In a new piece of leaked audio, Christian Bale truly earns the ''Dark Knight'' moniker by unleashing a Reign of Fire on his Terminator Salvation cinematographer for interrupting a key scene.
Examine the images above. Which is more frightening to you? Listen to the newly-released audio clip of actor Christian Bale exploding on a movie set, and see if you still have the same answer.

But be warned: It's brutal. And it goes on and on and on.

According to TMZ, this eruption took place on the set of Terminator Salvation at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico last July, after director of photography Shane Hurlbut (who worked with Terminator Salvation director McG on We Are Marshall) walked across Bale's sight-line during filming of a scene with co-star Bryce Dallas Howard.

While the incident was widely reported at the time, only now has the incriminating audio seen the light of day. TMZ reports that film execs sent the tape to their insurance company in case the actor didn’t finish filming the movie.

In what's being hailed as one of the greatest Hollywood meltdowns of all time, Bale can be heard launching into a three-minute-and-45-second, expletive-packed tirade, during which he drops the F-bomb dozens of times, flagrantly orders around several production heads, and finally threatens physical violence against the DP.

Talk about Harsh Times. No doubt Hurlbut was praying to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and silently wishing "I'm Not There."

This writer was a Bale fan long before Batman Begins and is well aware of the Welsh-born thespian's method acting habits. But I must admit that the length and intensity of the now-infamous audio clip was nearly as uncomfortable for me as the Monica Bellucci rape scene in Irreversible. And it's undoubtedly real because Bale, who always maintains the accent of his character on- and off-set, slips back into his natural voice at times during the profanity-rich rant.

Movie sets can be seriously tense places, no more so than those of mega-budget, action-franchise flicks like Terminator. Filled with unimaginable pressures, they're virtual breeding grounds for the occasional heated outburst. But it's rare that we get a sense of just how tense they can be.

Clearly, someone with Hurlbut's two decades of experience on movie sets should know better than to wander the set while cameras are rolling. His behavior so unbalanced Bale's Equilibrium, the actor called Hurlbut a "prick" and "a nice guy" during the same spew.

(As EW's ADAM B. VARY drolly put it, "Bale can make screaming 'You're a nice guy! You're a nice guy!' into some kind of veiled threat...")

Director McG, who's supposed to be in charge and PAYING ATTENTION, didn't help things by getting involved only after Bale called him out by name, and then just saying "I didn't see it happen."

And, for the record, Bale did not threaten to walk off the set if Hurlbut wasn't fired. His exact statement/threat was, "If you do it one more time, I ain’t walking on this set if you’re still hired!"

This isn't the only time we've had flashes of Bale's temper. Last summer, just as The Dark Knight was premiering in the UK, Bale was arrested for an alleged verbal assault on his mother and sister, reportedly over money demands and insults aimed at Bale's spouse. It now seems that the Terminator tirade occurred only days earlier. The actor obviously was not in a happy place at the time.

In an incredibly kind (or spin-doctoring) move, Terminator assistant director and associate producer Bruce Franklin has leapt to Bale's defense, despite the fact that he was one of those directly insulted on the set by an A-list star who's let The Prestige go to his head.

Franklin tells E! that Bale is a "consummate professional" and just had a bad day. "If you are working in a very intense scene and someone takes you out of your groove...It was the most emotional scene in the movie. And for him to get stopped in the middle of it. He is very intensely involved in his character. He didn't walk around like that all day long. It was just a moment and it passed."

"This was my second movie with Christian, and it has always been a good experience with him," added Franklin, who also worked with the actor on 2000's Shaft. "He is so dedicated to the craft. I think someone is begging to make some noise about this, but I don't think it's fair. The art of acting is not paint by numbers, it's an art form."

No word yet from Bale's rep.

Bale, indeed, is renowned for an intense approach to his work. He dropped a third of his body weight to play a malnourished insomniac in The Machinist (above right) by reportedly eating only a can of tuna and an apple a day for months.

Now, you can listen to the audio and hear The Dark Knight go bat$h!t. But, please, don't go there if you're offended by coarse language or if you're a big Bale fan and don't want your affections shaken.

[Thanks to dozens of websites for their accumulated material on this subject. And shame on them, too.]
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