Chin Han, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale by Dimitrios Kambouris/ Chin Han, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale by Dimitrios Kambouris/

Rolling out the red black carpet on Monday night, New York City truly became Gotham as the stars of this summer's most talked-about movie, The Dark Knight, stepped out at the film's world premiere.

Nearly all in attendance were dressed in the same somber tones of the carpet (presumably as a tribute to the late Heath Ledger, whose portrayal of the Joker is the film's biggest buzz-drawer), but there was still plenty of excitement in the air. While Ledger was on the minds and tongues of many, the stars also chose to use the evening to celebrate the film, which has had those lucky enough to screen it early (myself included) gushing for the past couple of weeks.

Michael Caine, who reprises his role as Bruce Wayne's loyal butler Alfred, said the film has an "extraordinary intelligence at work," referring to cowriter/director Christopher Nolan and his epic vision for the sequel to the franchise rebooting Batman Begins. "It's not like the usual cartoon or big blockbuster," Caine said. "All of the characters are beautifully written. So what you get is a film about character, and then you get action, which you wouldn't get in one of those films. And you get both of them at a very high standard."

Part of Nolan's high standard involves doing stunts the old-fashioned way. "Chris loves to do things for real," said Singaporean actor Chin Han. As a Japanese businessman with connections to the Gotham City mobsters, Han got to see just how "real" Nolan wanted things while being roughed up by Christian Bale's Caped Crusader. "I did more stunts for this movie than anything else in my career," Han said. "But I enjoy being beaten up, so it was a great experience."

All of that exciting action is made even bigger and badder thanks to nearly 20 minutes of the movie being shot with IMAX cameras. While there's no doubt it makes the movie more stunning, it also gave Lost's Nestor Carbonell, who plays mayor Anthony Garcia, the willies. "I had to give a speech that I got the morning I flew in from Los Angeles, because it wasn't scripted," Carbonell said. "I had less than an hour to memorize it before I stepped up to the podium and I did my first take. I got through it, but then Aaron Eckhart comes up to me and says, 'You see that camera over there? It's an IMAX camera. Every time you do a take it's a hundred grand.' I almost killed the guy."

But at the end of the day, a great film always comes down to the performances. Sure, Heath Ledger's unrelenting and feverishly psychotic portrayal of the Joker is already creating (deserved) Oscar buzz, but the cast is brilliant from top to bottom. "[It's tough] doing scenes with actors like Morgan [Freeman], Heath and Christian, who are such forces of nature," Han said. "You don't want to drop the ball when you're acting with these guys. It's like going 12 rounds with Mike Tyson when you're in a scene with them."

Eckhart echoed those thoughts. "Frankly I don't understand why I was chosen, but I'm glad I was," he said. "To be in a Chris Nolan film and be part of the Batman family and to be with Heath Ledger in this movie is a huge honor. I'm just hanging on for dear life."

I'm sure the potentially record-breaking number of viewers lining up to see the two-and-a-half-hour thrill ride this weekend will be as well. - Adam Bryant