Hammer Time

The quickly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe is set to grow again this November with the release of Thor: The Dark World, a sequel to 2011’s Thor and the eighth Marvel film since Iron Man kicked off things in 2008. For those keeping track, it’s the first film in "Phase Two" of Marvel’s plan to rule the movie world. The Marvel-Disney collaboration has been a smashing success by any measure—Thor took in a reported $700 million—and this latest film is designed to continue that winning streak.

Thor, the lead character, of course, is based on the god of Norse mythology. He made his first appearance in comic books in 1962. In addition to playing hero in Thor, the character’s thread was woven into The Avengers (2012), and the events of The Dark World are set one year later. In the current adventure, he must confront an enemy that "predates the universe itself" in order to save Earth and the Nine Realms. Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the golden-tressed title character, Christopher Eccleston plays Malekith the Accursed, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje essays the role of Algrim the Strong/Kurse, one of the Dark Elves. Natalie Portman is the earthling caught up in the epic conflict, and Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Hiddleston, Rene Russo and Anthony Hopkins also appear. Stan Lee, co-creator of the Thor character and comic book legend, makes his now-de rigueur cameo.

Inspired by his work with director Alan Taylor onGame of Thrones, cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, ASC, wanted to create a grittier, boots-on-the-ground feeling for Thor: The Dark World.

The first Thor was directed by Kenneth Branagh and photographed by Haris Zambarloukos, BSC, in the 35mm anamorphic film format. This time, well-known television director Alan Taylor (Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie, Mad Men, The Sopranos) was at the helm, with five-time Emmy® nominee Kramer Morgenthau, ASC (Boardwalk Empire, The Factory, The Express, The Five People You Meet in Heaven), handling cinematography. The duo, who had previously teamed on Game of Thrones, chose a digital format. The budget was rumored to be around $200 million, about 30% higher than Branagh’s version.

"We wanted to respect the franchise, but also bring our own ideas to it," says the DP. "We wanted a grittier, boots-on-the-ground feeling, inspired by what Alan and I had done on Game of Thrones. We wanted the realms to feel grounded, like a real place, while at the same time respecting the magical ‘planet of the Gods’ feeling and theme."

Morgenthau was set on using anamorphic lenses from the start. He had never shot a feature film digitally before, and he tested the Sony F65 along with the ALEXA Plus, and found that he preferred the ARRI camera. That choice was fine with Marvel, which has used an ALEXA/ARRIRAW/Codex workflow on the majority of its digitally shot titles.

"I just found the look of the ALEXA more pleasing," says Morgenthau. "I found it had the best dynamic range, and according to my tests, it was better in the highlights. People have different opinions, but that’s what I found. I guess there are two schools of thought—larger sensors with compression, or smaller sensors, like the ALEXA, uncompressed. The F65 4K workflow was so new, and the format is 1.9:1, whereas the ALEXA’s 4:3 is well suited for the 2:1 anamorphic squeeze. It’s a smarter workflow."