what the fudge...
October 26, 2009 3:57 AM   Subscribe

FilmFilter: Question regarding The Dark Knight, Public Enemies, and Collateral.

I'm curious about these aforementioned films, which have been mildly trumpeted for some of their progressive filming methods.

In The Dark Knight: shooting in IMAX for four "major scenes," including the Joker's entrance, and, I'm assuming, part or all of the HK skyscraper leap.

In Collateral: according to different accounts (I blame Wikipedia), Michael Mann used a digital HD camera for parts of the movie -- apparently, low-light sequences and exterior shots.

In Public Enemies: acc. to Manohla Dargis, NYT, "shot in high-definition digital by a filmmaker who's helping change the way movies look..."

Why did the directors of these films (Nolan and Mann, respectively) choose to employ these methods (as opposed to conventional film)? And, what is the net difference in what I see as a viewer watching the movie?

Thanks, MeFi.
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I imagine with batman it had to do with a gimmick for getting people to pay extra in IMAX theaters.
posted by delmoi at 4:08 AM on October 26, 2009

And, what is the net difference in what I see as a viewer watching the movie?

well for batman, none, unless you were watching it in an IMAX cinema. On the one hand the IMAX scenes were amazing but it was a bit weird to switch from IMAX to regular format from scene to scene
posted by missmagenta at 4:32 AM on October 26, 2009

If a movie is shot digitally and you see it at a movie theater that uses digital projection, then there is a digital path from the director to you, which means no dirt or distortion on screen. And it stays that way for each viewing-- the movie doesn't pick up scratches like they do with normal print film projection.

Shooting digitally means less turnaround time during production. Rather than waiting for the film to travel to the lab, be developed, and be delivered to the editor, he or she has it immediately and can begin editing moments after the director moves onto the next shot. It cuts down on costly reshoots, since film canisters are sometimes lost in transit or ruined at the lab. And it can also be piped around the world from the film set to an editing bay in Los Angeles or a special effects company in San Francisco at the touch of a button.
posted by sharkfu at 4:38 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Speaking personally, the net difference in what I see is that footage shot on HD tends to be blurrier during fast motion and to have less vivid color.

I suspect the blur is because film's shutter speed is usually 1/48 seconds per frame (which allows for the mechanical shutter to close completely, advance the film one frame, and hold the frame in place while the shutter reopens) while HD's shutter speed is closer to 1/24 seconds per frame (because very little time is needed for the light sensor to prepare to capture another frame).

The color difference is most likely for two reasons. First, all HD formats are psycho-visually compressed. The image is analyzed before it is recorded, and parts of the image that statistically don't make a lot of difference to the end product are removed. For the majority of humans, that means color. Second, the light sensors and the images they produce don't have the same latitude as negative film stock, and changing the color characteristics of the image to account for different lighting, different times of day, etc. without making the image look phony tends to be difficult.

To address the specific examples the NATURAL cited, I could tell quite easily the difference between HD and film shots in Collateral (I guess I'm a statistical outlier?). Public Enemies was shot entirely digitally and looked better than all the HD I'd seen before it, although the motion blur still gave it away.

The state of the art has come a long way since The Phantom Menace's ham-fisted sore-thumb use of HD for certain sequences. But that's part of it; you are less likely to notice if it's a good flick. Michael Mann's work leaves me a bit cold, and I spend a lot of time noting the well-done cinematography and editing in his films. When I saw The Dark Knight, I barely noticed the switch between IMAX and Cinemascope because I was really wrapped up in the story.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:28 AM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

As an aside, for at least the Dark Knight Blu-ray, the IMAX is pretty stunning. Instead of being letter boxed on a widescreen tv, it fills the screen from corner to corner, and gives you more of a "you are there" kind of feeling.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:06 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: All these films have good articles in American Cinematographer. Below, I've pulled a quote from each that says why they shot in digital/IMAX but the full articles have a lot more info.

Intrigued by the format’s potential for feature filmmaking, Mann decided to use it on the extensive night-exterior work in Collateral to make the most of available light in and around Los Angeles.
Dark Knight
Nolan had been interested in exploring the large format’s potential in a fictional project for some time. “I’ve always been fascinated by large-format photography’s immersive quality, the impact it has on the huge screen,” says the director, “and I’d never seen a fiction film or a Hollywood movie that employed that degree of immersion on the visual side.”
Public Enemies
In the end, the F23’s rendering of night scenes sealed the deal. “This movie has a lot of night action, including a lot of gunfights on city streets, so the digital camera’s higher sensitivity and ability to see into shadows was a major benefit,” says Spinotti. “Also, we believed digital would facilitate a more dynamic use of film grammar while giving us a hyper-realistic look.”
posted by smackfu at 6:51 AM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Agree with Ghidorah: The IMAX scenes in The Dark Knight are outstanding on Blu-ray. When I watched the extra material that covered the use of IMAX, I came away thinking that it was partially a cinematography stunt and partially a creative choice, but results are worth it.

Agree with infinitewindow: The switch to and from IMAX material in The Dark Night is somehow subtle. I didn't really notice it the first time, but on repeated viewings, it's clear that it contributes greatly to the scenes' impact.
posted by jmcmurry at 7:09 AM on October 26, 2009

Nolan has mentioned that he'd like to shoot an entire feature in IMAX, after the successful experiment with bits of The Dark Knight.

Trivia: the main challenge with shooting in IMAX, aside from the comically heavy cameras, is the loud sound the camera emits as it films. This makes it very difficult to shoot sync dialog. Note how often people actually *talk* in the IMAX scenes of The Dark Knight.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: extensive night-exterior work in Collateral to make the most of available light in and around Los Angeles

On a related note, there are a couple of instances that Mann points out during the Director's Commentary where the background scenery is visible because of the use of digital cameras rather than film. One example is when Vincent is walking through the open-air apartment building and you can see downtown LA in the background. Another is outside the jazz club, in the street, when Vincent and Max have a confrontation. In both shots, you can see the clouds, buildings, trees, etc. quite clearly. Getting similar-quality shots on film would be extremely difficult or impossible.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:52 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

The state of the art has come a long way since The Phantom Menace's ham-fisted sore-thumb use of HD for certain sequences.

Not to derail or anything but I've never been able to suss out which sequences were the HD sequences in Phantom Menace. Which ones were they?
posted by wabbittwax at 8:03 AM on October 26, 2009

Best answer: David Fincher is another director who has made the switch to digital formats fairly enthusiastically. For him, one of the reasons is it gives him the freedom to have actors go through crazy numbers of takes of the same scene until Finch gets the one he likes, since he's not burning 35mm film with every extra take he chooses to do. This methodology reportedly created some friction between Fincher and Jake Gyllenhaal during the shooting of Zodiac. Benjamin Button was also shot digitally. Those two movies represent pretty much the state in the art of making video look like film. (You may notice that Collateral and Public Enemies look somewhat different from film, for better and/or worse.)
posted by Joey Bagels at 10:48 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

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