The most anticipated movie of the year, “The Dark Knight Rises” is hitting theaters on Wednesday.
This time, Batman has all the gadgets Bruce Wayne's resources can buy, but he doesn't have one thing nearly every other summer blockbuster has: 3-D.
Director Christopher Nolan made the 2-D vs. 3-D choice easy for fans seeing "The Dark Knight Rises," the finale of his superhero trilogy that began with 2005's "Batman Begins" and continued with 2008's wildly praised "The Dark Knight."
Nolan is not a fan of digital 3-D, which essentially has turned a fleeting 1950s cinema gimmick into a multi-million-dollar value-added tax on fans who decide they want to put on the glasses and see a film with the illusion of depth.
With "Avatar" and other early hits in the digital 3-D era, studios took in two-thirds or more of their revenue on that third dimension, which costs a few dollars more than 2-D screenings. The 3-D fever has cooled since, with movies now typically earning well under half of their income in 3-D, sometimes as little as a third.
That still means a lot of extra cash on a movie that nets hundreds of millions at the box office, but Nolan never considered following the crowd and going 3-D on Batman.
"The question of 3-D is a very straightforward one," Nolan said in a recent interview. "I never meet anybody who actually likes the format, and it's always a source of great concern to me when you're charging a higher price for something that nobody seems to really say they have any great love for.
"It's up to the audience to tell us how they want to watch the movies. More people go see these films in 2-D, and so it's difficult data to interpret. And I certainly don't want to shoot in a format just to charge people a higher ticket price."
The choice this week as "The Dark Knight Rises" opens is whether to see it in a regular theater or in a huge-screen IMAX cinema, a format once reserved mainly for documentaries but whose Hollywood possibilities Nolan greatly advanced with a splashy IMAX release on "The Dark Knight."
Nolan shot nearly half of his Batman finale using bulky IMAX cameras, whose frame is about 10 times the size of a standard movie camera. He also insisted that distributor Warner Bros. release
"The Dark Knight Rises" in at least 100 IMAX cinemas that can project it on film rather than in the digital format that has been gradually replacing celluloid.
The expanded use of IMAX makes for a consistent "Dark Knight" trilogy whose scale has grown with each film, while shooting in 3-D on the last one would have been out of step with the first two, the filmmakers say.
"It would have been inappropriate and somewhat gimmicky to have 'Dark Knight Rises' in 3-D," said Christian Bale, who stars as Batman.
"It seemed that we should continue in the vein that we had started. I think Chris recognizes the need for spectacle, but for him, IMAX is the spectacle that he believes will draw people out."
Anne Hathaway, who co-stars as Catwoman, said she saw "Avatar" in 2-D and 3-D at a regular cinema and again in 3-D at an IMAX theater. The IMAX experience was the best.
"It was a lot of information to take in, but I could get lost in the visuals a bit more," Hathaway said. "When you have a filmmaker like Chris or in that case like James Cameron, who pays such amazing attention to detail with the visuals, why not give yourself more space to enjoy it in?
The giant screens, the clarity provided by the larger frame size and the ineffable warmth that purists insist film provides over digital make the IMAX film experience the best way to see the movie, Nolan said. Like 3-D, IMAX costs more — nearly $20 a ticket for evening shows in some cities.
Fans are getting their money's worth, though, Nolan said.
"People who are lucky enough to find those venues are going to see something they can't see anywhere else and will have never seen before, frankly," Nolan said. "I know that I can give the audience something that I really believe is going to give them added value when they see the movie."
Nolan said he's open to shooting in 3-D one day, but only if it would enhance the story. He considered converting his 2010 blockbuster "Inception" to 3-D, saying the added dimension might have been a nice fit with the film's dreamscapes. But he dropped the idea because there was not time to do a quality 3-D conversion.
While generally not a 3-D fan, Nolan likes seeing what other filmmakers do with the format, which until now has been used largely on action films and animation. Martin Scorsese earned raves for the 3-D on "Hugo" and says he wants to shoot only in three dimensions from now on.
Nolan recently saw footage of Baz Luhrmann's 3-D "The Great Gatsby," coming out in December with Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. He figures he'll see that one in 3-D because it looks like a wild trip where "you're going to be inside Baz's head."
"I'm fascinated to see what he's going to do, but I don't want any filmmaker to be pushed into doing something they don't want to," Nolan said. "3-D did not feel like the right thing for this movie."