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Tag: opinion

How the making of The Dark Knight made history

Contributed by
Jul 17, 2018

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight burst into cinemas worldwide a decade ago — yes, we feel old, too — and helped to usher in a new era of spectacular superhero movies.

Grossing over $1 billion at the global box office, Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins owed much of its success to the years of toil put into producing a film that would eclipse its predecessor.

It took three years for The Dark Knight to go from a formulaic idea to the big screen Armed with a $185 million budget and a lengthy "To Do" list, just how do you go about producing a worthy sequel?

It all starts with a blank page. Screenwriter David S. Goyer began work on two treatments — one each for The Dark Knight's eventual villains Joker and Two-Face — before the screenplays were blended together into a first official draft.

Taking inspiration from Batman's illustrious comic book history — including iconic graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, Jeph Loeb's limited series The Long Halloween, Denny O'Neil's 1971 story "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" and the Joker's first appearance in the 1940 comic Batman – Goyer and the Nolan brothers collaborated on a final script that was steeped in the Caped Crusader's lore.

Christopher Nolan IMAX camera

With the trio busy in the writer's room, location manager Robin Higgs took the chance to seek out the right filming environments. British locations such as Liverpool, Glasgow, and Yorkshire were mulled over before a return to Chicago — the city Nolan described as "truly remarkable" from filming Batman Begins — was selected for a 13-week long shoot.

Despite the disruption that filming brought to the city, Chicago benefitted to the tune of $45 million and the creation of thousands of jobs.

London's defunct Battersea Power Station and famous Pinewood Studios were also enlisted for key scenes and studio space, respectively. Surrey-based town Chertsey was used as a Batmobile stunt rehearsal range as well... and tragically ended up being the setting for one of two deaths during production as technician Conway Wickliffe lost his life during a collision between his car and a tree.

The other death being beloved actor Heath Ledger.

Principal photography began in April 2007 and, in a first for a non-documentary film, IMAX cameras — and their 70mm film stock — were used to capture four major sequences in the film.

Nolan, who favors on-set special effects and stunts over CGI, and his team had a difficult time working with the new $250,000 technology, according to producer Charles Rovan, and even ended up breaking one of the only four cameras in existence during the Joker vehicle chase sequence.

Not only were the cameras heavy and bulky, but the noise they emitted — courtesy of the built-in fans to keep it from overheating — led to frustration on set as the likes of Ledger, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine struggled to be heard above the din.

However, the camera made a real difference to the final cut due to its immense capturing capability and played a significant role in showing off the newly-designed Batpod, revealed after Batman's Batmobile Tumbler is blown up by the Joker, during that city chase.

Production designer Nathan Crowley constructed six editions of Batman's motorcycle for the film's necessary crashes and action scenes. Crowley spent six months designing, building and safety testing each one for the stunt team to utilize. One issue Crowley couldn't resolve was the bike's unstable nature, but Bale's stunt double, Jean-Pierre Goy, was able to balance on the vehicle. Bale revealed as much during a 2012 GQ interview as he explained that Goy "had to unlearn" everything he knew about riding motorcycles as the Batpod was steered by the rider's shoulders.

Speaking of design, what influenced the Joker's homeless-esque dress code by costume designer Lindy Hemming?

Inspired by punk rogues such as Johnny Rotten and Iggy Pop, Hemming gave Ledger's Joker an anti-establishment vibe that, according to a 2009 Empire interview, made him "look like he doesn't care about himself at all."

And what of his famous prosthetic mask that gave rise to the lisps and ticks that Ledger's Joker utilized to make himself scarier? Prosthetics supervisor Conor O'Sullivan took inspiration from the Scottish term "Glasgow smile" — a cut made from a victim's mouth to their ear that eventually leaves a scar in the shape of a smile — to pull off that menacing Joker look.

Batman's revamped suit, meanwhile, was comprised of 200 pieces made from rubber, nylon, fiberglass and metallic mesh to allow for comfort and maneuverability. Despite being eight pounds heavier than its predecessor, Bale found it "not as hot to wear" and, with a redesigned cowl separated from the neck piece, allowed him to turn his head left or right.

Joker, Batman: The Dark Knight

By contrast, one element of Batman Begins that didn't require building from the ground up again was Hans Zimmer's terrific score. The legendary German composer, alongside co-creator James Newton Howard, opted to draw on work from the first flick and flesh out the main Batman theme that is heard during the climax of Batman Begins.

Doubling down on the industrial, clanging sounds in a bid to escape the more comedic and whimsical soundtrack composed by Danny Elfman for Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, and taking influence from bands such as Kraftwerk and The Damned, the duo created a brooding, twisted score that portrayed each character's personality and intention.

The Dark Knight was released to critical acclaim and won 103 of 178 awards for which the cast and crew, sound and visual effects teams, screenplay, editing team and more were nominated.

Ranked as the 35th highest-grossing film of all time and 75th on the top 100 list of review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, The Dark Knight, and its influence and legacy, will live on for decades to come. Its success wouldn't have been possible without a tight-knit production schedule and a team of experts, and it is that talented group that are most deserving of praise upon the film's 10th anniversary.

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