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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Christopher Nolan and the Blockbuster

Written by Kirk Baird

Christopher Nolan has changed modern movies — at least, the blockbuster as we know it — proving that smarts and popcorn entertainment needn’t be mutually exclusive.

He did it with the brainy summer hit Inception, a twisty 2010 drama set in dreams that bent audience imagination with its pretzel logic. And before that, he redefined the possibilities of a superhero film in The Dark Knight with a deeply disturbed villain wreaking citywide chaos that only the titular hero could stop.

And now Nolan is revisiting that world with what is most likely his final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, which opens in theaters across North America on July 20.

Given the hype surrounding this film, its box-office haul could surpass The Dark Knight and The Avengers, which is now the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time.

In many ways, Prometheus owes a debt to Nolan and Inception, a film that challenged audiences post-screening in similar ways to the Alien prequel currently in theaters. While The Avengers, as different as it is from The Dark Knight in tone, seems to have adopted the same attitude Nolan took with his Batman movies: never talk down to or underestimate an audience.

Nolan is quickly developing into a name brand, a familiar filmmaker audiences recognize and trust. Peter Jackson had a similar run, but the disappointing performance of 2005’s King Kong and 2009’s The Lovely Bones has crippled that reputation. Hopefully Jackson’s two-part adaptation of The Hobbit will repair the damage. Steven Spielberg enjoyed this honor at one point as well, but the luster of his brand has faded through the decades. The most successful filmmaker of all time remains the most-recognized director in the world, but nobody thinks of Spielberg as being the same visionary behind Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Still, we hold out hope that he’ll rediscover that magic on a consistent basis.

In Nolan’s case, his filmmaking prowess is at its peak. Curiously, there is no directorial project listed on his page at His only work listed is as co-writer for Man of Steel, the Superman reboot due next year. Nolan developed the story with his Batman series collaborator David S. Goyer, who wrote the screenplay to Man of Steel. The two are even rumored to be teaming up to write the Untitled Batman Reboot, which Nolan will produce.

Even if Nolan isn’t behind the camera for this project, it’ll be reassuring to fans that he’s involved in shepherding another Batman movie to the big screen. That’s the advantage of a well-earned name brand.

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