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Why The Dark Knight's IMAX release frustrated Christopher Nolan

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If you’ve read or listened to a Christopher Nolan interview in the last few years, you’ve no doubt heard him say something about analog filmmaking and the preservation of shooting on celluloid film.

The choice of format has been one of the central tenets of Nolan’s crusade within the film world. It’s the drum he bangs loudest. Nolan, along with filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, believe that something is being lost with the switch to digital, and one of the director’s strategies for pushing back against the tide has been embracing large formats.

In 2008, Nolan became the first director to use IMAX cameras to shoot scenes in a feature film. Several key sequences in The Dark Knight use the large format camera, including the iconic Joker heist that opens the film. At the time, the move was completely groundbreaking, so much so that IMAX screenings of I Am Legend show the sequence as an extended teaser for The Dark Knight in the full-screen format.

For Nolan, here was a reason that people would feel compelled to come out to theaters that favored film. Audiences couldn’t get this experience anywhere else. IMAX tickets also offered studios the same kind of upsell they fell in love with during the resurgence of 3-D. The Dark Knight in IMAX could change things.

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

“I think I always believed that if we won, if we succeeded, that would enable more filmmakers to carry on working that way and that would go some way to stop the electronics companies and studios from chipping away at the technical way in which myself and a lot of filmmakers want to keep working,” Nolan told EW during a conversation ahead of Dunkirk (out July 21). “And it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.”

Nolan’s frustration stems from the studios and their insistence on ignoring his successes. Though he would only speak to the technical aspects, the truth is that Nolan is somehow immune to Hollywood’s typical pattern of success breeding imitation. Outside of the Dark Knight trilogy, he shoots big, original movies on film and makes money doing it. But he’s the only one who really gets to do it.

But Nolan isn’t demanding an end to superhero movies and digital cameras. All he wants is there to be a choice. “If filmmakers want to work on digital, terrific. That’s their choice,” he said. “I don’t want my choice to shoot on film taken away. We found ourselves needing to enlist a wide range of filmmakers to talk to the studios, because I talk to somebody and they say, ‘Oh, yeah, because that’s your thing,’ like it was some little exception or quirk, rather than a very mainstream methodology that we had proven time and time again.”