Awards screeners feeling Blu

'Dark Knight' looks to benefit from format shift

Warner Bros. is upping the ante in the awards-season screener game by going Blu-ray, and Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" could be the big beneficiary.

The studio has sent out a mailer to Academy members, offering them the option of receiving screeners in the Blu-ray format in lieu of watermarked regular DVDs. Nolan, a proponent of Blu-ray, urged the studio to make history with the foray into new technology.

"We really tried to do a lot with the film technically to give audiences a real reason to go see the film in theaters," including shooting sequences in large-format Imax, the "Dark Knight" director said in an interview.

But for Academy members who haven't seen it in theaters, or simply want to view it again, he said, "the Blu-ray version is vastly superior to DVD. You can actually see the things we did in Imax, and it will give Academy members the best possible chance to see what we did technically."

The Batman sequel, which has grossed more than $523 million domestically and earned a 95% positive critical rating at RottenTomatoes.com, is one of those rare summer blockbusters with a legitimate shot at major awards. The Blu-ray screener could give it a further advantage.

While other studios have thought about offering Blu-ray screeners, a few, like Universal and Pixar, say it's too early in the conversion from DVD to Blu-ray to make the shift. Sony is considering Blu-ray for "Seven Pounds," its Will Smith drama that opens Dec. 19, though it hasn't determined if there would be enough time to produce a Blu-ray screener.

Offering new, year-end releases in high-resolution Blu-ray increases the costs of mastering and manufacturing of screeners and could raise the risks of digital piracy. Plus, in the case of those movies that are finished just in time to meet awards-season deadlines, there is the added question of whether there would be enough time to master the Blu-ray discs.

"Dark Knight," which debuted theatrically July 18, doesn't face those problems. Nolan, working with his director of photography Wally Pfister, already has mastered the Blu-ray version for the movie's commercial release on DVD and Blu-ray. Warners hasn't announced a street date yet but the betting is that the discs could hit stores Dec. 9.

For "Knight's" Blu-ray incarnation, the director said he was able to approximate the changing aspect ratios of the film's Imax edition. The sections shot in 35mm will play in a letterboxed format, and for the Imax sequences, the image will expand to fill the entire widescreen. While that doesn't capture the complete Imax image, "it still gives us more of the way it was projected in Imax," Nolan said.

Warners will be holding the usual awards-season screenings of the movie, and the film will be rereleased theatrically in January, but Nolan said that if Oscar voters can't make those, "the Blu-ray version is also an excellent way to see the film."

It's too early to tell how many of the Academy's 6,000-or-so voting members will take advantage of the offer. A couple of Academy members said they tossed the mailer because they don't have Blu-ray players.
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