Visit The Dark Knight: CBR Set Report

Nearly one year ago, CBR News and other members of the press visited the Chicago set of Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Dark Knight," the feverishly anticipated new Batman film by director Christopher Nolan. The many months since our visit have seen a series of images, revelations and other headlines about the film, not least among them being the deeply tragic death of star Heath Ledger, whose embodiment of the Joker has inspired the most popular Alternate Reality Game the medium has yet produced. This highly character-driven, interactive, cross-media marketing of the film combined with Ledger's charisma, the enduring popularity of the Batman and some of the most crowd-pleasing trailers seen in years have endeared "The Dark Knight" not just to loyal fans of the Batman comic books, but also to the world at large.

As such, CBR News is very pleased to finally bring you our observations from the Chicago set of "The Dark Knight," as well as a series of interviews with the film's cast and crew that we will be releasing throughout the coming days in anticipation of the film's July 18 release.

What will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen the film's advertising materials is that two of the most crucial set pieces of "The Dark Knight" are those of Gotham City Police Headquarters and Gotham National Bank, both of which were realized within the walls of one of Chicago's oldest and most distinctive buildings, the old Chicago Post Office. Built in 1921, the faded yet still grand edifice featured an expansive front lobby that Christopher Nolan's team expertly tricked out to resemble a convincingly realistic bank, complete with functioning automated teller machines with working display graphics that read "Gotham National Bank." Having been the site of a full-on Joker heist, the bank lobby was filthy with not only debris of concrete and glass, but also with sheets and sheets of deposit slips, mortgage brochures and other literature, all from the Gotham National Bank.

This attention to verisimilitude is characteristic of "The Dark Knight" production, from the set pieces, to the costuming, to the vehicle design and to the photography, as our forthcoming interviews will reveal.

Elsewhere in the lobby was what appeared to be a massive bus-shaped hole in a wall. This portion of the set looked startlingly realistic, and there was some debate amongst the press as to whether or not director Christopher Nolan had indeed driven a bus through the old post office's wall (we like to think he did). Other sections of the enormous lot were in manners of disrepair, so much so that it was difficult to tell if the building was simply very old or the production had manufactured the Gotham-style grime. Around the back, the façade was adorned with a suitably worn down Gotham City Police sign, while the art deco front was altered to read Gotham National Bank.

Several different scenes were shot in various sectors of the building on the day of our visit, and between exploring those areas and speaking with the cast and crew, we were privileged to watch some of the scenes being filmed both on set and via a television displaying a video feed directly from the cinematographer's camera. While touring the exterior locations, we observed the filming of a shot seen in "The Dark Knight" trailers, depicting Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Jim Gordon arriving at the bank and pushing through a horde of reporters and spectators on his way into the bank or police station.

In another scene, Lieutenant Gordon inspected the bank crime scene, visibly frustrated with the Joker's ability to pull of such a particularly violent and outlandish job. [Want to know how violent and how outlandish? Check out CBR's detailed summary of the opening scene of "The Dark Knight."] As the scene progressed, Detective Rodriguez --a young, Hispanic female whom we were assured by Christopher Nolan was definitely not Renee Montoya -- delivered to Gordon a photograph of the Joker, saying, "He can't resist showing us his face."

"We should put up a big top in City Hall and sell tickets," Gordon said before angrily kicking some nearby debris.

Later, in the vault set (a redressed room of P.O. boxes), Gordon remarked, "What's he hiding underneath that makeup?" Batman then steps into frame, startling Rodriguez. She looks to Gordon, who with just a glance prompted her to leave and take the rest of the nearby officers with her, giving her boss and the Bat a minute to chat.

The pair discussed briefly the bank job, but Batman has bigger fish to fry, changing the subject to the city's mafia activity. "What about this Joker guy?" asked Gordon.

"One man or the entire mob?" replied an incredulous Batman. "He can wait."

"When the new DA gets wind of this, he'll want in," warned Gordon, referring presumably to what we've inferred is his and Batman's pact to take down Gotham's worst mobsters, a la "The Long Halloween."

"Do you trust him?" asked Batman.

"It will be hard to keep him out," Gordon remarked, turning to face away from Batman. "He's as stubborn as you." When Gordon turns again, the Batman is gone -- or at least, he was meant to be. The shot was such that Christian Bale needs to exit the set quickly before Gary Oldman completed his revolution, thus achieving Batman's trademark exit. Unfortunately, practical circumstances were making that difficult, and the shot had to be repeated a few times before the proper balance of speedy walking and controlled skulking could be found.

The scene proved to be a taxing one, as more humorous problems presented themselves. During the conversation, Batman was to toss to Gordon a bound stack of money, which Oldman found profoundly difficult to catch -- except, he later revealed, in his close-up. Though Nolan, Bale and himself were left laughing uncontrollably after ceaseless takes of Oldman's fumbling the money, the veteran actor would later say it was all part of an elaborate plan to secure for himself more screen time. To great applause from those of us watching the scene via video link, Oldman was able to catch the money in a close-up shot. But due to the previous series of alternately angled blunders, Oldman's close-up emerged as the only usable take of the action. Surely, a scheme worthy of the Dark Knight.

Stay with CBR News in the coming days for interviews with the cast and crew of "The Dark Knight," including director Christopher Nolan, stars Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart and Gary Oldman and more.

Now discuss this story in CBR's TV/Film forum.

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