TROUBLE CITY

The Dark Knight Rises (Advance Screening)

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Last weekend, the Internet was on fire. Millions of Batman fans all over the planet had turned their browsers toward a viral marketing site, eager to wait for the advent of something called "Operation Early Bird." The timer counted down to 10 AM, Pacific Standard Time... and the servers at Warner Bros. immediately crashed. The next few hours were like a worldwide brawl for Internet traffic. Those lucky few who were able to get a connection were treated to a global map with points gradually appearing one right after the other. It didn't take long to realize that these points corresponded to IMAX theaters, each one apparently reserved to play the opening minutes of The Dark Knight Rises. Tickets were being distributed through an external site, so that of course led to a whole new round of server crashes.

If you were unaware of all this, then you apparently have a life. Congratulations. As for me, I braved all of this so you didn't have to. Yes, I was one of the millions who waited several days to spend several hours earning the privilege of waiting several more hours in line, all to see a few minutes of an upcoming movie. This is what the Hollywood hype machine looks like, ladies and gents.

Some of my longtime readers may remember when I did something similar for Tron: Legacy, but this was something more special, and for a very simple reason. The previous screening took place at the Bridgeport 18, which is only equipped with one of those smaller, faux IMAX screens. This more recent one, on the other hand, was set up at the OMNIMAX.

There are only two theaters in all of Oregon where one can find the booming audio and the all-encompassing screen that marks a true IMAX experience. One is at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. The other is at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville. The catch is that both of them are mostly used to screen documentaries. They only show Hollywood films every once in a blue moon. I have no idea why OMSI agreed to participate in this, but I'm glad they did.

Anyway, OMSI was very well crammed with people by the 10 pm showtime. I wouldn't have thought that they'd have enough awesome t-shirts or get us all into the theater in time, but both were done successfully.

So, how was the clip? Well, as you may already know from advance reports, the opening minutes of Rises depicts the film's introduction of its primary villain, Bane. What's more is that much like the opening bank heist of TDK, this prologue was designed to be a short film in itself.

Additionally, if you've read the early spy reports, then you'll know that the primary complaint with this early footage is the terrible sound mixing on Bane. I'm afraid I must agree, since I could barely understand a word he was saying. Then again, the audio was so bad in general that I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying. No idea what happened there. Luckily, the score came through loud and clear, and I greatly enjoyed hearing Bane's rhythmic theme.

Anyway, the clip begins with a scene of Harvey Dent's funeral, just after the end of the previous film. I couldn't catch anything particularly out of the ordinary, just Jim Gordon giving a brief speech about how he believed in Harvey Dent. I assume that'll be important later in the film.

We go from there to... someplace hilly and green, I'm not sure where. This is the setting of the "short film" proper, concerning the air travel arrangements of one Dr. Pavel. Because I followed the aforementioned viral marketing advent, I know that this Pavel is a nuclear scientist waiting expatriation to the States. He's accompanied by some federal agent-looking types, one of whom ("Operative FO439," I presume) I'm pretty sure was played by Aidan Gillen. I confess that it took me a while to remember that he was the mayor of Baltimore and not the mayor of Gotham. But I digress.

Pavel goes aboard an airplane, in addition to the agents and three hooded men in handcuffs that they picked up along the way. One of them -- surprise, surprise -- turns out to be Bane. A short time later, Bane breaks his handcuffs in two -- like a BAMF -- as the plane is hijacked.

I'm loathe to describe exactly how the plane gets hijacked. I'll only say that it involves cables, explosives, and a much bigger plane. When the agents' plane has been thoroughly incapacitated, Bane takes Dr. Pavel captive. But to make it look like an accident, there needs to be a corpse in Pavel's place. One of Bane's comrades gladly sacrifices himself for the cause, and he does it so willingly that I found it very chilling.

Then comes one of the two greatest shots I saw tonight: Bane and Dr. Pavel -- suspended on a little cable hundreds of feet above the ground -- dangling in the breeze as the agents' plane falls out from under them and into oblivion far below. If ever there was a shot that was made to be filmed in all-immersive IMAX, that was surely it.

After that, the prologue closes with a shot of Bane and Pavel getting pulled into the plane. It mirrored a shot from TDK, in which Batman uses aircraft to transport another unwilling political chess piece across international lines. I've heard a lot of rumors which cast Bane as Batman's dark shadow, and that last shot certainly settles it.

What followed was a brief montage of shots from the rest of the movie. There was a shot of Batman with his weapon from Empire Magazine, there were some shots of the awesome new Batcopter, and some epic shots of crowd rioting. The montage also included quite a few shots of Selina Kyle both in and out of costume, though obviously nothing I could judge from.

But the montage ended with the second of the two greatest shots I saw tonight. You know that teaser poster that came out a few days ago? Yeah, it turns out that isn't just Photoshop. For just before I saw the movie's logo carved out in broken glass, the montage ended with a shot of Batman's mask -- broken in half -- falling from Bane's hand.

Nolan has a lot of work to do on the audio, but those complaints have grown so loud that I'm sure they won't fall on deaf ears. Aside from that problem, this film truly feels epic. The plane hijacking was a brilliantly executed piece of movie magic, and the montage showed me glimpses of a spectacular and dangerous adventure for the Caped Crusader. More than ever, I feel so very fortunate that Christopher Nolan's designated movie release weekend just happens to fall around my birthday.

If you'd like to see the prologue for yourself, you're in luck. It will be coming to IMAX screens this Friday, but only among the trailers before Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol. If you'd rather wait to see the whole film, The Dark Knight Rises is set to premiere on July 20th of next year.