Writer’s note: Portions of this review were taken from my theatrical review of The Dark Knight.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.” (The Joker, after he found out how much money The Dark Knight made in theaters)
Nobody saw it coming. Prior to its release, you couldn’t have predicted that The Dark Knight would do the type of business it did. Never mind the ticket-price increases or the added revenue from IMAX showings, five hundred million dollars is still a lot money. Sure, Heath Ledger’s untimely passing made the film a curiosity. But curiosity is a fad, something to get the audience that first weekend for a huge opening. Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins, however, was more than a passing interest. It grew from being just a comic-book movie to being the movie of summer, maybe the year.
Cumulative grosses and critical praise, this was a blockbuster that was embraced by all walks of life. Ledger’s death may have been a lightening rod, but the word of mouth brought people out to experience not just a film, but an event film.
The Dark Knight is a crime drama in a world that is inhabited by superheroes and villains. The beacon for the citizens of Gotham City is Batman. Also nicknamed the “Caped Crusader,” Batman is essentially a vigilante, yet the justice he dispenses is honorable. He doesn’t use guns, and he doesn’t take another’s life. Batman’s law-breaking means is for instilling hope to a city that is in short supply.
Batman is trying to rid the metropolis of mobsters and racketeers. Those same villains want to do to the same to Batman. So they hire some outside muscle, reluctantly: The Joker (Ledger).
Some could argue that The Dark Knight begins and ends with Heath Ledger’s performance. An exercise in lunacy, his Joker is an all too disturbing portrayal. This isn’t Jack Nicholson pulling a long-barreled revolver out of his pants, or Cesar Romero wearing a pound of white makeup over his trademark mustache. This is a different kind of creepy. The type we haven’t seen since the likes of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
He has no backstory. He contradicts the anecdote on how he got the scars on his face. And what a look: unmistakable, with red lipstick, white-and-black face paint and pockets full of small knives – many of which have handles and blades that were fastened together.
Rarely is it the case that a movie transcends the genre. Even for a comic-book movie. Up until the Spider-man franchise, Richard Donner’s Superman was seen as the greatest comic book to screen translation. Now Christopher Nolan digs deeper into the psyche of his characters in a genre that is already inhabited by web-slingers, iron men and daredevils.
Beginning with Batman Begins, Nolan hit the reset button on the struggling franchise (four films that got progressively worse with each new sequel) and started anew. He wanted to present a feeling of realism, that a Batman could be the watchful protector over the hopeless, a guardian of the night. With the sequel Nolan presents an even greater tragedy, where the characters and their actions – and the motivation behind it all – consume you for much of its two-and-a-half-hour running time. But it doesn’t feel lengthy at all.
Outside of Ledger’s creepy portrayal, the film features a who’s-who of acting giants. Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, the billionaire who masquerades as the Batman. In his corner are trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine), honest cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and the designer of all those fancy Bat gadgets, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).
Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the morally upstanding District Attorney of Gotham, is a hero that doesn’t need masks to protect his identity. He’s a visible figure that the citizens can get behind. Because he is visible, however, it also makes him a target for assassination.
With each successive viewing of The Dark Knight one’s attention can be drawn to a specific character. The Joker is the most obvious. He is forceful and dark and menacing. Combustible. Twisting and turning every which way, the breaking down of morals and altruistic ideals, his performance is draining. The relationship he has with Batman will play with your head. Neither wishes the other dead. “You complete me,” the Joker tells the Batman. This single line, though a derivative of Jerry Maguire, reinforces the idea that each exists because of the other.
Eckhart as Dent is just as strong a character. When he undergoes his transformation, you see just how an honorable man can become corruptible. Not because of money, but rather love.
Outside of a great story and characters, there’s plenty of action that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Nolan is a director who uses stunt work and pyrotechnics in place of computerized effects whenever possible. The added use of IMAX technology creates a visual pop of long, looming shots of Gotham’s skyline. And the IMAX film is used in many of the great action sequences, the multi-vehicle chase through tunnels and streets specifically.
Nolan stretches the limits of the PG-13 rating. Graphic images and sinister plot elements abound, but don’t let that dissuade you. This is one of the best films of 2008. Multi-layered and intelligent, with emotional highs and lows, this is a two-and-half hour roller coaster of action and drama, and it’s simply the reason you love movies in the first place.
I’ve read complaints about the image quality for the DVD release of The Dark Knight. Fortunately, this is a great-looking Blu-ray. The visuals are sharp, even in the day-time scenes. The blacks are solid, coming from a spotless source. The Blu-ray presentation alternates from the 2.40:1 aspect ratio to 1.78:1. The change in aspect ratios is for the IMAX sequences. To some this may be distracting, seeing your HDTV screen with a full screen of picture, only to later see black bars on the top and bottom.
The technical marvels continue with the TrueHD 5.1 mix. Wow! Even for a small, home-theater-in-a-box setup, you can feel the punch of the soundtrack. Sample scenes like the aforementioned chase sequence and you can hear the separation of the multiple channels. Along with the TrueHD mix, are DD 5.1 mixes in English, French and Spanish, as well as an English DD 2.0 mix.
The Dark Knight comes to Blu-ray as a three-disc set. The majority of the extras can be found on the second disc (in full 1080 video) and the third disc is reserved for a digital copy.
Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene (64 minutes) – This hour-long documentary incorporates production photos, scenes from the The Dark Knight and behind-the-scenes video, and overlays that with a mix of voiceovers and musical score. Whenever a voice is heard, a graphic appears identifying the person and his job function during the production. The feature, while short when compared to the film’s length, is the closest thing we get to a commentary track. Here we learn how the major action sequences and stunts were done “in camera” without the use of computer graphics.
The viewer is given a few options on how to experience the so-called “Focus Points.” At the special features menu you can select to watch the entire film with the focus points om. As the movie plays an icon will appear that will gain you access to the feature. But you have to manually click your remote to watch them.
For those that don’t want to immerse themselves in the experience this way, you can watch all eighteen featurettes individually or as a complete package. You can’t go wrong either way, but for me, going straight to a particular sequence (see the “truck flip”) is the best, because you get the instant gratification of seeing how such a stunt was done without the help of computerized special effects.
Batman Tech (45 minutes) – This is the first of the two main docs available on disc two. The “tech” refers to the various gadgets, gear and vehicles used in the Batman comics and films. Originally airing on the History Channel, it’s a by-the-numbers documentary that points out how Batman’s gadgets aren’t that far removed from military researchers and their experiments with new technology.
Batman Unmasked (45 minutes) – The second doc goes under the skin of the bat and examines just what makes Batman tick. Included is a host of comic book veterans, psychologists, criminologists who discuss Bruce Wayne’s history, and how he is similar to such historical figures as Teddy Roosevelt.
Together these documentaries provide a healthy dose of contextual material in understanding Batman and his gadgets, but at the same time it seems like a marketing ploy. I have a sneaking suspicion that a larger expose on The Dark Knight will come in the future. Hopefully one that goes into the virtual marketing campaign as well as the cultural impact the film had, netting over 500 million in the U.S. alone.
Gotham Tonight (46 minutes) – Found in the extras section (though I don’t really understand the placement since all of the special features on the disc are extras anyway) is a series of Gotham newscasts. Those tired of watching Dead Zone reruns can get your Anthony Michael Hall fix with these fake newscasts. Stories range from “Cops and Mobsters” to “Billionaire without a Cause.”
Still Galleries – There are four galleries and your fingers will get quite the workout navigating through each one. Or you can lay back and watch the photos change every few seconds. Each gallery has 60-or-so photos of Concept Art, Poster Art, Production Stills and Joker Cards.
Trailers/TV Spots – In this section you’ll find the teaser and two theatrical trailers and six TV spots. All of them are of good quality. Even the TV spots look stunning with their 2.40:1 widescreen presentation and full 1080i/VC-1 video and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.
Digital Copy – A digital copy that is compatible with PCs, PSP and iTunes. (Film is in standard definition only.)
The Dark Knight also includes BD-Live functionality. Viewers will have the ability to record their own video commentary that can be shared with others online. The track will play as a picture-in-picture track while your friends watch. (Another Blu-ray player is required.)
Other features include an online destination where you can shop the WB Store, download trailers of other Warner Blu-ray releases, create your own wishlist of upcoming WB Blu-ray titles, and even create a database listing for your current high-def library.
There’s nothing really left that needs to be said about The Dark Knight. It’s more than just a great superhero film. It’s a great film period. It’s so good that you have to wonder if another Christopher Nolan exploration of Batman is necessary. The Blu-ray comes equipped with strong visuals and an audio mix that will jolt your ears. The extras could have been more, but hey, that’s what double-dips are for. As it stands, I highly recommend this release.
Warner Bros. presents The Dark Knight. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Written by David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan. Running time: 152 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on Blu-ray: December 9, 2008. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, gary oldman, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, morgan freeman, The Dark Knight, Warner Bros.