Warner Bros. and Christopher Nolan hosted an early screening of the 6+ minutes of footage from The Dark Knight Rises that will screen in front of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocal in select IMAX theaters yesterday evening in Los Angeles. Nolan introduced the footage, which consisted of the introductory prologue  followed by a series of shots from later portions of the film.

The director expressed a desire to invite people back into the experience of the grandeur of cinema, something he feels has been “chipped away” in many respects. Nolan hopes that audiences who see the IMAX  footage will conclude that it is worth their while to return to experience the film in its entirety on the expansive screens when The Dark Knight Rises opens on July 20th, 2012.

A similar campaign was launched in 2007 when an extended sequence from The Dark Knight screened at the head of I Am Legend in select IMAX theaters. Nolan speaks passionately about the format which he calls far and away “the best imagining format” adding that “nothing else can touch it.” A large portion of the film was shot natively on IMAX cameras and the frame is utilized beautifully in the prologue we were shown. Another element that Nolan and Batman fans alike will be thrilled to see is the stunning use of practical effects as opposed to CGI.

The director once again shows incredible innovation and vision with an introduction to Bane that legitimately earns the (oft overused) descriptor: epic. The bulk (no pun intended) of the opening focuses on Bane – his depictions of the antagonists in this series have been among the most memorable and fascinating contributions that Nolan has made to the Batman universe. Aside from a slight audio issue (it is a bit of a challenge to make out the dialogue with the obstruction of the mask) that will likely be adjusted by the time of the film’s release, Bane is by all indications a villain worthy of the final installation of this franchise. Tom Hardy is able to electrify a frame with his very presence, his every movement fills the viewer with tension and a chilling sense that no one (not even him) knows what he may do next.

He is simply terrifying to watch.

The new poster for 'The Dark Knight Rises'

The prologue makes use of planes in a way that film lovers will likely be talking about for years to come. It has elements of a heist/spy thriller (as only Nolan would interpret) mirrors the Joker’s robbery scene in The Dark Knight in a thought provoking way and is reminiscent of the ambition of the Joseph Gordon Levitt hallway scene in Inception. Nolan seems to want to play with the idea of masks in these films, hidden aspects of the psyche that apply to both his characters and all of us universally. As the Joker’s mercurial chaos and anarchy came forward in his introduction in The Dark Knight, Bane’s strength of will is present in the opening of The Dark Knight Rises. The footage also revealed a key plot point that ties into “Operation Early Bird” the viral campaign that launches today.

We will not go into too much detail here – mainly because we in truth believe that you should take the opportunity to see the footage for yourself if you can make it to one of the participating IMAX theaters beginning December 16th. We will say that there is plenty to chew on for both cinephiles and Batman comic fans. There does seem to be a reference to one of the more beloved comics – a shot at the conclusion of the footage that will excite the imaginations of those who are anxious to see where the director is willing to take these characters with the climax of one of the most popular and influential franchises of our time.

No one can argue that Nolan’s Batman trilogy hasn’t been a game changer, and that his brand of hybrid popcorn/arthouse  filmmaking has altered the scope of how we envision the business of blockbusters. We are certain that the IMAX footage will inspire a wealth of debate and speculation online in terms of plot particulars in The Dark Knight Rises. But one thing that should not be lost is the simple appreciation for what this Nolan has been able to accomplish and bring to the world both in terms of the depth of the characters and the craftsmanship of the filmmaking. The director likely understands fans desires to “read ahead” as it were. He offers Batman fans a treat with these screenings, an appetizer for what is to come, though he did laughingly warn the audience that he had “barely started to edit the rest of the film” and in full awareness of the nature of the crowd before him added, “so don’t ask me what happens at the end or anything like that.”

We will all likely continue to speculate on said ending right up to the moment that the lights dim in the theater in July of 2012, but I for one, am genuinely looking forward to the surprise.

Christopher Nolan directs a cast that includes Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Juno Temple, Josh Pence, Daniel Sunjata and Nestor Carbonell.

The Dark Knight Rises will be released in U.S. theaters on July 20th, 2012.

Follow Roth on Twitter @jrothc