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The Playlist Interview: Christopher Nolan Talks The 'Dark Knight' Trilogy, Blockbuster Filmmaking, 'Following' & More [Part 1]

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist December 5, 2012 at 3:39PM

It’s been a big two weeks for Christopher Nolan in New York and beyond. The admired director was feted at the Film Society Of Lincoln Center with an hour-plus conversation about his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy last week and a few days before that the IFC Center hosted a screening of a new restored print of “Following,” his debut film that Criterion is releasing later this month. To cap it all off, “The Dark Knight Rises” and the entire trilogy is out on Blu-Ray and DVD this week (surely, that is going to be one of the biggest home video releases of the year).
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Nolan, TDKR
During the FSLC conversation, you called it an “action film” and “entertainment,” but that almost underplays their dramatic power.
Well, I see that point of view, but I hope that you would feel that those elements aren't added to them in a disjunctive or superficial way. For me, I think there dramatic elements in them that are very important to me and the actors. Whether it's Michael Caine or Anne Hathaway, what they're bringing to these characters is extremely important. So when I refer to the films as entertainment or as action movies, I'm not in any way trying to diminish that, what I'm saying is I always approach it from that larger scale and entertainment point of view. Then try to say let's not take any shortcuts with that. Let's try and give the audience as enriching an experience as possible.

"You have to take the time to build the credibility of the character and earn the audience's respect. You have to earn your stripes."
Can you talk about your pitch to the studio initially?
My pitch was always that if you can believe in the Batmobile, if you can believe in this action set piece that involves a flying vehicle in “Dark Knight Rises,” it's much more exciting if you can believe in it. The dramatic credibility of the movie that we get by casting such incredible talents and then trying to give them scenes to play, and really play the logic of it with that underpinning, all of the more fanciful elements become more fun. They're more enjoyable, and they're more intense. So, to me, those things aren't mutually exclusive. That's my honest appraisal of what we're trying to do. The entertainment, I just find a rich big movie experience. You know when Hollywood does a great big blockbuster that really wraps you up in a world, and lets you believe in extraordinary things that move you in some way, in an almost operatic sensibility? That to me is the most fun I have at the movies. And that's what I'm trying to do for the audience.

Did you ever see yourself as this blockbuster filmmaker starting out? Do you consider it a blockbuster?
It's a big movie. I think it's a blockbuster. I grew up loving Hollywood movies, “Star Wars,” the ‘Bond’ films. These are the films that I first tuned into and then as you grow older and you start looking at more interesting and obscure movies and cinema. You get on all kinds of different paths such as my underlying interest in independent film and my desire to work in the film genre and so forth. But in the back of my mind I've always looked to the biggest scale Hollywood movies. Because to me the most satisfying experience of watching a movie, if it's done really well. And so that aspiration is always it for me,  if I have the opportunity to do it. But I always wanted to give it a shot. So having had that shot, I really wanted to make the most of it and that’s what I tried to chase down with these movies.

Did you chase after Batman? You’ve said you younger brother [co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan] was more of a fan of Batman then you were.
Well, he was more of a comic book fan than I was. I've always been a movie guy, movies have been my thing. I love movies, all kinds of movies. I heard that Warner Brothers wanted to do something with the character but really didn’t know what. They didn't have a plan for what to do. It occurred to me that in the telling of the story, a more realistic telling of the world of Gotham would make that movie more extraordinary. “These are things that haven't been done,” and so that was my pitch to the studios. Then I said, "Okay, you know you have this very valuable character, he's an icon of popular culture, and we should do something with him. This is what I would do with him because it hasn't been done before and I think it could be very powerful.” And they completely got it. It was a perfect match up of the filmmaker wanting to do something different and the studio wanting the same for one of their key characters.

The Dark Knight Rises Christian Bale
After the Schumacher years you have to reinvent. But “reboot” was a new idea then.
Yeah, you have to be patient with the blockbuster. You have to have the patience to build in the right way and that's a frightening thing for a studio, and for filmmakers, because you’re spending a lot of money and there's a lot riding on it. But you have to earn the trust of the audience. We learned that in “Batman Begins” in a major way because while creatively we're always on that path, in a marketing sense, it was very apparent that nobody really had a framework for understanding what we would do because it hadn’t' been determined.

There wasn't really a frame of reference for the audience about, “Okay why should I go see this Batman film if I didn't like the last couple of whatever?” I think to some extent in the comic book movie world, that's now changed and accelerated. The world has changed around us and so you know that process is slightly different, but I think underneath it is still this patience. You have to take the time to build the credibility of the character and earn the audience's respect for the character. You can't assume that they love the character just because they have all of the iterations. You have to earn your stripes.

"The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Dark Knight Trilogy" are now out on Blu-Ray and DVD. The final part of our lengthy interview can be read here.

This article is related to: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises, Interviews, Interviews, Features


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