I doubt there was anyone who could have imagined the impact that The Dark Knight would have. Although no doubt bolstered by the last performance of the late Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight continued the blockbuster storyline from Batman Begins and introduced an array of new characters, both heroes and villains, and strung the audience along for the ride. The film would eventually go on to gross near a billion dollars worldwide, making it the second highest grossing film of all time. For a franchise that was once dead in the water for nearly a decade, Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman proved to be one of the best decisions Warner has made, both for their financial benefit and also for the benefit of Batman fans and movie goers alike.
The follow-up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in his continuing war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Ekchart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves effective. But soon the three find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.
After Batman Begins, my hype level for The Dark Knight was greatly diminished. It’s not that I didn’t love every second of the first film, I just simply saw too much of it before settling into the theater. Seeing how good the first film was I told myself I would watch nothing but the official trailers released for the film, and even then I cut it off after the second trailer was released in the States. A few images here and there and some hype for Ledger’s performance were all I allowed myself to play with and by the time the premiere day came, I was oddly calm before entering the theater. This may sound a bit ridiculous, but I, like many others, have spent years reading and enveloping myself in the world of Batman, whether it be comics, animation or film, there’s no medium of Batman I haven’t traversed.
Needless to say there was a giant smile upon my face during my entire viewing of The Dark Knight and I would have been perfectly contented to wait for the theater to set up again so that I could view it a second time. On a time crunch, however, I wasn’t allowed this leisure and my second viewing would have to come later. It did, a week later. And then a couple days again after that. And then a week later again, this time in IMAX. When all was said and done I ended up going to the theater for The Dark Knight five times. Each time I went with a different group, but anytime someone wanted to go see it I was right there, ready and willing. Needless to say I became absolutely obsessed with the film over the remaining months of the summer, draping a few of the films many posters on my walls and even going so far as to replace the wallpaper on my phone to images from the film. Yes…I was truly obsessed with this film and geeked out just about every way imaginable. I divulge all of this, of course, to let you know that I am about the last person you want to come to this film about for an unbiased view.
So what was so engaging to me about the film? The short answer is “everything,” as Nolan expounded upon what he created in the first film and heaped a myriad of layers on top of it. The cast, once again, was perfect and engaging. The score, while familiar, changed itself up enough and created a haunting theme for The Joker. Everything about this film simply felt more open and expansive. It’s hard to explain, but it almost feels entirely different from the first film in its cinematography and tone. The city is much more open, less dark (and brown) and expansive feeling. I always felt the city in Begins felt a bit too confined at times, although maybe that was a point of the film…who knows.
I was also delighted to see Eckhart as Harvey Two-Face, as I’d enjoyed his other films for many years (Thank You For Smoking especially). He made a wholly believable Dent and a frightening Two-Face and while I doubted the ability to have two villains on screen at the same time, the brief interactions between Joker and Two-Face were nothing short of brilliant. There isn’t a scene in this film I would drop in or change out, Nolan really tightened the screw on this one to the point where the film may have very well been flawless. Of course there are small little ticks I still find a bit irksome (the annoying GCPD SWAT member in the van, some of the prisoners on the boat segments also felt rather poorly acted at times), but overall there isn’t a segment of the main story that I would switch around at all.
Of course I can only go so long in this review before I can resist talking about Ledger’s performance. I knew, as an avid Bat-fan, that if this was the direction that Nolan was taking with the Clown Prince that the role itself was going to be very psychotic and twisted. I wasn’t sure about Ledger, but after hearing that first teaser trailer with his laugh, my worries were alleviated. I wasn’t even concerned about the scars on his face when that notorious image (used on the second disc artwork on the Blu-ray release) was released online. Without a doubt the film was elevated to a whole other level (and also received way more attention than it would have otherwise, sadly) due to his involvement and I cannot imagine another actor in the role. It’s bittersweet that the character lived on at the end, as even though he’ll exist in the world of Nolan’s universe, sadly the actor no longer exists in ours. Strictly speaking the Nolan universe isn’t known for keeping the same cast members around between movies, so I guess Joker showing up again wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, although given the circumstances behind why the recast would have to take place I doubt very much we’ll be seeing anymore purple coats in the future.
Speaking of recasts, I honestly feel that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s replacing Katie Holmes was for the better. While I didn’t necessarily object to Holmes in the first film, I realized I simply did not believe her enough…her acting just wasn’t on the same level as the rest of the actors. While some will argue Gyllenhaal isn’t as pretty of a face as Holmes, I’ll take her over Holmes any day, simply because the woman can act alongside the rest of the cast, all of whom just pulled out all the stops. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman and Christian Bale all did absolutely fantastic jobs in this film and it will no doubt go down as one of the best films in cinematic history because of it. At the very least it will be more welcomed at the top of the box office list than Titanic has been.
Visual effects in this film were also a leap over the last film, mainly in part due to the IMAX camera. While smaller, character-fueled sequences were shot with standard 35mm, the big action pieces of the film occurred in full IMAX glory that created for an absolutely astonishing viewing experience. I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as I’d hoped, but when I returned to the theater to see the film for a fifth time (the IMAX viewing was my fourth) I lamented the lack of massive screen and incredible sound system in the theater. It certainly was the ideal way to see the film and I’m glad I at least made the effort to see it once in the format, even if the closest theater was an hour away. The little CGI used in the film was also a boon for me, as I knew what I was seeing was actually real, although I would’ve bet that the hospital explosion was CGI…but no…that was absolutely real.
I’m sure I could go on for awhile about how much I love this film and the small details in it, from the realistic introduction of the bat-pod, to the redesigned suit and the brilliance of the script and the anarchistic turmoil that Gotham was thrust into because of a few small deeds by The Joker, but I’ll cut it here before I’m up several hours discussing this film. To boil it down simply, this film is a Must See. If the box office receipts and volumes of critical acclaim heaped on this film didn’t convince you, this isn’t just a great comic book film; it’s just a great film period. Everyone involved in this picture deserves a massive round of applause, as I doubt we’ll see something this remarkable again grace theaters for some time.
Oh boy…here we go. What will undoubtedly be the highest selling Blu-ray of all time and I actually have issues with it. I don’t feel they’re minor either, but I’ll get to those in due time. First off is the packaging for the film, which boasts a reflective foil slipcover on the outside with the bat-pod poster, while underneath we have a one-sheet of Joker standing in the street. I’m incredibly happy they gave us the two covers, as I really don’t think the bat pod, for a film of this stature, is enough to really sell the film. Then again I don’t think a single shot of Joker does it either, so it’s a nice marriage of the two. Even the rear art is different, with the slipcover “normal,” and the Joker backing all marked up with the similar graffiti style we saw early on in the films marketing campaign. Inside the packaging are three discs, two Blu-ray’s with the film and special features and a third with the digital copy. Inserts include a bit on Warner Bros. BD-Live features, as well as a redemption code for the digital copy and a notice about keeping your players firmware up to date.
Next up we have the VC-1 encoded variable 2.35:1/1.78:1 video transfer that looks absolutely astonishing. The IMAX sequences (1.78:1) especially are jaw-dropping in quality, with so much detail on the screen at any given time that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Although the 35mm (2.35:1) sequences are no slouch in the video quality department, the clarity of the IMAX print is just…it’s something you have to see to believe. It’s also a shocking comparison between the two prints, since they often interchange with one another as you watch the film itself, so it’s easy to compare the quality difference between the two.
And thus…that puts me at my main complaint against this release. As enjoyable and gorgeous as the IMAX sequences are…you can’t shut the damn things off. You’re forced to watch the film with changing aspect resolutions, which may be fine for a massively projected version of the film in a theater or on a big 60”+ LCD screen, but for me, the switch between the two ratios was simply jarring. I was mentally noting each time it happened and while I attempted to convince myself that this was an all right way to watch the film, I remembered how engaged I was while watching the film in the theater and how, even on the fifth viewing, my attention was purely focused on the screen. With this release, I felt my attention wandering, wondering when the aspect would change again. I finally got fed up with it by the time the hospital scene ended, where we see Joker leaving the building in IMAX, a quick cut to 35mm, and then back to IMAX again. I sat there in disbelief, wondering if that really just happened since it was so jarring. During the night sequences it isn’t quite so bad as the disappearing and reappearing black bars aren’t quite as obnoxious at that point, but…honestly, I’m going to have to pick up the DVD version of this film to watch on a regular basis just to actually engross myself in it, as ridiculous as that sounds. If you have yet to see this film, then please, please do not watch it on Blu-ray first. You will become rather annoyed at the changes and watching this film for the first time should not come with any kind of technical annoyances such as that. More than anything I’m actually surprised they didn’t include both versions; so many studios include both rated and unrated versions on the same disc now with no compromise in video quality and with a full 11gb of space leftover on the 50gb disc used for the first disc of the Blu-ray release, there was plenty of room for the non-IMAX versions.
Thankfully the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English track isn’t anywhere near as bothersome as the video transfer. The surrounds are used to a fantastic degree, with every one of the big sequences (usually denoted by IMAX ratio) throwing effects all around the room. The subwoofer also gets quite the work out, as Zimmer and Howard’s score is absolutely thudding, releasing copious amounts of bass for seemingly no reason. I didn’t mind it in the theater, but my subwoofers a bit big for my room and I get constant reverb whenever the music kicks up in this film, but that’s no fault but my own—I simply shouldn’t have bought such a big beast of a subwoofer for such a small room. Overall this is a fine audio mix and one that you’ll certainly get a lot of fun out of, especially during the bullet/brick test. I had some complaints about the noise once that scene ended. It was also nice to be able to hear some of the sound effects and music that was sometimes muddled by other sound effects and/or music—the night club sequence in particular was a bit of an aural mess in theaters, but its cleaner sounding here. Included are DD5.1 English, French and Spanish as well as English 2.0. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
And now for the extras, which I had high hopes for after the rather disappointing original two-disc release Batman Begins received (oh the horrors of that second disc menu…it still haunts me to this day). While there is certainly plenty to dig in here, with over three hours of bonus content from start to finish (all of which is in 1080i/p), I take issue with what it covers. I’ll get into that more as we go along, but first up we have the picture-in-picture Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene “Focus Points” (1:04:10) bits that play over the film itself if you have them enabled. Thankfully you can watch them by themselves as well, although obviously if you have the film itself going on behind it you’ll get a fuller effect. This is the only extra on the first disc and for the rest we traverse over to the second disc.
There are there areas of the second disc that house extras. The first is “Behind the Story” which brings us the two History Channel features “Batman Tech” (46:00) and “Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight” (46:03). To call these “Behind the Story” is a bit of a stretch, as these have nothing much to do with The Dark Knight and instead focus more on Batman Begins and a few tidbits on The Dark Knight. That’s to be expected since these were made prior to the film’s release, but tagging them as “behind the story” makes them sound like they’d actually be discussing The Dark Knight, when in fact both just talk about the character of Batman himself. Not to discredit these extras, they’re both quite entertaining to watch, but since we had access to these via History Channel before, they aren’t exactly new.
Under the next category, “Extras”, we have Gotham Tonight (46:42), six episodes of the news program in the film. These pieces are a bit hokey, but are interesting to watch nonetheless and those who followed the films impressive online marketing campaign will recognize some of these (I hesitated to watch the majority of them, so these may have actually all been online at some point, I’m not sure). Also under this category are The Galleries which include Joker Cards, Concept Art, Poster Art, and Production Stills. Under “Trailers and More” we have three theatrical trailers and six TV spots (8:49) and that wraps up the extras.
Yee-up…you heard me. That’s it. While the absence of a commentary isn’t that surprising since Batman Begins didn’t receive, the complete void left on this set is astounding. This film grossed near a billion dollars, will likely be up for some Oscar gold in the coming months and this set is all but devoid of extras discussing the actual story of the film, the actors and…well, anything not related to the special effects or scene setups. As interesting as it was to learn about the IMAX shooting process, we only hear from Nolan and a handful of crew on the film. Christian Bale chimes in once to discuss something and that’s all we hear from the cast of the film. We hear a few praise Ledger’s work and we actually get a brief glimpse at an unused Joker shot, but that’s all there is. I’m not complaining about the extras we did get, mind you, as the “Creation of a Scene” extras are extremely interesting and engaging, but for a film of this caliber…I’m just disappointed as both a Batman fan as well as a movie fan.
Between the annoying aspect ratio change and the lackluster extras, I’m actually going to have to toss this one into the Rental pile, just to see and hear how the film looks and sounds on Blu-ray. I do not recommend this release to be your first viewing of the film as I feel strong enough about the aspect ratio changes that I think they would be enough to tear you out of what is an otherwise incredibly engaging and enthralling film to watch. Perhaps I’m just blowing it out of proportion, but I would genuinely recommend getting the two-disc DVD edition (although that release does not contain the History Channel specials) over this release if you want to enjoy the movie without any distractions. It’s incredibly disappointing for me that I have to designate the Blu-ray release the “lesser” of the releases, but considering the insane sales this will likely produce regardless, I doubt it will matter much if I have to drop a negative on it. I guess I just expected more from the home video release…apparently I hyped myself in reverse this time.
The Dark Knight arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on December 9th.