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The Dark Knight

Batman sequel transcends superhero genre

Warner Bros.

Release date: July 18

For comicbook adaptations, Warner Bros.’ Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” is a game changer. Its complex and thrilling take on a superhero transformed the film from a successful popcorn franchise into a full-bore movie phenom that could pique Academy interest beyond the tech categories.

Heath Ledger’s freakish and original take on the Joker has been talked about all year. His death in January at age 28 makes this perf the second to last time the Academy will be able to honor his work; his one previous nomination was for “Brokeback Mountain,” and he will been seen in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” in 2009. The studio may push for the rest of the cast, which includes Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, but it may have its best shot — albeit a seemingly slim one — for a lead nom with Christian Bale.

Even if the film weren’t meticulously made, its half-billion-dollar gross puts Christopher Nolan firmly in the spotlight. His only previous Oscar nom was for writing “Memento” with his brother and “Dark Knight” collaborator, Jonathan Nolan. Given the crowded director’s competish, Nolan might have a greater chance in the adapted screenplay category.

Leading the pic’s technical campaign is cinematographer Wally Pfister, who was Oscar-nommed twice and has the distinction of having shot six “Dark Knight” sequences in Imax — a first for a major studio picture. Other below-the-line talent with previous Oscar noms or wins include editor Lee Smith, art director Nathan Crowley, costume designer Lindy Hemming and makeup artist Peter Robb-King.

While auds have accepted superhero pics and their sequels as standard multiplex fare, “The Dark Knight” could be the first such film to arouse the Acad’s interest in the top categories. While that may seem like a tall order, the film’s critical plaudits as well as its prodigious box office make a strong case.

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