Batman a home-town hero
Batman has followed me around the planet. Sort of.
The third instalment of Christopher Nolan's caped crusader trilogy opened on Thursday in New Zealand, a day before its United States opening, thanks to the magic of the International Date Line. That meant this transplanted American got to see the film before most of her mates in the States.
But my connection to the The Dark Knight Rises began almost exactly one year earlier, while the movie was being filmed. That's because Nolan chose none other than my then-home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to give form to the gritty streets of Gotham City.
If you've talked with me for more than five minutes, you probably know that I love Pittsburgh. Forget New York, Los Angeles and wherever else visitors usually go on holiday - as far as I'm concerned, Pittsburgh is the greatest city in the United States. It's beautiful. It's - for the most part - unpretentious. It's a city filled with cool out-of-the-way spots and offbeat secrets that can only be discovered through devoted exploration.
And yet, when considering major American cities - including other Gotham stand-ins like Chicago and its most widely-recognised model, New York - Pittsburgh tends to be overlooked.
For one thing, it's small by US standards. The population within the city limits is just over 300,000, making the city proper smaller than Wellington. For another, it's still widely known as a former industrial centre recovering from the decline of the US steel industry.
So when we denizens of the Steel City - see? - learned that Batman was coming to our doorstep, it was A Very Big Deal.
In the movie's three weeks of Pittsburgh filming, my closest brushes with Batman were . . . not very close at all. Mainly, they were sightings of the military-style "Tumblers" cruising cordoned-off downtown streets and, once, creeping along behind me as I sat in rush-hour traffic.
Most of the film's aerial shots are of much larger centres. But the street-level scenes in the second half, particularly the chase scenes, are as Pittsburgh as it gets.
So, for anyone interested in seeing The Dark Knight Rises armed with a little insider knowledge, here's a bit of Batman-inspired Pittsburgh trivia.
(No spoilers. I swear on my Terrible Towel.)
- The imposing columns at the entrance to Blackgate prison, where much of the film's action takes place, are actually the facade of the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, a 1937 academic building situated between the main campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in the city's Oakland neighbourhood.
- Most of the Pittsburgh street scenes show the city covered in a dusting of snow. It was fake - filming took place in July and August, at the height of Pennsylvania's hot, humid summer.
- Batman frequently uses high-tech toys to take to the air, and at one point he flies his Bat aircraft over a downtown skyscraper with the eye-catching white letters "UPMC" at its top. That building, the US Steel Tower, is the tallest skyscraper in Pittsburgh. In addition to housing offices of the famous steel corporation, it's also the headquarters for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.
- The most quintessentially Pittsburgh thing about the movie is probably the American football game filmed at Heinz Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the movie many real-life Steelers stand in for the Gotham Rogues team, which also shares the Steelers' black and gold colours. Even more real-life Steelers fans spent the day sweltering in winter coats to be extras in the stadium shots.
- The player who carries the ball on a run for his life is former Steeler and Superbowl most valued player Hines Ward, whose 14-season career with the team ended earlier this year.
- The opposing team's kicker is Pittsburgh's current mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, who in reality was a kicker for his college football team.
- © Fairfax NZ News