THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Cinematographer Wally Pfister Calls THE AVENGERS “Appalling”; Reveals Directorial Debut Is Sci-Fi

by     Posted 1 year, 278 days ago

When director Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was released earlier this year and started breaking all kinds of box office records, it looked as if 2012′s most anticipated superhero film—The Dark Knight Rises—might be a tad upstaged.  Both movies enjoyed critical and commercial success, but without 3D The Dark Knight Rises was unable to match The Avengers’ box office take.  Nevertheless, it’s the substance of the films that counts, and both Marvel and Batman fans seemed pretty happy with the respective blockbuster adaptations.

One Batman fan, however, recently let loose some harsh words regarding Whedon’s superhero pic: The Dark Knight Rises cinematographer Wally PfisterChristopher Nolan’s longtime collaborator (and an Oscar winner for his work on Inception), apparently had some issues with the camerawork in The Avengers, calling the whole film “appalling.”  Hit the jump for more, including a few more details regarding Pfister’s impending directorial debut.

the-avengers-mark-ruffalo-joss-whedon-imageDuring an interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune (via CBM), Pfister was asked what’s most important when shooting a movie, and his response is where the Avengers dig comes in:

“What’s really important is storytelling. None of it matters if it doesn’t support the story. I thought The Avengers was an appalling film. They’d shoot from some odd angle and I’d think, why is the camera there? Oh, I see, because they spent half a million on the set and they have to show it off. It took me completely out of the movie. I was driven bonkers by that illogical form of storytelling.”

To be fair, Pfister admits in the same interview that he’s not a big superhero fan, but The Avengers wasn’t exactly cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s first rodeo.  McGarvey is responsible for the gorgeous photography in films like Atonement, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and most recently Anna Karenina, so one assumes he knew what he was doing.  I’ll admit that The Dark Knight Rises is a better looking film than The Avengers, but by no stretch of the imagination would I consider the latter to be “appalling.”

wally-pfisterPfister recently announced that he’d be moving away from the cinematography profession in favor of making his directorial debut on a project to be produced by Nolan and Emma Thomas, but next to nothing is known about the film’s story.  Pfister opened up a bit about the project in the same interview, revealing the film’s genre and time period:

“I can’t talk too much about it. It’s a present-day science fiction film, a fairly big concept. It’s bigger budget — not as big as Batman, but not independent.”

Pfister has crafted some absolutely brilliant photography over the years, so I’m eager to see what he’ll bring to the table as a director.  Like Nolan, he’s also a steadfast supporter of film over digital, so it’s safe to assume he’ll be one of the last filmmakers using film stock in the coming years.

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  • Mars

    Well, if he’s speaking specifically about shot selection, he has a bit of a case. There were some excellent shots, but way too many wide and establishing shots. And that whole battle sequence at the end was almost exactly like the one from Transformers 3. Pfister is too much of a traditionalist IMO, which I’m not a fan of. He basically shoots coverage. What I found appalling was the fact that Whedon or his DP chose to shoot at 1.85:1…I know his background is television, but this is film, sir.

    • mattedscreen

      aspect ratio works to serve story, take Jaws and Jurassic Park, 2 Spielberg movies with different aspect ratios, if they’d flipped the two, it would have communicated entirely different stories. If Jurassic Park was shot 2.35(or tighter) to 1 the Dino’s would have been appeared tiny and less foreboding, the opposite with Jaws, at 1.85 to one the sense that the shark could be anywhere would have been lost. Avengers was also shot with 3d conversion in mind and that is where the full 1.85:1 frame helps the depth and the images “pop” – it’s all tomato toe-ma-toe anywhay. Both movies made found their audiences, made a bajillion dollars, and were massive success all around the world.

    • TK

      I totally agree with you about the aspect ratio. It’s the thing that bothered me most right away. Every other Marvel movie in this universe has had a wider aspect ratio. So from the outset it makes Avengers look weird when it’s supposed to be the summation of these five other movies. And it makes it feel smaller in a way when this is supposed to be a big movie.

      But then, I’ve never been a Whedon fanboy anyway. Best thing he ever had anything to do with was Toy Story. Funnily enough, didn’t Serenity have a wider aspect ratio??

    • Person

      I believe McGarvey said (in an interview or Whedon on the commentary, I can’t remember) that they shot in 1:78.1 because of the Hulk. In order to fit all the superheroes into the frame they had to open it up, and scope wouldn’t have worked. If that’s really the reason, then I guess all the Avengers films (at least that Whedon directs) will also be the same ratio.

    • stephan

      while avengers wont b winning any awards for cinematography, wally pfister does not deserve his oscar, nowhere in the same league as emmanuel lubeski,janusz kaminski(his friend) or jeff cronenweth(who he stole the oscar from in my humble opinion) I prefer film over digital but wally pfister is not the cinematographer i would refer to as of why shooting on film is the way to go

  • TheHOYT

    I’ve never had a DP behave this way …

  • jake

    haha Yep Finally someone who agree’s that the avengers was utter rubbish!!!

    • deno

      I guess he will be apologizing because everyone in Hollywood must love each others sihtty movies.

  • Ramone

    LOL, SEAMUS. BITTER MUCH?

    • Huh?

      Uh, Seamus is the DP on The Avengers. Wally Pfister is the guy you think is bitter.

    • Jose

      Why would Seamus McGarvey be bitter? It was Pfister that insulted him.

  • Marty

    I can agree with him but… I can say that Wally Pfister is not so great vizualist as a DP too. He’s not Jeff Cronenweth, Robert Richardson, Harris Savides or Conrad Hall. Maybe in the Prestige and Memento he was very good but the rest of it “not so good”. In TDKR he showed just one thing: IMAX for a big shit only. Kinda sad.

    • Nick

      Jeff Cronenweth is terrible! Wally is great but no one could ever be another Conrad Hall!

  • JandS

    I really don’t think film capture is going to fade away in a hurry. There are quite a lot of other filmmakers with a passion for using it, and not just out of nostalgia. It’s makes a BEAUTIFUL image (the highest quality image, even). The Avengers visually lifeless.

  • JandS

    I really don\’t think film capture is going to fade away in a hurry. There are quite a lot of other filmmakers with a passion for using it, and not just out of nostalgia. It\’s makes a BEAUTIFUL image (the highest quality image, even). The Avengers visually lifeless.

    • JandS

      Double post, sorry. It said the security code was invalid the first time.. >:(

  • Stephen

    I respect Wally as an artist but I still think it’s in poor taste to criticize another collegue’s work publicly. They all have different artistic visions and what works for another will not be viewed the same way by others. I just think it’s kinda a low blow, for no purpose.

    • trent

      Film is art and art should be discussed.

  • Pocketses

    “What’s really important is storytelling”

    Says the guy supporting the movie with the (second) most plot holes released this year.

    Seriously, TDKR is a good but EXTREMELY flawed film, and aside from Prometheus, lacked the most logic in a major budget motion picture thus far this year. No, I will not go into them all, because they’re all well documented and have been discussed in comments on this site ad nauseam.

    How’s about this, you make your movie, they’ll make theirs, both can exist without some pathetic fanboy pissing contest…eh?

    Never in my life would I think I’d see a DP feud…please don’t take the bait, Seamus.

    Also, this confirms Pfister is a pretentious douche who thinks way too much of his own work.

    • Anon

      Well Pfister did start off in the high-class realm of soft-core porn…

      • Pocketses

        *Googles*

  • Donovan McLean

    It’s dead. In ten years, if anyone is shooting film, it will be Spielberg and Nolan. No one else has the clout or stubbornness to pull that off, and they will be working from stockpiles of film that will be rotting as they work. Red is releasing a new sensor this year that will put the nail in the coffin. (I\’m not a Red fan boy, the reliability of their cams leaves a lot to be desired.) But this new sensor is believed to to get more latitude then ever imagined, it will be able to capture resolution that competes with IMAX.

    It’s cheaper, the images are cleaner, it\’s faster and it has already won. Deakins has announced he is switching over. Kodak has filed for bankruptcy because they cannot compete with it, and the next / current generation has grown up on it and expects the speed, price and reliability of digital.

    Just over a year ago Aaton, Panivision and Arri ceased production of cinema cameras. No new cameras have been made by this company in a year.

    So with no cameras, and Kodak disappearing, there will be no films shot on Film in the very near future.

    Cinematography schools like FSU, which until recently required students to shoot some projects on film, have entirely suspended the practice because it is not cost effective, but more so because at this point it’s like learning how to take care of jet planes by working on canvas winged bi-planes.

    It is over.

    • JandS

      Arri has vowed to support film for at least the next 10 years. Nolan and Spielberg are FAR from the only ones shooting film. Kodak did file for bankruptcy but they are fine now and very active with their community. Film is future-proof. Digital cameras are all disposable. It’s all hype.

  • ScaredForMovies

    I agree that storytelling is important. That’s why I believe the Dark Knight Rises was just good instead of great. The story just didn’t live up to the hype created by Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. I’m not saying the Avengers was better but at least it exceeded my expectations. Where as TDKR failed to meet them. It seems like a lot of industry people are starting to openly talk trash about each others movies these days. Appalling is a pretty harsh term to use about a critically acclaimed movie that made a ton of cash.

  • DREDD

    He has a point about Avengers cinematography, but, he hould also take a looky at some of his own camerawork. He does not know how to frame action! (Though some of the action itself was pretty rank in the batman films, close combat elbo’s & knees filmed up close in the dark does not show off fights very well. Sure theres some great scenery shots of gotham etc but the Dark knight trilogy has a lot of ropey things going for it. And the story in the last one, well, a lot of odd choices made.

    However, he is right about Avengers film work, but as a film full of money shots, action poses and cgi I could argue it had to be filmed that way. A very different beast than the Batman films, and therefore should be filmed differently.

    • Oscar

      Doesn’t know how to film action? Have you heard of a little film called The Italian Job, by any chance?

  • GunsOfNavarone

    Wtf does camera work have to do with story? I get that a certain shot might evoke a certain mood but story is story regardless of camera work. On that merit, Pfister worked on the weaker of the 2 so sour grapes. The Avengers was what it says on the can: a superhero film centred around The Avengers. Batman was a film about the rise of Robin with small segments of Batman.

    • Jgibs

      Ignorance is bliss.

      Camerawork is the #1 thing that moves a story along in a coherent and entertaining manner

      • Chris

        I’d say how the footage is edited is more important than how it is shot when judging the coherence of a story.

      • Chad

        Actually, no. The #1 thing that moves a story along in a coherent and entertaining manner is a coherent and entertaining SCRIPT.

  • ed

    Valid or not —- insert DC/Nolanist or MARVEL/Whedonist allegiances here— Pfister speaking out like this probably means that he won’t be DP’ing any MARVEL movie properties anytime soon… which seems like a nice steady gig in the next couple of years.

    Too bad his last boss Nolan’s sworn off superhero films; but maybe he can spell Larry Fong in Zack Snyder’s films?

    • urdumb

      Why would the guy DP’d the Batman trilogy DP any of the Marvel films?!?! And if you actually read the article, he’s moving on to being a director which means he’ll probably just stick with that or only come back to DP Chris Nolan’s films if his debut isn’t successful.

      So it’s actually not his loss, but good try there Ed.

      • Mr.Rich316

        Man that’s right,except he won’t be DP,Directing,editing,sweeping the floors,or guiding the tours for Disney for the rest of his life.He’s insulted every fan of The Avenger’s by saying a film they love is appalling ( good luck getting them to spend $$$ watching your film), turning the fanboys against him,his future movies,and any studio that lets him helm a film. Bitter? Maybe not. Dumb as shit? Most certainly.

  • OMFG

    Between Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, the most appalling thing I’ve seen is a motorcycle chase which lasts only a couple of minutes (both on screen and in the story) yet somehow moves from mid-day to midnight. And that sequence was shot by Mr. Pfister.

    • Oscar

      And it’s very well, if not, beautifully shot.

  • OMFG

    Between Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, the most appalling thing I\’ve seen is a motorcycle chase which lasts only a couple of minutes (both on screen and in the story) yet somehow moves from mid-day to midnight. And that sequence was shot by Mr. Pfister.

    • OMFG

      Sorry for the double post, Collider told me I typed an invalid security code the first time but apparantly it still showed up.

  • Film. No Compromise

    This was hardly a “public statement”, he said this during a master class at Ringling College, how it got press is beyond me. In my opinion, The Avengers is lacking that wow factor for action movies. If you watch the B Roll, all you mostly see is an Alexa on a jib/crane, elaborate panning, stationary shots. That said, it just means the DP had less of a chance to be creative with the heavy ass CGI everywhere. (o and that one practical effects shot of all the cars blowing up doesnt really count as it was stationary as well).

    And to give perspective on the other side, I would’ve been juust fine if TDKR kept IMAX for 2 scenes, that amazing beginning and the first bane/batman fight . any other randomly inserted IMAX footage threw me out of the story with that aspect ratio change.

    All in all, give a DP something to actually shoot instead of motion capture suits and blue/green screens.

    • Ur mom

      He said this in an interview with a reporter of “The Digital Spy”.

  • Grayden

    Avengers wasn’t perfect, but neither was Dark Knight Rises. When Pfister has three of the most fan loved shows ever made, and one of the best sci-fi movies ever made under his belt, he can bitch. Until then, he should just remain in his bubble of the Nolanverse that made him what he is.

    • Oscar

      Uh, yeah, because he can’t attack Whedon’s work without being Joss Whendon, am i right?

  • brNdon

    The Avengers was great entertainment and earned every dollar it made. It was exactly what it was supposed to be, a fun time at the movies. And lets not forget *cough*Pfister*cough* that it’s based on a comic book. Whedon and crew did the source material justice. Movies wouldn’t be fun if everyone who made them was a snob about their craft.

    • Ur mom

      I know, the movie was supposed the fun, not a crime-drama. I don’t know about Wally, but Nolan said that the comic books are IRRELVANT. The Batman reboot needs to be less realistic and have villains like Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. Hopefully they’ll get a better cast and crew this time. What an asshole.

      • Oscar

        Can you tell me why should they be relevant?

  • hg

    avengers was a very medicore movie it was transformers with super heroes

    very soulless and awful storytelling

    • Ur mom

      Bitch please, go watch your Twilight Saga.

      • Alan

        Yeah, because not liking The Avengers means he loves Twilight. *Sigh*

  • Mavro

    I don’t know about appalling, but DKR was a WAY better-looking film. The man is a brilliant cinematographer and it shows. Avengers was wildly entertaining but it definitely didn’t have that polish to it.

  • john

    The Dark Knight was an appallingly written and directed credit-card commercial.

  • Dsimolke

    The Dark Knight movies and The Avengers both suck, so who cares.

    • Ur mom

      Uuuuhhhh, many people care since they watched it. -_-

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  • Chris

    I agree that Avengers had not the most original camera work esp when it came to the character scenes and the actors themselves (looking forward to IM3 with John Toll as a DP), but in terms of story telling and acting, aliveness, wit, humour and story it was miles better than both last DK movies. Those movies are so trite and stale and unimaginative that I find them flat out boring. The only interesting element was Heath Ledger.

    • tintin

      ‘X-Men, X2, Incredible Hulk,Iron Man, Captain America, X-Man First Class
      had the same story telling, same acting, same aliveness, same wit/humour (oh man the with in Avengies is so unbelievable)

      Difference between those and Avengies is that Avengies came out this year.
      Nolan’s trilogy will at least be put to rest to age with time. No one will remember Avengies when Avengies 3 come out, like no one remembers X2

      • Ur mom

        Avengies? Never heard of it. But I’ve heard of THE AVENGERS, it’s a great movie. ^_^

      • Chris

        Iron Man was a great movie, imo way better than TDK which was just dull and predictable esp when it comes to the characters (except Heat Ledgers Joker of course), but I agree with you on the other movies, which btw were completely different than Iron Man.

  • Strong Enough

    THANK YOU! fianlly someone has the balls to say it

  • Chad

    That’s funny, I’d call The Dark Knight Rises appalling. I didn’t even Like The Avengers that much, either, but it didn’t insult my intelligence like TDKR with gaping plot holes.

    One of my main beefs with Nolan is the bland cinematography. Pfister has a terrible eye for framing. Glad he’s moving on.

    • Who Brought This Guy

      You’re right, the ASC should take away his accolades and union status and the Academy should repo his Oscar. They clearly invested in someone who doesnt know how to properly frame a shot.

  • Brad

    Speaking strickly about the photography, which is what Pfister is referring to, whether you like the avengers or not ( I loved it ) the truth is, is that it’s a ridiculously over-lit film with some insanely flat angles. Like, distractingly flat. Pfister work is not flashy, but he’s very concerned with pushing natural/available lighting and keeping depth of field. Pfisters Batman films have a tasteful, controlled aspect to their photography, even in the moments when clearly composing heroic or iconographic images. Avengers works because of its balance of character and propulsive narrative, but he’s right in drawing attention to its photography as sort of garish. Matthew Libatique’s photography in Iron Man sort of set the stage, more or less, for the Marvel U of films, and The Avengers does keep that aesthetic, but the depth of field is absent and so is some of the more dynamic elements. There are some beautiful shots in The Avengers, particularly Cap and Iron man standing amongst the damaged side of the Helicarrier, but they are few and far between.

  • Ha..

    So this is what happens when you compare 2 comic book movies.. the most comments Collider receives in 2 weeks combined.

    ..and half of them overlooking the fact that this article is about cinematography.

    • ScaredForMovies

      They’re not overlooking the fact that Pfister also talks about storytelling.

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  • Alan

    It’s official: people can’t have opinions. Yeah, Pfister, Weaving etc. you people don’t know what you are talking about, OK? What would you two know about, respectively, lighting and acting. You don’t, so shut up!

  • Jay McKells

    This is why I respect James Cameron so much, because he writes, produces, edits, films and then waits in line and pays to go cinema and watch his films. So you don’t get a jumped up camera holder claiming he knows what makes a good film… The fact that Nolans cabin boy think he knows what makes a good picture baffles me, the cinematography on The Avengers reminded me a lot of The Assassination of Jesse James but without Casey Affleck and his Baaaston accent ruining the sound. They also had to take RDJ’s facial hair and ego into account when deciding on the aspect ratio, no way that could’ve fit in alongside an ensemble cast and CGI Hulk.

    • Oscar

      It reminded you of The Assassination of Jesse James? Huh? What?

  • Terry

    Any of you guys ever consider the army?

  • bob

    Both movies are poor, we’re still waiting for a superhero movie with a great visual style, there are good moments here and there (watchmen intro, cpt america broadway style scene, bana looking hulk in the mirror) but overall it’s flat.

  • wolverqueen

    What a wanker, his movie was the biggest load of shit with worse than T.V camera work.
    Avengers was the best movie of the year by far….

    • Oscar

      You need to go more often to the movies, my friend.

  • Hrothgar

    Well, I don’t know anything about cinematography. I enjoyed both movies, but felt that DKR had (as usual) a LOT of gaping plotholes. That is what has bothered me about every Nolan Batman film to date. I think that gaping plot holes matter more than “poor cinematography”, which it didn’t have or even average people would have noticed. What he is talking about may be something only people in that field would care about, so in the end it doesn’t matter as both films were liked by audiences.

    • Alan

      It was a discussion about cinematography. Anything after “well, I don’t know anything about cinematography” is irrelevent.

  • Tim

    I’m still agonizing on whether to spend a dollar at redbox to see The Avengers…

    • cynic

      Use it to buy a clue instead.

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  • Jazzy Jace

    Pfister needs his fist up his ass – what a douche!

  • Ted

    To be blunt, TDKR had better cinematography than The Avengers – why is that even a matter of contention? Not Pfister’s best (TDK, which actually should have won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and Inception, which actually should have not won the Oscar for Best Cinematography (True Grit should have)). Oh, and to people who complain about Pfister filming action scenes: it’s called verisimilitude. In real life, when you are fighting mano-a-mano with a masked man or evading the cops at 70+ mi/hr, it goes by at a blur. You don’t see “the action from a distance,” you see it face-to-face, in the moment. Nothing is ever “slowed down” in a chase or fight, simply for spectacle. And that’s how the audience is going to feel. But, on the other hand, I don’t think TDKR has good enough cinematography for an Oscar nomination. Life of Pi, The Master, and Lincoln (maybe even Django Unchained and Les Miserables) will probably stand better chances.

  • Ted

    To be blunt, TDKR had better cinematography than The Avengers – why is that even a matter of contention? Not Pfister\’s best (TDK, which actually should have won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and Inception, which actually should have not won the Oscar for Best Cinematography (True Grit should have)). Oh, and to people who complain about Pfister filming action scenes: it\’s called verisimilitude. In real life, when you are fighting mano-a-mano with a masked man or evading the cops at 70+ mi/hr, it goes by at a blur. You don\’t see \"the action from a distance,\" you see it face-to-face, in the moment. Nothing is ever \"slowed down\" in a chase or fight, simply for spectacle. And that\’s how the audience is going to feel. But, on the other hand, I don\’t think TDKR has good enough cinematography for an Oscar nomination. Life of Pi, The Master, and Lincoln (maybe even Django Unchained and Les Miserables) will probably stand better chances.

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  • Bob

    Wally Pfister’s reason for being at Ringling was to do a series of master classes and screenings. He worked tirelessly to share his knowledge and experience with students. The result was an astonishing learning experience and that was the point of the visit. Ringling college’s Digital Filmmaking Department is grateful for his efforts.

  • Bob

    Wally Pfister\’s reason for being at Ringling was to do a series of master classes and screenings. He worked tirelessly to share his knowledge and experience with students. The result was an astonishing learning experience and that was the point of the visit. Ringling college\’s Digital Filmmaking Department is grateful for his efforts.

  • Bob

    Wally Pfister’s reason for being at Ringling was to do a series of master classes and screenings. He worked tirelessly to share his knowledge and experience with the students. The result was an astonishing learning experience and that was the point of the visit. Ringling College’s Digital Filmmaking Department is grateful for his efforts.

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