As Chris Nolan’s third (and presumably final) Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, prepares to start shooting, already this highly-anticipated movie is under the scrutiny of would-be paparazzi. The first alleged set photo from TDKR has emerged, reportedly showcasing a location on the film’s Jodhpur, India set.

While no actors, vehicles, or costumes can be seen in the photos, blurred shots of the crew working on one of the many set pieces that will be featured in Nolan’s film have already set the rumor mill spinning – and with good reason.

Up until now, Nolan has maintained that he wishes for his Batman universe to be a self-contained one that his firmly grounded in reality (well, as real as such a character and story can be). Batman Begins went to great lengths to explore how a man could in fact transform himself into a pointy-eared caped vigilante; The Dark Knight continued that trend by tweaking iconic villains like The Joker and Two-Face in order to portray them in more real-world terms.

We’ve known for awhile that Dark Knight Rises will tie Nolan’s Bat-trilogy back to Batman Begins, and that the villain Ra’s al Ghul (formerly played by Liam Neeson) would factor into the story somehow. In fact, it was previously confirmed that actor Josh Pence is playing a young version of Ra’s al Ghul in TDKR, who will be glimpsed in flashback. That news has led to much rumor, not the least of which has been that Batman will battle The League of Shadows once again, and that Marion Cotillard’s character, “Miranda Tate,” is actually an alias meant to cover her true identity: Ra’s’ daughter, Talia al Ghul.

In all that rumor, there has been one aspect of the Ra’s al Ghul mythos that no one expected to be included in the film: the Lazarus Pits. Fans of the comics already know that one of Ra’s’ trademarks are the pits, whose mystical waters are periodically used to rejuvenate the diabolical villain, in order to keep him from aging and dying. The pits have played major parts in many pivotal Batman comic storylines both old and new, but again, they always seemed too out of step with Nolan’s films to be included in Dark Knight Rises.

Now the following set photos from India are casting a shadow of doubt on that assumption:

The big question is: what is that hole in the ground – marked with a green-screen background where CGI effects will later be added – supposed to represent? The Lazarus Pit is the popular speculation running rampant around the Internet, and clearly  there are enough dangling clues to suggest that it could fit into the film’s storyline. The only counter-argument to the theory is that Lazarus Pits and Ra’s al Ghul coming back from the dead (or other characters being resurrected) are way too weird for a Nolan bat-film. On the other hand, Batman Begins had a microwave laser and a tank that could jump roofs…so where does one draw the line?

We don’t have any answers on this one, so let’s discuss in the comments: Do you think Nolan is bold enough to incorporate the Lazarus Pits into his story? And would the pit’s inclusion mean that Neeson could come back as Ra’s al Ghul? Let’s discuss.

The Dark Knight Rises in theaters on July 20, 2012.

Sources:  Guatam Valluri & Dark Knight Rises Community via Coming Soon