Imax day for 'Knight'

Six-minute preview bows Dec. 14

The bat signal will appear next week, eight stories high — on Imax screens.

The first six minutes of Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight," a prologue that introduces Heath Ledger as the Joker, will appear as a preview in Imax theaters before the studio's "I Am Legend," which opens Dec. 14.

"Dark Knight," the next film in the successful Batman franchise, was lensed in part using Imax cameras, a Hollywood first and a creative decision made by director Christopher Nolan, who also helmed 2005's "Batman Begins."

The prologue is one of the scenes photographed in the 70mm Imax format. The rest of the film was lensed in 35mm and will be remastered to the Imax format for release in Imax theaters. In those theaters, the 70mm-lensed sequences will fill the screen and the 35mm-lensed scenes will appear letterboxed. (In traditional theaters, the aspect ratio will remain the same, though some expect that audiences might see a shift in image quality.)

"It's different, the experience you will get watching the film this way," Nolan said of Imax. "It will look great in 35mm as well, but (the Imax preview) might encourage people to go out of their way to see it this way. … I wanted to make the sequel bigger, and using literally a bigger canvas for the story seemed a great way to put the characters together."

In the six-minute sequence, a team of robbers — all wearing clown masks — enters a bank for a planned heist, but things take an unexpected turn. The imagery demonstrates the depth and clarity offered by the format, but perhaps no image is more chilling than the first look at Ledger's Joker.

Nolan described the moment the close-up comes to the screen.

"Seeing this extraordinary face, eight stories high … you can smell his breath," he said. "He's a very overwhelming personality, and there's incredible texture to his appearance. It's a creepy moment, as it should be."

Commenting on action shots, he said: "When you are racing and jumping … those are the points when you realize how overpowering the imagery can be. That really takes me back to being a kid and watching films that seemed much larger than life."

Nolan credited director of photography Wally Pfister and his team for their research to enable the cinematography. "We put an enormous amount of work into how to move these cameras," he said. "It's very heavy, it's very cumbersome … but in the end we felt very free to use the camera."

Nolan said the production even used the camera with a Steadicam. "We also managed to break a Steadicam," he added.

Continued Nolan: "The lenses are very wide. It pushes you to a style of filmmaking that is a little more formal. You tend to move the camera in a much more specific way. You can move things through the frame because you have such a crystal-clear image and you are dealing with such a wide field of vision.

"It's simply the best acquisition format there is," the helmer said. "I love film, and one of the reasons I was very keen to do what I am doing is this is a time when a lot of new technology is being thrown at us. … Film is an incredible medium, and I think it would be a shame to give up on it and accept new technology without realizing the limitations."

"Dark Knight" was lensed in Chicago and the U.K. Production recently wrapped, and post is under way. The film is slated to open July 18.