Buzz builds in the heat of 'Knight'

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Warner Bros. took the wraps off what is arguably its biggest movie of the year Monday, unveiling "The Dark Knight" in a splashy Manhattan premiere.

The event — which shut down a block of Broadway as media and gawkers crowded a busily trafficked street to glimpse the likes of Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman — featured an opening performance that was as much sound-and-light show as premiere. Composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer played a piece of the score accompanied by an elaborate lighting number with a Bat Signal as its centerpiece.

The Imax screening was the first large-scale presentation of the film, which the studio will roll out to a screening-packed schedule this weekend.

But for all the pyrotechnics, the event also had another potential purpose: as a quiet, backdoor test of the movie's awards potential, especially for Heath Ledger and his performance as archvillain the Joker.

Studio execs, who congregated with a kind of nervous energy in the top-floor lobby of the Sony Lincoln Square, may have gotten what they had hoped for: There were several small midscreening ovations for Ledger.

The screening reaction of both the media and the industry proved not just a test of the movie's drawing power — it's already expected to challenge for the biggest opening in history — but whether it could gain traction as an awards contender. (partialdiff)
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