When: Thursday, July 17, 2008, 5:00pm
Where: United Artists King of Prussia Stadium 16 & IMAX theater, King of Prussia, PA
I stood in the lobby and looked at the cheap printed copies hung in the box office window. All IMAX showings sold out through the weekend. All regular showings between 6pm-11pm sold out, through the weekend. But that was all A-ok: I fishing for the big game. The 3:30 am show. I walked up to the window, paid, got my ticket and tucked it safe in my pocket. By the time I was back outside the plan was already in forming in my mind:
Get four hours of sleep.
Hit the theater a half hour early to secure a seat.
I even had one friend, ( a "wake-up buddy,") coming with me.
When else in life was I going to get an opportunity to see a movie at such an ungodly hour, and have it turn out to be one hell of a good movie, to boot? Opportunity rarely knocks twice, and this was one house-call I wasn't going to miss.
2:30 am, July 18, 2008
My alarm went off. God, all I wanted to do was keep sleeping. Had a long day of work behind me, and another one ahead of me. My eyes closed again. Something in my brain was screaming. I force my eyes open. It was either get up now, or forever hold my peace. I rolled myself out of bed and onto the floor, crawled over to the nightstand and hoisted myself up. My ticket was sitting there, staring up at me as if to say, "Providence awaits, if you only take me in hand." I grabbed it up, threw on some clothes, kissed my sleeping girlfriend goodbye and stumbled out the door.
Nectar of the gods. I took another sip of coffee and paused under the blinking light in the mini-mart parking lot to listen to the night. First thing you notice about being in the streets so late: the stillness. For once you can hear your own thoughts passing through your head while in public. My thoughts were all the same: "Just thirty minutes between you and the greatest. movie. ever." Months of watching, re-watching, and re-re-watching trailers. Months of goosebumps, X-mas day anticipation. I hopped in the car and sped off toward the theater.
Like some crazed carnival jutting out from under the blanket of night, the theater was alive with the sound of Dark Knight enthusiasts. There were spotlights scanning the skyline, the local top 40 Rock station had its "party wagon" parked out front bumping tunes loud enough to wake the sleeping cyborgs locked in their underground cages over at Lockheed Martin next door. People everywhere, some in costume, like a club had just let out and the tired and drunk were on the move looking for that next bit of fun. Cops everywhere, making sure Joker-mania '08 wasn't going to turn into an art/life imitation.
A buzz began in my stomach, then spread to my outer limbs. I sipped more java, rubbed the last remnants of sleep from my eyes. This movie was bigger than big--bigger than a phenomenon, even. This was a milestone, an epic event not just for comic book movies, or summer blockbusters, but movies as a whole. And nobody was trying to deny or downplay it. Everyone seemed to be embracing it, rejoicing in the absurdity of it all. My friend finally arrived, breathless.
"Dude, this is crazy," he said.
"Yeah," I said, "We better go get our seats."
We'd made it through the ticketing line. Security had been high. Just a six theater walk left between us and TDK. We started down the hallway. It happened sudden, like the regurgitation of bad food, the doors to theaters 1-5 burst open and out spewed hundreds of sleepy-eyed people, their faces lit with the after-glow that comes from sublime transcendence, or bewildering fright. Hushed whispers of reverence for Heath Ledger. Young punks calling out phony spoilers, "Batman dies at the end!" Human traffic slamming together, jamming up the hallway, nobody able to move an inch. Somebody had planned this thing all wrong. Then it hit me: I looked up and down the hallway. Sure enough, all sixteen theaters (including the IMAX) were being emptying out at once. The mega-theater that never seemed to run out of theaters had officially run out of theaters trying to accommodate us crazed fans chomping at the bit to see TDK. A twenty-four hour operation, sixteen theaters, and still not enough. It was a sight I'm still wondering if I'll ever see again. Truly, a world without rules.
Finally made it to our theater. And it was packed. I looked up top; two seats open right behind the "extra foot space" row. A large man seated next to the open seats, his arm hung over one of them. I looked down; only break-your-neck seating left. A few defeated people were already making their retreat, looking to find a better prospect in one of the other theaters. I looked back up top, closed my eyes, said a prayer.
"Are those two seats open?"
"Yeah," said the large man, uncurling his large arm, smiling. "They're all yours."
I.O.U. God, one pair of seats at a future event of your choosing.
People who are packed into a movie theater at 4 am are not a group to mess with.
"Why hasn't the movie started?"
"What the hell are they doing up there?"
"Start the freaking movie!"
People of all ages, from all walks of life, united in our rancor at being denied our drug. Suddenly the window of the projection booth slid open and a jolly man, reminiscent of Ruben Studdard, poked his teddy-bear head out to face the unruly crowd.
"You guys ready for some Dark Knight?"
A unanimous cry from the crowd, "HELL YEAH!"
"Well alright! Get ready, the movie will start rolling in exactly two minutes!"
We all jumped and cheered and screamed. Happy junkies, finally awarded our drug.
Some ten minutes later than promised the lights finally darkened and the screen lit up.
"Skip the previews!" voices cried in the darkness.
"Get to the freaking movie already!"
Then the Watchmen trailer premiered. Silence in the theater.
It was all wrong. I could tell from the very first frame. I muttered a string of expletives under my breath.
"What's up?" my friend whispered.
"They've framed the movie wrong," I tried to explain, "it's all taffy-stretched, like when you set your HDTV to the wrong aspect ratio."
On the screen a gumby-looking gang of robbers in clown masks stormed a bank. I rescinded the I.O.U. I had written out to God earlier. One robust fanboy finally had enough and did the truffle-shuffle out of the theater. A minute later, the picture dropped from the screen. The crowd screamed bloody murder. The picture came back up, finally in the proper aspect ratio.
"I think that whatever doesn't kill you," Heath Ledger's Joker uttered with zen-like mania, "only makes you...stranger."
And off we went.
"Should I do it? Everybody ready?"
The crowd gathered at the exit door nodded in agreement. The moviegoer holding the handle of the door let out a long sigh then pushed the door open. Daylight came flooding in. Instant bruises under everyone's tired, battered eyes. People in the crowd cried out and flung their hands up, vampires mortally afraid to face the sun. My friend was stumbling like a drunk, pissed as all hell that he'd held on so long, only to pass out for the last ten minutes of the film. He wasn't the only casualty; people were carrying half-woken friends and nodding-off loved ones on their shoulders like we were all refugees from some terrible war. Slowly but surely, the crowd sifted out through the exit doors into the parking lot where a new crowd, looking fresh and rested, was waiting to file in. I looked at my friend.
"Breakfast? Or an hour of sleep before work?"
He looked back at me, one eye open, one half-closed.
"If I don't sleep right now, I'm going to die."
We headed back to my apartment.
8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Delirium. Broken thoughts. An addled brain, left with no juice save some recently absorbed Jokerisms that began to seep into my personality. Finding myself laughing manically to myself, body flying on automatic pilot. I had 48 file drawers in front of me. Each drawer with approximately 100 files. My job was to empty the contents of the old files into brand new files, to be re-filed in their drawer. (Get the Joke? Me neither.) Thankfully, it wasn't a job that required a functioning brain, (I passed God back his I.O.U.) I slept where and when I could; five minutes here, two minutes there. When I couldn't sleep, my mind was re-spooled the film I'd just seen, playing and re-playing it scene by scene in my head. It was about 1 pm when I finally had enough of the movie pinned down mentally to come to some kind of conclusion. My final thought was this:
The Dark Knight is indeed a stunning achievement, one that sits with you LONG after the end credits have rolled. Double-viewing this film is an absolute must (especially if you saw it at 3 am the first time.) However, if there is one criticism I MUST give, it's this: the movie is 10x better whenever the late Heath Ledger is on screen than when he is not. A milestone performance. Give that man his Oscar. He doesn't so much play the Joker as become him. My heart aches and my brain cannot accept the fact that I will never get to see him in that role again. Never see that character alive and causing havoc again. All is wrong with the world today.
I made it to happy hour with friends. Just to prove that I'm a soldier.
My brain teetering over the brink, world spinning, I sit down on my couch, pop my laptop and start to write this review. I want the world to FEEL my delirium, my fatigue, to know what sacrifice was made on behalf of The Dark Knight, and why I would happily make that sacrifice again. I type in the title of the post, pause and carefully ponder my opening words.
4:39 am, July 19, 2008
I wake up on a laptop pillow, still on the couch, I realize after a few bewildered moments. Dammit. I pop open my laptop again. Finish my review. This is no way to be living. (But dammit if that movie wasn't worth it!) I go online, check Moviefone. Plenty of open IMAX seats next Tuesday. Only, in the afternoon this time, I'm thinking. Leave the 3 am hour to the weirdos who truly cherish it. Good movie-going advice. Good life advice in general.
Go see The Dark Knight as soon (or late) as you can. Enjoy. Forgive me if I pass back out now...
Dark Knight in theaters now!