We all knew The Dark Knight was going to be big, but “second highest-grossing movie of all time” big? I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Blowing away every single Batman movie that came before it, The Dark Knight is a powerhouse of a movie, driven by a great script, superlative acting, and an unbelievable amount of buzz. And, get this, the movie is going to still be in theaters when the DVD and Blu-ray hits. Unreal! Now, personally, I wish I could come up with a smashing opening paragraph, something to whet your appetite for this review, but, well, obviously I couldn’t. I honestly think just about everything that could be said about this movie has been said. However, if you want an opinion on the movie and a recommendation on whether or not to pick up the home video release for the year’s top movie, well, keep reading! Let’s get this synopsis out of the way and then take a closer look at The Dark Knight.
The follow up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan with star Christian Bale, who returns to continue Batman’s war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as the Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces the Dark Knight ever closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to be some poet and write a moving and genius review of one of the best films of the year, and easily the best “comic book” movie to date. Instead, what you’ll get is a simple look at the movie, a few basic thoughts on it, and that’s it. And why? Because everything that can be said has already been said about this movie, it seems. Skimming through countless reviews, The Dark Knight commanded an unbelievable critical attention, and deservedly so. Bound to be a serious Oscar contender this year, The Dark Knight is one of the best-reviewed movies of year, amazing acclaim that even non-“comic book” movies would strive to obtain. An ingenious movie and near flawless in it’s’ execution, The Dark Knight is a riveting film that surpasses expectations and labels to become a true crossover event.
So, where to begin? The solid directing? The great cast? The gripping story? The across-the-board superb acting? There are countless places where I can start here, given how creatively rich and complex this movie is. Everything about this film is so engaging and so compulsively re-watchable. Whether it’s the incredible opening bank heist, obviously inspired by Heat, the great interrogation scene, the chase sequence, or even the big climactic set-piece, there’s so much to take in and absorb here. There’s a lot to take in, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. While Batman Begins was plotted with a finite plan, getting Bruce Wayne to become Batman, this film isn’t constrained by that. So, while it may seem unwieldy, much like the Joker’s assorted schemes, it’s actually intricately planned out. And thankfully this all works because we have characters that we actually care about and a story that’s gripping and absolutely enthralling in all of its tragic glory. A great crime yarn, director Christopher Nolan is making Batman movies as they should be, in my opinion. The Dark Knight proves that not only is his vision a great one, but it’s simply one of the best incarnations of the Caped Crusader to date.
Now, instead of avoiding it, I’ll just come right out and proclaim my admiration for the completely no-holds-barred take on the Joker by Heath Ledger. An absolutely phenomenal piece of work by the late actor, the Joker is as terrifying as he’s ever been, completely unpredictable, and just frightening. We don’t know what’s going on in his head and…well…it’s frightening. Ledger is simply astounding in his role, no question. It’s no surprise either, given the heavy amount of preparation Ledger did for the role. He apparently hid away in a motel room for about six weeks to delve deep inside of the character. He devoted himself to developing The Joker’s every tic and quirk, namely the voice and that sadistic-sounding laugh, and he even kept a journal of his thoughts during this endeavor. There’s also a dab of punk rocker Sid Vicious and some Alex De Large (A Clockwork Orange) in there as well, it seems. It all culminates into a horrifying and brilliant depiction of the Clown Prince of Crime. Countless things have been said about Ledger’s Joker and I’m adding nothing new. It’s just an amazing creation and probably the iconic take on the character.
Now, while Ledger’s role as The Joker is absolutely stunning, he’s not the only one who manages to do some great work for the movie. I found Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon to be a great role that’s more complex than is appears. Deceptively simple on screen, Oldman really does create a multi-layered take on Gordon, I find. Gordon is such a rounded character and Oldman melts into the role so well that it’s hard to imagine the character any other way. Gordon feels like a cop, acts like a cop, and struggles being one of the last few honest people in Gotham. Gordon becomes all the more important as movie progresses as his own belief in justice really comes to a crossroad as the movie heads into its tragic conclusion.
Naturally, stuck between the Joker and Gordon is Batman himself, Bruce Wayne. In what could be considered the “straight man” role of the movie, Wayne is played to perfection by Christian Bale, who reprises his role from Batman Begins. Bale is able to effectively pull off the dual role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and he really shines when the characters find themselves bleeding into each other, as it does at multiple times throughout this dark movie. Bale really does capture the essence of the tragic figure of Batman. This interpretation to the character, which has roots in both Batman’s dark comic revival of the 70s and Jeph Loeb’s epic The Long Halloween, is such a multi-layered and intricate character, probably more so than he’s ever been portrayed. Pulled apart in so many directions, we see him struggle to find balance in his life as his city falls apart around him. Just stellar work.
I also want to briefly mention Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face, who I believe didn’t get the accolades he deserved for his part of the movie. A great take on Harvey Dent and a nice spin on his ultimate destiny as one of Batman’s foes. I also feel I should note that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s take on Rachel Dawes, taking over for Katie Holmes, is a great addition and recast. I’m not a fan of recasting, but Nolan made it work here.
There’s a lot more to take into account here, and a lot more that could ultimately be discussed about here. Nolan’s directing is smooth and superb, catching all the important bits on screen and leaving any possible lingering doubt to be filled in either by ourselves or through small bits subtlety released later throughout the film. Nothing is left unanswered. Everything is answered. Everything works together to great effect. At least, this is what I found. The script is solid, the directing is top-notch, and some of the cinematography here is to die for. There were shots were I was left absolutely breathless, I have to say. Everything about this movie works and deserves the recognition and acclaim it mustered up over the summer.
Of course, with all of this universal acclaim comes a few of those who feel the need to rip this movie apart, looking for the tiniest flub or the most inane reasons to decry The Dark Knight. Some found Batman to be no more than a costumed thug, which, well, if said people actually watched the movie and paid attention to what was going on, I’m sure they’d realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything Batman does here is on the level with his comic roots, from protecting the lives of innocents to how he unleashes justice, all of it works. Now, I will admit the movie makes a couple mistakes that become evident on repeat viewing, but nothing that isn’t cured by using some common sense and judgment. Then again, that’s something that some fanboys aren’t really accustomed or known to use, so it’s not expected that they find plot holes and mistakes where there are none.
Now, I could go on and on about this movie and, looking back a this very review, I do seem kind of all over the place and not really organized. Well, that mostly has to do with how just flat-out great this movie is in every respect. To me, this is Batman. Not those over-rated ugly Tim Burton movies, but this. This is Batman to me, and, outside of Batman: The Animated Series, this ranks as one of my favorite interpretations of the character. I could seriously go on and on about why this movie is so great, whether it’s the redesigned Batsuit, the very cool Bat-pod, the great chase sequence and subsequent showdown between Batman and and The Joker, the great portrayal of the classic Batman villain Two-Face, the superb writing and directing, the overall epic feel of it, good lord, I could seriously prattle on for so much longer.
Personally, I’m glad this film ended up being as big as it was. It’s great to see Batman take the well-deserved throne as the top movie-hero around, and I’m glad to see The Dark Knight take the rightful place as the top Batman movie to date. The Dark Knight is not only a great comic book movie, but it’s just a great film period. A film that crosses over so many boundaries and classifications, becoming something entirely its own. The writing is excellent, the directing is superb, the acting is phenomenal, and the overall movie is a great experience to behold. I know I’ve shortchanged a few aspects of the movie (I feel I could talk more about the directing, about the cinematography, the work of the supporting cast to name a few things), but there’s just so much to enjoy about this movie that I have a hard time focusing on one specific aspect.
To all you brave readers who somehow managed to make it to this point without your eyes glazing over, I commend you! To get to the point of all of this, The Dark Knight is movie-making at its finest. A brilliant, smart movie that never talks down to its audience while keeping them enthralled at the same time, Christopher Nolan and company have weaved an impressive and sense-shattering epic movie. With so many powerful visuals, so many great characters, so many tragic turns and heart-pounding moments, you can’t help but be thoroughly engulfed in this stellar film. The Dark Knight is one of those rare occurrences where everything has gone absolutely right and the end result is a film that is nearly flawless, totally engaging and just a flat-out great movie. One of the most unforgettable experiences of the year, The Dark Knight is an Absolutely Must Own movie that deserves a spot in everyone’s collection.
Warner Home Video has released The Dark Knight onto DVD in the standard Two-Disc Special Edition release. Now, Batman Begins had an infamous two-disc release back in 2005 which divided fans. Some fans loved the comic-book menu set-up, others were repulsed by it. On top of that, the bonus material added up to just over ninety minutes of behind-the-scenes materials. So, was Warner Home Entertainment able to provide a better release for The Dark Knight, the Oscar-worthy top-movie of the year? Well yes…and no.
First up, the second disc has a simple and straight forward menu system, unlike the cumbersome comic book-inspired menu from the Batman Begins two-disc release, so they learned from that mistake. Now, that’s where Warner Home Video improves upon here. The rest, sadly, isn’t as promising. So, let’s start from the outside and work our way in. We’ll get to the bonus features in just a bit, but before we do, let’s quickly look over the rest of the release.
Before we dive in, let’s quickly look at the surface of things. The packaging is really a great extension of the movie and is probably more inspired than the DVD itself. Once you remove the Batpod-focused cardboard overlay, prepare for a rather menacing front cover shot of Joker paired with graffiti obscuring the back cover. Great work on the packaging, but if you’re expecting more of than, then prepare to be disappointed.
First up is the audio and video aspect of the release and, well, I have to say that I’m really surprised with how Warner Home Video handled the release. Remember when Batman Begins was released on DVD, how many considered it to be reference quality in terms of the audio and video transfer? Well, that mistake won’t be happening here. Warner Home Video, despite giving the feature the entire first disc to itself, has given The Dark Knight a disappointing audio and video transfer. The video comes across as too soft at times, with colors lacking vibrancy, and also suffers from some digital artifacting. And this sadly carries over to the audio transfer which is just shy of being a great one. It lacks that extra punch to make it a really great audio transfer. It’s a very active and involving audio transfer, but it’s not as aggressive as it should be. The audio and video is simply average when Warner Home Video really needed to make them great.
Above are the main menu screens for both discs in the Two-Disc Special Edition release. Scroll down to the bottom of the review to see a complete set of menu screengrabs.
So, how are the extras? Well, this is where the original Batman Begins two-disc release triumphs The Dark Knight in terms of content. The extras are severly lacking in this release. As expected, and not surprising, the first disc is devoid of special features save for the standard pre-menu trailers. The second disc also boots up with a couple pre-menu trailers before getting to the goods. And what are the goods? Well, not a lot.
First up are two featurettes available in the Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene section of the extras. The first featurette, called The Sound of Anarchy, looks at the film’s haunting score and runs just over six minutes. The second, called The Evolution of the Knight and running over 17 minutes, takes a look at the new Bat-suit, the Batpod, the cinematography and the use of IMAX when shooting key action sequences. Both are pretty light overall, allowing a brief look at assorted aspects of the film’s production. Oddly enough, none of the actors are seen and neither are any of the actual interview subjects. The majority of these interviews are provided with comments played out over assorted production footage and images, identified only through subtitles. The content itself is interesting, but, as I said, lightweight. To me, it seems as though the production on this film could have easily carried a feature-length documentary, the documentary we’ll probably get in the inevitable double-dip.
After that we get The Dark Knight IMAX Sequences, presenting the six key action sequences in their IMAX aspect ratio. The IMAX footage is windowboxed to a 1.43:1 aspect ratio while the regular sequences that intercut the IMAX footage is in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The scenes include “The Prologue,” “Hong Kong,” “The Armored Car Chase,” “The Lamborgini Crash,” “The Prewitt Building,” and “The Dark Knight” and run roughly 35 minutes in total. The video on these IMAX sequences look good, roughly the same quality as the main feature itself.
Following that is Gotham Tonight, a collection of the segments of the fictional Gotham Tonight news program featured both in the movie and in the movie’s promotion. There are six episodes in all, all of which touch on one aspect of the movie’s plotline or deal with a major character from the film. The six segments run roughly 46 minutes in total. Gotham Tonight episodes include “Election Night,” “Billionaire Without a Cause,” “Escalation,” “Top Cop,” “Cops and Mobsters,” and “Gotham’s White Knight.”
After that the disc is rounded off with a Digital Copy of the film, a collection of The Galleries, including poster art and production stills, and Trailers, collecting three theatrical trailers for the movie. Too many studios overlook including theatrical trailers and I’m glad Warner Home Video didn’t here.
I will give kudos to Warner Home Entertainment for making the IMAX sequences available separately outside of the movie on this DVD. The biggest flaw of the The Dark Knight Blu-ray, in my opinion, was the fact that it only had the IMAX sequences available and not the subsequent “regular aspect ratio” versions of the same sequences. Here, we get both. While I would have liked these sequences to have been available with the movie itself, and allow the viewer to switch back and forth between their preferred aspect ratio, it’s great that Warner Home Video has included them here, even as extras. Still, these sequences are easily one of the biggest extras in terms of length on this release, and that isn’t right. Overall, the extras run just over 110 minutes overall, including everything, and only 23 minutes of that is actually behind-the-scenes content. The two-disc Batman Begins DVD release had more content than that on its’ release, so it’s disappointing to see The Dark Knight get such a light load of bonus content. I’m dissatisfied to see Warner Home Entertainment give the The Dark Knight two-disc DVD release such an underwhelming showing.
Now, it’s obvious, especially after reviewing both the Blu-ray and two-disc DVD release, that Warner Home Video will be double-dipping on this title in the future, but there should still be more content here? The biggest movie of the year? The second biggest movie of all time? Seriously Oscar contender? And we get…this? A two-disc special edition that could easily fit on a one-disc release? I seriously believe that all the goodies that should be on here – such as a documentary, more with the late Ledger, production information – will be on a later release.
Please note that a one-disc release of The Dark Knight will also be available. There will be no bonus features on the single-disc edition.
And while you can count on another release of this film down the line, I wouldn’t completely avoid this DVD. The content here, however small, is nice and will likely not be repeated in further releases. If you’re able, purchasing both the DVD release and Blu-ray release is probably the best way to go for those who want to completely experience The Dark Knight in terms of presentation of the feature itself. Despite all their faults, they actually do compliment each other nicely. The Blu-ray presents the IMAX experience while the DVD provides the regular theatrical experience. And, given how this release is going to quite the popular item when it hits shelves, you can bet that you’ll be able to purchase both for a very fair price. So with that being said, and after careful consideration, I’m still going to give this release a Recommended stamp despite my misgivings and overall disappointment with the release. It’s just that great of a movie, The Dark Knight easily being one of the best films this year, that I’d recommend picking up an underwhelming DVD release until we get the inevitable double-dip. The Dark Knight is a smart movie laced with an incredible script, superb acting, and spectacular characters, and it belongs in everyone’s home video collection.
The Dark Knight: Two-Disc Special Edition hits Blu-ray and DVD on December 9th, 2008.