The Dark Knight and 2001: A Space Odyssey: back in a big way


The Dark Knight and 2001: A Space Odyssey — celebrating 10 and 50 years, respectively, since their premieres — were rereleased in limited IMAX 70 mm runs on Aug. 24 as special anniversary events. In New York, they played at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater, where figures towered and sounds thundered from high-quality audio-visual equipment.

Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight, is known for his affinity for IMAX and was behind the special screenings of 2001, having brought an “unrestored” print of the film to the Cannes Film Festival, which was used as a source for four IMAX prints for the rerelease in California's Burbank, New York City, San Francisco and Toronto.

When it comes to movies, size matters. This is not to say that all IMAX movies are excellent, nor that the large format automatically makes a film better. But on IMAX screens — known for their size, image and sound quality — everything about a feature is amplified.

For movies that have been out for one decade or five, the format rejuvenates movies that likely would have been seen otherwise on phones, laptops and TV screens. It’s a lot easier to empathize with a character’s emotions when their face can be clearly seen without distraction.

The Dark Knight was the first major feature film to use IMAX 70 mm film, integrating six sequences shot with the loud, heavy cameras, which could only shoot three minutes at a time, and, according to Director of Photography Wally Pfister, would take five days to get back from the only lab that processed the film at the time.

When watching on IMAX, one can notice the changing aspect-ratio, as the film alternately fills the squarish screen and takes up a more rectangular, traditional size for movies. Six sequences, including an opening bank robbery and a high-altitude stealth glide, were captured in the full size of IMAX. The effort was worth it.

The artistry of 2001 — remarked upon to great extent by film writers for the past 50 years — deserves its place on a large screen as well. Nolan’s print was developed from original materials that had survived since the 1960s, without being digitally enhanced or cleaned up and modernized.

There are imperfections in the film that are expanded to great heights, every little scratch the size of a human being or bigger. But Nolan presents a masterpiece as close to how it would’ve been shown in theaters, if only on a larger scale.

A significant portion of The Dark Knight’s narrative power comes from the sense of having no control, of surrendering to the whims of a mad yet sane villain, who asks sardonically if he really looks like “a guy with a plan,” even as intricate cogs turn in his machine of terror and mayhem. The sense of hopelessness that comes with facing contingency upon contingency of villainy is only strengthened by the power of the format. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, 10 years later, defies parody and imitation. On the incredibly big screen, it still continues to haunt and overpower.

2001 even more greatly benefits from its enlarged screen. Director Stanley Kubrick was known for his meticulousness in filmmaking, and every single exquisite detail is improved. The film is something of an art piece, more so than the general categorization of film as an art; at times it feels like 2001 belongs in a museum. On a big screen, that feeling is gone. The waltz of a ship docking, the quiet malice of the computer HAL 9000, that harrowing ring of a monolith on the moon and the mystifying sequence of extradimensional travel: All belong on a big screen and deserve the kind of technical power that will match that of their artistry.

The rereleases give viewers the chance to do something one does not do often with movies. The viewer can sit back, letting the films wash over them; 2001 and The Dark Knight have the power to do so.

They show the value of music, words, images and movement coming together to make something special. They show how amplified every sensation can be. Amplified greatness, in this situation, is even greater.