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The Lesson To Be Learned Now That America's Gone 'dark Knight' Mad

The numbers are in, at least for Friday: The new Batman flick grossed an astonishing $66 million yesterday. According to biz expert Nikki Finke, the film is likely to gross over $150 million by the end of the weekend. 'Iron Man' and 'Indiana Jones 4' had been the summer's two biggest hits, but now it appears likely--if not certain--that 'The Dark Knight' will be the biggest film of the year. Obviously the movie had a lot of built in appeal--an exciting preview, a popular predecessor, a terrific cast, and the curiosity of seeing Heath Ledger's wonderfully frightening penultimate performance.

At the same time, the movie is two-and-a-half hours long, extremely dark, occasionally depressing, and very violent. Furthermore, as Chris Orr points out in his excellent review, the film is most definitely not for children. If someone had wondered five years ago whether a movie with these attributes would be so successful, most observers would have been doubtful. But changes in the film business--massive ad campaigns that assure major business in the first week after opening day, a ridiculous number of movie screens ('Dark Knight is playing in over 4,000 theatres), etc.--guarantee that a film with this level of hype will almost always succeed, even if the finished product is full of elements generally not conducive to assuring blockbuster status.

The state of play I have outlined above is generally assumed to have led to a decrease in the quality of big budget studio films. If, after all, filmmakers can make massive amounts of money before word-of-mouth kills a film's chances, then what exactly is the point of making sure the product is high quality? This conventional wisdom is probably right, but here's hoping that the people who run Hollywood take a different lesson from 'Dark Knight''s box office numbers. Yes, it's true, the movie is not a complete success artisitically, and the last hour (and particularly the last few minutes) are powerfully disappointing. Yet the film is ambitious and daring and never boring; its experimental take on the superhero movie is just the kind of brilliantly crafted, compelling Hollywood fare that has so often been lacking lately. But if Hollywood can guarantee a certain level of success for movies with this amount of hype, why not make them darker and more daring? This is the upside to word-of-mouth losing its relevancy. Why not piss a few people off and make more interesting event movies? The bottom-line is going to be fine.

--Isaac Chotiner