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The Dark Knight (Blu-ray)
Warner Home Video / 2008 / 153 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: December 09, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The hype for 'The Dark Knight' this past summer was almost deafening. For months before its July release, the sense of anticipation was breathless. Christopher Nolan has created a masterpiece! Heath Ledger is guaranteed to win an Oscar! The comic book movie has finally been transformed into an art form! Such hyperbole is nothing new in the world of movie marketing, of course, but what was most shocking about 'The Dark Knight' is that the film actually lived up to such near-impossible expectations. Audiences flocked to theaters (to the tune of over $500 million domestic), critics swooned, and the fanboys cried. Here was a film that delivered on everything it promised. It's really not an overstatement to say that the opening of 'The Dark Knight' was treated like the second coming of cinema.
I will now be a heretic and say that while I think 'The Dark Knight' is a very good film -- and a great comic book film -- my praise is slightly more reserved. Overlong, somewhat plotty and, upon repeated viewings, revealing some structural flaws, 'The Dark Knight' is still a wonderful achievement in filmmaking if not quite a flawless masterpiece for the ages.
At this point, a plot synopsis would be redundant. But what Nolan (who co-wrote the script) so astoundingly achieves in 'The Dark Knight' is the creation of a comic book movie that isn't really a comic book movie at all. Part noir, part crime saga, part horror movie, 'The Dark Knight' could scarcely be considered "comic" in any sense if it wasn't for the fact that it's hero wears a black rubber codpiece and its villain dons facepaint and a bad purple suit. Nolan gets at something far deeper in 'The Dark Knight' than the usual comic book themes of truth, justice, and the American Way. He dissects the very notion of heroism itself, and our culture's need for it. 'The Dark Knight' is to comic book movies as 'Scream' was to horror movies, only without the irony, camp and self-referential humor -- it's almost beyond postmodernism in the way it deconstructs the genre and how it has fueled the American psyche.
Certainly a key to the gigantic commercial and critical success of 'The Dark Knight' is that it was the right movie for the right time. Pre-Obama, the Gotham City in tatters that is seen in 'The Dark Knight' -- one teetering on the brink of total panic and collapse by film's end -- mirrors the uncertainty, fear and distrust that has gripped these final months of the Bush Administration. But neither leaning right nor left, Nolan instead focuses on the effect that chaos has on civilized societies, rather than pointing fingers. Topical but not political, Nolan achieved the rare feat in 'The Dark Knight' of creating an allegory for our times that allows us to question the big themes and big ideas, but refuses to be didactic, condescending, or obvious. The beauty is that one can project any political leanings one wants into characters like Batman, the Joker, Harvey Dent, or Officer Gordon, and can be both right and wrong no matter what conclusions one comes up with.
Ironic, perhaps, (but by now almost commonplace) that in a movie about Batman, the caped crusader himself is (almost) overshadowed by his villains. As he proved in the series reboot 'Batman Begins,' Christian Bale is certainly a terrific Batman -- nuanced, charismatic, and utterly believable even when he's cowering under a ridiculous headpiece. But 'The Dark Knight' will undoubtedly be remembered if, for nothing else, The Joker. Ledger deserves all of his posthumous praise for a performance that creates a villain for the ages. He is all rampaging id (as a character in the film says, "some men just want to watch the world burn"). He is not so much an agent of darkness as a force of nature, and Ledger's portrayal -- and Nolan's reinterpretation of the character -- is one of 'The Dark Knight's great statements on the human condition. And if overlooked in the Ledger frenzy, Aaron Eckhart's Two-Face is an underrated creation, thanks to Eckhart's ability to fuse idealism with fury. His is the most fully-realized and complex version of the character seen on-screen, or in the comic books.
If I have any problems with 'The Dark Knight,' it's the bloated length. The film ultimately feels like different movies fused together. Though there seems to nothing in terms of narrative that could be fully cut out, the film still feels overlong. And by the overly-plotted conclusion, The Joker and Two-Face have both worn out their welcomes to the point of almost becoming irritating. It's not helped that Nolan resorts to a child-in-jeopardy cliffhanger that is the only schmaltzy and contrived element in an otherwise subtle and astute script. If 'The Dark Knight' still wraps itself in a satisfying (if open-ended) denouement, it still could have been a bit more streamlined getting there.
Even if I don't think 'The Dark Knight' should be regarded as a classic only months after its theatrical release (can't we let it sit and stew awhile a before cementing its legacy?), there's no doubt that the film has transcended the label of mere comic book adaptation. It's rare a movie achieves that pop culture triple lutz of being critically lauded, adored by audiences, and regarded as a landmark of its kind. 'The Dark Knight' is a handsomely-crafted, thought-provoking spectacle, and for that alone it deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it. If you are somehow one of the twelve people in the world who still haven't seen 'The Dark Knight,' then this Blu-ray is absolutely a must-see.
Don't worry -- 'The Dark Knight' does not disappoint. Easily Warner's flagship title for the year -- if not the most highly-anticipated Blu-ray of all-time -- this is a superlative 1080p/VC-1 encode that is guaranteed to be the new demo disc of choice in home theaters around the world. Aside from one caveat, I found nothing to complain about here.
Presented theatrically in both standard 35mm and IMAX formats, 'The Dark Knight' is framed here in alternating aspect ratios. The majority of the film is 2.40:1, while the IMAX-filmed segments open up to 1.78:1. Personally, I found the flip-flopping at times slightly distracting. While the jump between compositions isn't that jarring when it comes after long scenes (such as the opening, which is 1.78:1), there are times when a single shot will be presented in its own aspect ratio (such as the beginning of the "love boat" sequence), and that can irritate. The upside is that the IMAX material does display a noticeable uptick in clarity and resolution. The 35mm-based footage is certainly no slouch, but there is an added sharpness and depth to the IMAX-originated footage that raises the bar for what Blu-ray is capable of.
That said, the whole of the transfer is excellent. The source is absolutely spotless, with no defects and a smooth, clean veneer. Blacks are quite simply the richest I think I've seen on a Blu-ray, and contrast is never too hot or too flat. The image pops with wonderful depth -- it is never less than three-dimensional -- yet remains natural and appealing. Color saturation is likewise rich, with splashes of deep primaries and not a hint of chroma noise, bleeding or smearing. Fleshtones are also accurate, except in situations of intentional stylization. Shadow delineation is also exemplary, with even the darkest areas brimming with fine textures and detail.
Unfortunately, my caveat is that there is edge enhancement that results in visible edge halos. While the encode is otherwise rock solid -- I found no artifacts, such as aliasing or pixelization -- the edge enhancement, if slight, is clearly visible in longer shots (such as the parade sequence). It is the only element of this presentation that deserves any knocks, though hardly a fatal flaw. In all other respects, 'The Dark Knight' is a stunner.
Warner provides a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit) track for 'The Dark Knight,' which is also sure to please. This is first-rate audio and also surely a new demo-worthy soundtrack.
'The Dark Knight' is unusual for a comic book movie in that it avoids over-the-top, wall-to-wall sonic gimmicks. The score is almost subliminal at times in its use of low tones, rumbling bass, and ominous cues. The subwoofer really gets a workout here, with some of the most effective low bass I've heard on a Blu-ray. The centerpiece action scene with the Batmobile is a stand-out, and will likely be playing in Best Buy showrooms for months. Surround use is finely-tuned both for discrete effects (the rear soundstage is active and engaging) and subtle, sustained ambiance.
Tech specs are easily up to par, with expansive dynamics. Low bass is again as tight as a drum, and depth of sound and spatiality across the front soundstage is top-notch. Dialogue is perfectly balanced and always intelligible (even the oddly-modulated voice of Batman is clear here, which wasn't always the case during theatrical showings). The source is, of course, as clean and polished as you would expect from a major studio film. There isn't a note out of place on this TrueHD mix.
'The Dark Knight' comes to Blu-ray as a three-disc set. Most of the supplements are on disc two (in full 1080 video), with the third disc reserved for Digital Copy. Is this the absolute ultimate special edition of 'The Dark Knight?' Hardly. I'll be surprised if there isn't a double-dip of 'Dark Knight' in our future, but for now, there should be enough extras here to satisfy fans.
- Focus Points (HD, 65 minutes) - With the absence of any audio commentary on the disc, this pseudo-PIP track has to take up most of the slack. There is roughly one hour of total behind-the-scenes footage (in 1080i/VC-1 video) spread out over approximately 18 vignettes that span the runtime of the film. During playback, you must manually click your remote when an icon appears (or simply pull them up directly from the Extras submenu), which will then branch off to the full-screen segment before returning you to the movie. I find this an ungainly approach considering Blu-ray is capable of much better interactivity. In any case, the material is repurposed for the most part from the other, stand-alone featurettes on the second disc. Sparse cast and crew appearances are featured (all taken on-set or shortly after production was completed), and focus almost entirely on the action, stunts and costumes, so as a straight making-of this is a good piece. If you want focus and perspective on the 'Dark Knight' phenomenon and the film's incredible popularity, look elsewhere.
- Documentary: "Batman Tech" (HD, 45 minutes) - The first of the two main docs, there is some overlap with the Focus Points on disc one. The title is self-explanatory, with a look at the various bat gadgets, gear and vehicles (of which there is little compared to previous Batman incarnations). There is a glossy, promotional feel to this doc, but it's relatively neat stuff to watch.
- Documentary: "Batman Unmasked" (HD, 45 minutes) - The second doc feels even more like a fluff piece you'd see to promote the movie on E! or the like. A host of comic book historians, psychologists and criminologists are on hand to discuss the inner-workings of Batman's mind, as well as the general freakdom of the comic book character. I always enjoy these contextual documentaries, though in light of the paucity of genuine behind-the-scenes material on 'The Dark Knight,' this winds up coming off as marketing padding.
- Shorts: "Gotham Tonight" (HD, 46 minutes) - Kicking off the "Extras" section (which is odd, since all the supplements are extras, right?) are six faux-Gotham newscasts. These are fun to watch for a while if, perhaps, overkill in the end.
- Still Galleries (HD) - There are five robust galleries, with about 60-odd photos each: Concept Art, Poster Art, Production Stills and the quite intriguing Joker Cards. You can watch the stills go by automatically, or use your manual Play/Pause to go step-by-step.
- Theatrical Trailers/TV Spots (HD) - A theatrical teaser and two trailers are included, plus no less than six TV spots. And I must say, these are the best looking TV spots I've ever seen, presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and full 1080i/VC-1 video and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.
- Digital Copy (SD) - Finally, we have a Digital Copy of the film compatible with PCs, PSP, and iTunes. (Standard-definition video only.)
'The Dark Knight' isn't loaded with exclusive content. In fact, the only Blu-ray extra is BD-Live connectivity, which at press time was not yet active. We'll update this space once the disc streets and if/when content becomes available.
We've found one so far. If you select the third theatrical trailer on Disc 2 and enter the following numbers on your player's remote: 5 6 5 3 7 (enter them slowly, with one or two second pauses between each number)the screen will go blank and the Joker-ized version of the same trailer will play.
Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'The Dark Knight' has been hailed by many as an instant classic, and the best comic book movie of all-time. I wouldn't argue the latter, though there are enough issues with the film that only time will tell how well it holds up. But with a terrific story, great direction, Oscar-caliber performances and a fully-realized vision of Gotham City, 'The Dark Knight' is an absolute must-see. This Blu-ray should satisfy expectations, with great video and audio, and a decent assortment of extras. 'The Dark Knight' is almost assured to sell gazillions of copies on Blu-ray, and rightly so. Pick it up without hesitation.