December 20, 2011 5:00am PT by Borys Kit
'The Dark Knight Rises' Faces Big Problem: Audiences Can't Understand Villain
Audience interest in next summer’s The Dark Knight Rises is ramping up thanks to Imax screenings of an extended prologue before Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and the debut online of the film’s trailer Monday.
But despite the warm reception to the footage, Warner Bros. is running into an unexpected problem, one which is causing some handwringing among executives and others who are working on the movie.
Some audience members are grumbling that they can’t understand what Bane, the main villain in the final installment of the Christopher Nolan-helmed trilogy, is saying. Bane is a bad guy whose super-strength comes from a drug that he continuously inhales. In the prologue, the character, played by British actor Tom Hardy, is seen with a mask that covers his nose and mouth; his speech is garbled and muffled.
“A fantastic action sequence hurt by the fact that you cannot understand the villain at all,” commented Erik Davis on Twitter. Others poked fun at the seven-minute prologue. “The Dark Knight Rises prologue was really great, especially when Bane spoke the soon-to-be-classic line: 'Mmrbl ffrmrff hmrbblfmm,'" wrote one fan.
Fan websites, whose approval is seen in Hollywood as key to building buzz for big superhero tentpole movies, also have not been kind to the sound in the prologue. “We've seen the Dark Knight Rises prologue -- and yes, Bane really does sound that bad,” wrote IO9. The male-oriented site What Would Tyler Durden Do published the prologue’s purported script pages to help shed light on the dialogue. The site’s comment on fan reaction to the footage: “Most people immediately said two things: ‘damn that was bad ass!’ and ‘I have no idea what the f*** was going on!’”
Sources close to the movie say Warner Bros. is very aware of the sound issue. One source working on the film says he is “scared to death” about “the Bane problem.” And with good reason. The last Batman film, 2008’s The Dark Knight, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and the studio doesn’t want anything to tamper with Rise’s chances for success.
Sources also say some at Warners would like Nolan to change the sound mix, but the filmmaker, whose autonomy is well-earned (his Inception earned the studio more than $800 million and eight Oscar nominations), has informed executives that he plans only to alter the sound slightly, not to rework it completely.
“Chris wants the audience to catch up and participate rather than push everything at them. He doesn't dumb things down," says one high-level exec, declining to be named. “You've got to pedal faster to keep up.”
Nolan said similar things to The Hollywood Reporter at the prologue’s unveiling during a press event Dec. 8, explaining that it was OK for a moviegoer not to understand what was said at times, as long as the overall idea was conveyed. The filmmaker is currently editing the movie and won't have a cut to show the studio for at least a couple pf months.
While Warners has supported Nolan’s wishes in the past, moviegoer complaints about the character could create pressure to make changes. Or the studio and Nolan can do nothing and hope that fan interest in The Dark Knight Rises outweighs any issues with understanding Bane's dialogue.
Kim Masters contributed to this report.