07 July, 2008

Bright Nights for IMAX and The Dark Knight

While it's true the movie summer session has already produced incredible box office successes with Iron Man and Indiana Jones, the epitome of cinema-fare is yet to come, in the shape of the cape and cowl. By all early accounts Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (the sequel to the excellent Batman Begins film) is surpassing even its most lofty cinematic expectations.

Oscar talk for a comic book movie? This genre of film-dom typically rates from the very good (X-Men 2, Spider Man 2, Begins, Iron Man...) to the downright awful (Elektra, Daredevil, Spiderman 3...), but for a movie about a man dressed in a bat costume fighting a villain based on a playing card, to be compared with the greatest sequels in film history. That is something else, and for it to be spoken with realistic ambitions of a Best Picture Oscar nod is not only chilling, but deserves the general movie goer's full attention. From early reviews and viewings, Nolan created a masterpiece with this Batman film, and Heath Ledger's Joker portrayal will be talked about for a generation and then some. Sadly the actor will be unable to reap the praises bestowed upon him as his death months ago from an accidental overdose shocked the entertainment community.

Box Office predictions are enormous for this movie, even more so than Indiana Jones, and with the latter now crossing the $300Million mark domestically and nearing $800Million worldwide, The Dark Knight seems as sure of a thing as there is in this world for a bona-fide hit movie.

The trade here however, is not Time Warner (TWX), the parent of Warner Bros., the studio producing the movie. The trade is IMAX (IMAX). The company whose theater screens fill entire rooms and have sound systems that come as close as any to the ever-lustful "ultimate experience". IMAX is a much smaller company, compared to the giant TWX, $115Million in Revenue in 2007, and therefore can be pushed significantly higher by the success of a single movie.

And yes, studios have released movies on IMAX screens before, why is this different? What makes The Dark Knight bigger and better than any other blockbuster brought to IMAX?
First, it is different because IMAX has more screens now than ever before, and the company, after a rough patch, involving some restatements, seems to be back on track to profitability.
Secondly, The Dark Knight was the first major studio blockbuster to have entire sequences shot with IMAX cameras! Reviews and praise for the film thus far revolve around a few common threads. One, is the sheer film-making achievement that is delivered with this movie. Two, is the incredible performance of Ledger as The Joker. Three, You have to see this film in IMAX!

If that's not enough to drive additional incremental business to IMAX, I'm not sure what is. Shooting movies with IMAX cameras has thus far been reserved to documentary, or special nature-based ilk, as the film is a different size, costs more to use and can only be processed by a specialist laboratory. The final product however, is nothing short of spectacular.

Judging by initial critical praise and the overwhelming response to the IMAX version of the film, it is likely that Dark Knight in IMAX showings will be sold out for several weeks. Shooting a movie of this size, with such a public following in IMAX film with IMAX cameras is not simply an anomaly but is trailblazing and trend-setting. For IMAX shareholders, they can only hope that The Dark Knight's successes with the IMAX experience will foster movie studios to try the format in more feature films, driving an unheard of growth cycle for the company. For now though, it all hinges on Batman, and by all accounts his cape will shroud the entire domestic box office starting July 18th.

With markets sputtering, and catalysts few and far between, IMAX has an enormous catalyst, a beacon of hope for short term gains, as Batman's epic clash with The Joker unfolds on screen, within the IMAX experience.

Disclosure: Author owns IMAX

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