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The Dark Knight(2008)
With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, the Batman has been making headway against local crime... until a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker unleashes a fresh reign of chaos across Gotham City. To stop this devious new menace — Batman's most personal and vicious enemy yet — he will have to use every high-tech weapon in his arsenal and confront everything he believes.
For more about The Dark Knight and the The Dark Knight Blu-ray release, see the The Dark Knight Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on November 24, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman
» See full cast & crew
The Dark Knight Blu-ray Review
Warner's BD release of Nolan's chaotic masterpiece packs hard-hitting action, psychothriller twists and a morality study in 153 minutes of stellar imagery.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, November 24, 2008
Fans of the caped crusader got more than they bargained for when they flocked to theaters earlier this year to see the long-awaited sequel to Batman Begins. The new franchise had ushered in a more violent but cerebral Batman by focusing on the character development of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and his psychological motivation to fight crime. With such a strong reboot to the series, expectations were very high for The Dark Knight and director Christopher Nolan delivered. The sequel fully realizes the potential of its superhero and villain arc with harrowing sequences of violence and chaos constantly erupting. The film's narrative explores the meaning of leadership and what it takes to fight evil in the modern world. Warner freed the reins for Nolan to use IMAX cameras and stretch the film out beyond the two-hour mark.
The extended scope is necessary to capture the criminal mastermind Joker (Heath Ledger), and focus on the more complex story of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The IMAX camerawork and plot development are also essential to show the chaotic mayhem sowed by the Joker in extraordinary detail. HT hobbyists will rejoice in the way The Dark Knight's rich, inky night scenes and stunning Hong Kong and Chicago sequences are captured in an alternating 2.4:1 and 1.78:1 presentation, and accompanied by an earth-shaking, deep bass-infused audio track. The picture and sound go beyond the definition Warner delivered in Batman Begins, with greater detail and higher bitrates. But it isn't just the technical merits that earn The Dark Knight a perfect score from Blu-ray.com. The risks taken by Nolan pay off in making Batman/Bruce Wayne equally important characters to the Joker and Dent, and in delving into the darkest reaches of Batman lore.
Even before The Dark Knight opened in theaters, it had taken on a macabre mystique. Heath Ledger's untimely death and glimpses of his makeup and performance created part of a box office draw rarely equaled in motion picture history. But not even the trailers and TV ads could prepare audiences for Ledger's inspired and disturbing performance. The previous incarnation of the Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, was nothing but a violent, hyperactive clown. Nicholson overplayed the role and made the character conform to his larger-than-life persona. But Ledger nailed the real essence of the Joker and bore no resemblance to Nicholson's caricature. The Joker of The Dark Knight is not a simple murderer and bank robber. His goal is to inspire evil in others so that even the most law abiding citizen will be driven to commit acts of crime or murder.
At any opportunity, the Joker tries to drive crime fighters toward crime by sowing the seeds of terror and chaos. He allows himself to fall into a police trap so that he can spring a more diabolical plot. He arranges to have two ferries full of passengers forced into committing mass murder against one another. He dresses restrained civilians as criminals so police will be responsible for murdering innocents. To portray such a character, Ledger adopted mannerisms that at times seemed insect-like, similar to Jeff Goldblum's performance in The Fly. At other times, Ledger's performance invoked Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. But the combination of nihilism and violent eruption that defined the Joker was achieved purely by Ledger's own artistry and for that he should be considered for a posthumous Academy Award. Despite Christian Bale getting top billing, Ledger played a more important, challenging role in the film. Wayne is well defined from Batman Begins and the Joker is firmly established in the prologue, a bank heist in which all the accomplices are shot and the Joker issues his tenet, which is a twist on Nietzsche: "What doesn't kill you makes you stranger."
But the central character in The Dark Knight is neither the Joker nor Batman. It's Harvey Dent. The film follows the major changes that transform him from the public attorney into DC comic book villain Two-Face. The bulk of the character development focuses on Dent's complicated descent from a dedicated, fearless political figure, passionate about defeating criminals using the rule of law. This white knight of Gotham lives by his tenet, "you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Dent is able to achieve popularity and make good on his promise to put violent mafia figures behind bars mainly because Batman is willing to do the dirty work and get no credit for it. As Batman's success in the streets and Dent's success in the courtroom push the mob organizations into an increasingly small corner, the Joker appeals to the mob bosses and rallies them against Batman. In the ensuing chaos, it becomes clear that Dent lacks ethical principles. When he loses his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and damages half his face in one of the Joker's vicious schemes, Dent turns his back on the law altogether. With some words of inspiration from the Joker, Dent transforms himself into Two-Face. Dent had gone after criminals. But Two-Face preys upon cops, including Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), using a two-headed coin similar to the one Nolan and Bale used in The Prestige. Instead of magic tricks, however, Two-Face uses the coin to determine the fate of his victims.
The significance of the coin and of Dent's prophetic quote about becoming a villain is to show how easy it is to succumb to chance and chaos in the absence of real principles. One of the themes of The Dark Knight is to evaluate how different characters respond to the pressures of leadership and of fighting evil. Nolan hits upon a truth seemingly missed by the entire press corps: leaders must be willing to sacrifice their popularity to do what's right. This core message of The Dark Knight is demonstrated in a subplot about telecommunications surveillance taken right from the front pages of newspapers during the US debate about the Homeland Security Act of 2007. Bruce Wayne uses government contractors to build an advanced telecom technology that taps into ordinary cellphones to triangulate and illuminate the location of anyone in Gotham. The technology is the only way to locate and catch the Joker. But when Wayne Enterprises' most trusted official, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), finds out what Wayne is up to, he says that no man should have that much power and tenders his resignation.
Faced with an adversary who is threatening countless lives and the future of Gotham, Wayne understands the consequences if he doesn't do what's necessary to end the Joker's campaign of terror. Dent proves to be an unprincipled politician with a rotten core and no one but Wayne/Batman is willing to sacrifice popularity to win the fight against evil. Ultimately, Batman decides he must take the blame for the actions of Two-Face in order to defeat the Joker and restore faith to the people of Gotham. The decision has major consequences. Gordon ultimately describes Batman as, "not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight." Public perception is always secondary to Batman. His principles guide him to defeat evil and save lives, but the result is his loss of popularity and respect. Some things are more important than public perception.
The Dark Knight Blu-ray, Video Quality
Around the time it came to theaters, many BD collectors already had a preview on their HDTVs showing the superior resolution of The Dark Knight. Its prologue was included on the Blu-ray version of Batman Begins. Since that prologue sequence was shot using IMAX cameras, the question arose how it would integrate with other sequences--whether Nolan would opt for 2.4:1 throughout the BD, or deliver dual aspect ratios to more closely approximate the full resolution of the source material. The question is now put to rest. Approximating the viewing experience in IMAX theaters, the Blu-ray version of The Dark Knight shifts between 1.78:1 and 2.4:1 sequences, which is a tremendous asset in preserving the vision of the filmmaker and in attempting to get an IMAX-like experience in viewers' home theaters. The prologue, as well as other 1.78:1 sequences, appear with lifelike detail and good depth. Some have complained about the subtle use of edge enhancement as detracting from the overall picture quality, but I believe what they are seeing is an ever-so-slight glow effect that makes the bright areas of some scenes appear heightened. Deducting points for this type of brightness would be silly. Meanwhile, the black level is remarkable as it conveys all gradations of grey and retains very good definition. Since so much of the film has dark, dimly lit scenes, the inky blacks contribute greatly to the depth and weight of the picture.
So how does the resolution of the 2.4:1 content compare to the 1.78:1 picture quality? Believe it or not, the detail remains nearly consistent in both aspect ratios--there's just more presence in the scenes shot using the IMAX cameras. Non-IMAX sequences give up surprisingly little in definition. Perhaps the most extraordinary scene to view the differences is when Batman raids the high rise building in Hong Kong to extract Lau (Chin Han). In the full IMAX resolution, with much of the screen enveloped in deep black, Batman is shown perched above the city. He then descends through the air, breaking through the window nearby the desk where Lau is working and quickly dispatches Lau's body guards. Finally, as he holds Lau near the broken windows, both men are whisked out of the building by a floating device and a passing aircraft. The complicated, busy action coupled with poor lighting would be problematic if not for the detail delivered both by the 1.78:1 and 2.4:1 shots that make up the scene. While the IMAX picture is preferable because of a greater sense of depth and resolution, the 2.4:1 content shares its small, gentle grain and otherwise clean, highly detailed presentation. Some element of the grain has a digital sheen to it, but I cannot justify deducting a point or half-point for that.
Hardly a frame of The Dark Knight seems less than perfectly shot, framed and produced for 1080p. While videophiles can always nitpick, it's important to put the picture quality in perspective by taking a look at Batman Begins. That BD lacked the vibrancy and detail that, thankfully, are on display throughout The Dark Knight. The comparison with the earlier film is no contest. Watch the IMAX aerial shot looking down on Wayne's yacht. The extraordinary depth makes it appear that you could take off into the picture on a hang glider and float down to the water. The enticing video quality has a similar effect in the prologue, when two of the Joker's henchman rappel from one building to another. The picture appears rich and deep, giving the illusion that one could step into the screen and rappel with them. Though these examples feature the extraordinary IMAX sequences, the 2.4:1 sequences often have this effect as well. Above all, the tremendous definition and delineation within dark areas of the screen push the picture of The Dark Knight all the way to reference quality.
The Dark Knight Blu-ray, Audio Quality
In keeping with the dark visuals, the sound throughout The Dark Knight is weighted toward the lower registers with heavy LFE content. While the audio across the dynamic range is delivered in good detail, with plenty of resolution, the Dolby TrueHD content is clearly bass-heavy. It doesn't have quite the 3D impact one might expect in an action movie, with very little content assigned assigned to the rear channels. But it is preferable to err on the conservative side than to have an overly aggressive surround soundstage where it is really not warranted. On the other hand, some multichannel audiophiles may nitpick that the surrounds are underutilized. The anchoring across the center channel delivers all the dialog, while the front left and right speakers provide the bulk of the score. The music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is less thematic and more of a mood amplifier to make the story more hard-hitting. Aside from the sound effects and subwoofer content, the soundtrack mostly disappears in the action and visuals. Looking back on it, that is a unique accomplishment for an action film, to be such a visual work of art that one hardly notices the score as sound. While all detail of the dialog and music is clearly articulated across the front channels, it often sounds diminutive in comparison to deeper content.
Listen to the scene where Batman, Lt. Gordon and Dent have a rooftop meeting together. Gordon's and Dent's voices are perfectly reproduced, crisp and detailed, yet they sound slightly anemic compared to Batman's deeper, more open voice. While the audio engineering is actually very good, the bass emphasis can overshadow the more relaxed dialog, especially Gordon's voice. This is a minor complaint, as all dialog is plainly audible and every word and breath expertly recorded. And of course, the advantage of having a pronounced LFE channel is on display throughout The Dark Knight. Listen to the scene where the 18 wheeler flips over its horizontal axis--an impressive bit of stuntwork--creating a cacaphony of deep bass rumble, crashing steel and other sound effects. Explosions, breaking glass, gunshots and other effects are impressively engineered. The amazing feature of the Dolby TrueHD track is that nothing gets lost in the mix, regardless of the minimal use of surrounds. One of the denizens at Blu-ray.com asked whether Warner's BD defaulted to the Dolby Digital track, as many of its titles do. The answer is yes. It is imperitive to go into the menu immediately when the movie starts and select the TrueHD track.
The Dark Knight Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
To give a quick "supplements-at-a-glance" run-through, here is what is on the two BDs:
Disc 1: Gotham Uncovered--a mish-mash of standard definition and high-def content, clocking in at one hour, this multi-part documentary replaces the need for an audio track and focuses on the unique elements that went into the creation of the sets, props and the use of IMAX cameras. It's a trove of information that no fan of The Dark Knight should miss. The amount of planning that went into the film are remarkable and carefully documented here. You can learn such details as the materials and production of the Bat suit and the difficulty in driving the Bat-pod. I would have liked to see more material covering Two-Face, since he was such a large part of the film and an explanation of how his face was handled in CGI. Some type of memorial content for Heath Ledger would have also been welcome. Unfortunately, no such documentary is included.
Focus Points--a rather hidden picture-in-picture option available in specific episodes that turn out to be the above-mentioned documentaries. Those who find PIP to be distracting will prefer to watch the content as Gotham Uncovered.
Disc 2: Batman Tech--as part of three hours worth of documentaries, this featurette explores the many weapons and utilities designed for Batman. Most of them are based on military equipment.
Batman Unmasked--subtitled The Psychology of The Dark Knight, this documentary focuses on psychotherapeutic analysis of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Frankly, this content would have been more appropriate for Batman Begins.
Gotham Tonight--a series of six newscasts averaging about eight minutes each. They all explore Batman and Bruce Wayne, as presented by "Gotham Cable's Premier News Program". The CNN-like news show played a role in several scenes of the main feature, but on its own, the newscasts seem a bit boring.
Galleries--watching the Joker cards rain down after the assassination of a judge in The Dark Knight, it is clear that many different types of cards are used. Here, they are all on display, along with TV spots and trailers, concept art, poster art and production stills.
Rounding out the bonus content are Warner invitations to participate in BD-Live and to unlock a digital (non-high definition) copy of The Dark Knight. The BD-Live features include "My Web Commentary", where you can use your webcam and create your own PIP commentary over the film and share it with friends and the entire BD-Live community. It also includes "Live Community Screening", which Warner bills as "an on-screen chat with the filmmakers while you watch the movie." The BD-Live "Media Center" is advertised to have exclusive footage, trailers, photo galleries and more.
While not perfect, this content features enough interesting documentaries and extracurricular activities to keep one occupied for hours on end. And a word about the packaging--under the slipcase, the text on the back of the packaging artwork has been "marked up" with edits by the Joker. The brief description of the movie has been defaced and there is graffiti pointing to a photo of the Joker, "ME" and many "HA HA" and "BLAH BLAH" comments. This was a good finishing touch to a classic BD package: a combination of creepy and cute.
The Dark Knight Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Most superhero stories have relevance to politics and current events, and The Dark Knight can certainly be interpreted as a strong moral commentary on our troubled times. The telecommunications issue, terrorism, fighting evil and public perception are all directly addressed. The message appears to be that saving innocent life is the absolute priority for leadership. In pursuing that agenda, Batman resorted to a type of wiretapping and allowed his image to be forever tarnished. He even welcomed his fall from grace, recognizing early on that he could never fight evil effectively and remain popular to the public. Press and citizens in a free society will easily pick apart leaders making tough decisions and fighting tough fights--partially because those decisions and fights are not going to be popular--there is no perfect way to make those choices and execute those battles--and partially because there is no other visible lightning rod for public perception. In devising the story, Nolan hit upon a truth that the entire press corps seems to have forgotten: principle is more important than popularity. Having a squeaky clean image and saying all the right things is no substitute for the willingness or character to fight evil.
But regardless of whether you like the politics of The Dark Knight or prefer to just zone out and watch the mayhem, Warner's BD is a must-have for your collection. The film is truly unique and riveting, and Warner did a great job integrating the IMAX footage for 1080p. Highest recommendations.
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