'The Dark Knight Rises' prologue audience reaction: Frantic excitement, followed by the sound of silence
Hardcore Batman fans are legion. 2008’s The Dark Knight was a once-in-a-decade zeitgeist sensation — the rare movie that people actually wanted to see more than once — and expectations are sky-high for next year’s Dark Knight Rises. The prologue for Rises officially debuted ahead of Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol, thus guaranteeing that film an instantaneous Nolan Bump of cultural necessity and there was already a long line two hours before the midnight screening at the Lincoln Square AMC last night. I was secretly hoping that the line would be composed of hardcore Mission: Impossible fans — you know, the kind of people who wear Jon Voight masks and carry cigar cutters autographed by Dougray Scott and engage in the neverending “Short-haired Ethan vs. Long-haired Ethan” debate. But people like that don’t actually exist.
The man in the very front of the line looked like a lifer. He was sitting on the floor of the movie theater with the practiced casualness of a libertarian protester. He never looked up once that I saw. The guy sitting behind him was there with his girlfriend. The dude was named Justin, and he said he’d been in line for five hours. (The girlfriend giggled a little bit; I’m guessing she was a latecomer.)
Five hours might seem like a long, long time to wait in line for six minutes of movie. Intriguingly, Justin claimed to have already seen the prologue. And what did he think for it? “It speaks for itself,” he said. The man standing a few spots behind him was less measured in his praise. “The prologue is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen,” said Rory, who proceeded to show me the tattoo of a Bat-insignia on his upper back. “I got it in 2007,” he said. “After Batman Begins, but before Dark Knight.”
At this point, the front of the line started to feel almost like a drum-circle. It was clear that everyone had been here for a while — I probably wasn’t the first journalist they talked to. Also, somehow everyone had already seen the prologue. I asked what they thought about the notion of Bane as a villain. Everyone expressed serious disdain for Bane’s appearance in the movie Batman & Robin. Nobody seemed to know about his original appearance in the comic-book story arc Knightfall.
Is it true, I asked, that Bane is unintelligible in the prologue? “Some things you cannot understand,” said a guy named David. “I think it’s intentional.” (That’s what they said about the discrepancies in the Bible!) “How would you describe his accent?” I asked. “Brilliant,” said Justin. “Chilling,” said Rory. “I don’t think that’s what he was asking,” said David.
They let us into the theater around 11:30. My friend and I got decent seats — not dead center, but close enough. (Does anyone else think that it’s almost punishingly impossible to get good seats in an IMAX theater? If you’re too far from the center, you can’t see one side of the screen. God help you if you’re sitting in the front four rows.) When the prologue finally starts, the sight of a familiar face earns some minor applause, but the reaction during the rest of the scene is surprisingly muted. By comparison, when I saw the Dark Knight prologue four years ago — at the Metreon Theater in San Francisco, playing ahead of Will Smith’s thankfully-forgotten I Am Legend — there were hoots of bemused laughter during the robbers-killing-each-other sequence, and a big cheer when the Joker’s face was revealed.
It’s an undeniably interesting scene — check out Jeff Jensen’s thoughts about the prologue here. But the immediate reaction to the prologue was quiet — stunned confusion, perhaps? (You really can’t understand a damn thing Bane says. Which I kind of like. However, I also thought Melancholia was the funniest movie of the year, so I may not be the target audience.)
I’m sure other screenings will feature louder reactions — when I noted some muted applause after the DKR trailer last summer, several commenters claimed the audience in their theaters exploded. Fellow film fans, have you seen the Dark Knight Rises prologue yet? What did you think of it? What did your fellow moviegoers think of it? What should society think of it? Are tribal chants the new foghorns, soundtrackishly-speaking?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich