production like Spider Man, The Dark Knight felt almost nothing like a comic book. The writers of the movie realized that the over-the-top approach had been flogged to death, so they made the whole movie feel more believable. Sure, there are some pretty outlandish aspects of the movie (Batman’s “toys”, Two Face’s charred face, etc.), but as a whole the movie was much more believable than any other comic book movie. And the fact that it was more believable made the story more scary and gripping.

8. A lot more detail about the characters – Instead of placing the sole emphasis of the movie on limitless special effects budgets, the writers of The Dark Knight brought out the storyline of the characters more than any other Batman movie. This allowed you to identify with the characters much better, pulling you in to the movie as opposed to being a spectator.

It’s ALL about risks

It’s safe to say that the actors, writers and directors of The Dark Knight took some huge risks by completely doing away with comic movie norms. Heath Ledger could have played the Joker just like Jack Nicholson. The film score could have been huge and in the way, and they could have ensured success by writing the dialogue with children in mind.

But they didn’t.

Instead, they have an unprecedented blockbuster, and the movie is only 3 days old. The Dark Knight has already broken opening weekend records, and I think it’s safe to say that it will be breaking many more, plus being mentioned for some major awards. Did it pay for Christopher Nolan and Company to think outside the box while making the movie? You bet your sweet movie popcorn it did.

How are you thinking outside the box?

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  • Minneapolis Electricians January 27, 2011, 3:46 pm

    Fairly helpful entry. Thanks for your opinion.. it clarified a couple of concerns of my very own..