Blu-ray Review: The Dark Knight Rises



In what has just been a great all-around year for movies, minus a few lulls now and again, there was no other film that I anticipated as highly as The Dark Knight Rises. But anticipation also leads to heightened expectation. The Dark Knight, the second in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a classic, and was a watershed moment for comic book movies. You might as well call it a game changer. If Batman Begins signaled a new direction in making comic book heroes grounded and treating the subject serious, then its follow-up pushed the concept further, embodying a high concept crime drama (Nolan has said in interviews that Michael Mann’s Heat was a big inspiration). And Heath Ledger took his villainous performance as The Joker to a whole different level. His character is no doubt a lunatic, but the methodology of his actions was a means to have Batman’s moral compass waver. The Batman is a vigilante who deals with the lawbreakers of Gotham City but does so in a respectable way – delivering bumps and bruises instead of straight up murder. The ending of The Dark Knight pushed the Batman character in a new direction and would have been enough of a fitting conclusion should Nolan and his creative staff not pursued a third feature.

What is accomplished in The Dark Knight Rises is something that is said by Bruce Wayne during a conversation with his trusty butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in Batman Begins.

People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored, I can be destroyed. But as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.

As Batman, Bruce Wayne has saved the citizens of Gotham from the organization that trained him, The League of Shadows, and a glorified clown terrorist in The Joker. The problem The Dark Knight Rises faces is the payoff. The passing of Heath Ledger curtailed any continuation of The Joker. So Nolan and his writing partners, brother Jonathan and David Goyer, went in a new direction and constructed a scenario where Batman as a symbol could be realized. However, the film’s big ideas and themes are projected more through exposition than emotion. And I’m not sure that The Dark Knight Rises earns its ending.

Picking up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, which saw district attorney Harvey Dent dead and now honored with his own day of mourning (“Harvey Dent Day”), Bruce Wayne has resigned himself to Howard Hughes status at the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor. When the new villain Bane makes his mark on Gotham, Wayne decides to don his cape and cowl once more. Dismissing the pleas of butler Alfred, a prideful Bruce Wayne fights Bane man to man with the means to stop his growing terrorist operation. But the fight proves fruitless for Wayne, who is no match physically to defeat Bane.

Bane breaks Batman’s back and locks the crippled Bat in an underground prison halfway around the world. Making sure the weaponry found in Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences division doesn’t go to waste, Bane and his crew steal weapons and vehicles, and a fusion reactor turned into a nuclear device. Holding the city captive, Bane, like The Joker, devises his own experiment to see what measures the citizens would take knowing that Gotham City was inescapable. Of course, Gotham’s only hope is the Dark Knight who must first get back in fighting shape. But we don’t see him chasing chickens or running up the steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum a la Rocky. Nope, just a little primitive chiropractic work and a leap of faith to get his mojo back. But will Batman arrive in time to save the city? Well, if it were Adam West as Batman we would find out the answer next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

The Dark Knight Rises had everything going for it to make it the greatest finale of an epic trilogy. Strong ideas; fun action sequences; half the cast of Inception (also a Christopher Nolan film); and calling back to the League of Shadows so everything comes full circle. So why does it seem repetitive? Maybe it’s because the Dark Knight has to rise twice. Three times if you count Bruce Wayne being outsmarted by a cat burglar and falling on the floor as a result. But perhaps it is again another reference to Batman Begins.

Alfred to Bruce Wayne: Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

When I wrote my theatrical review back in July I indicated that “The Dark Knight Rises has its share of problems that prevent it from being as iconic as The Dark Knight, but the film will remain that last hurrah giving Nolan’s Batman trilogy superiority over all other superhero movies.” The last installment is far from perfect, but Christopher Nolan’s ability to tap into societal breakdowns with Gotham City as a microcosm for the world is a novel approach. Maybe it’s because Nolan keeps setting the bar so high that we expect greatness all the time. The Dark Knight Rises is good, but I found both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to be more powerful overall.

Warner Home Video’s release of The Dark Knight Rises on Blu-ray comes as a Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack. Inside the case are two Blu-rays (one for the feature film; one for the special features), one DVD, and instructions for accessing your High Definition UltraViolet copy of the film. There are also instructions for downloading the Dark Knight Rises FX HD App, which is already live and features exclusive content when synced with a Blu-ray Disc or digital download version of the film (some portions of the app work regardless of whether or not you have the movie).

Those who don’t already own the first two films, WHV has you covered with The Dark Knight Trilogy, which includes all three films. If you are die hard fans of the series, Best Buy is the exclusive retailer of a steelbook release of The Dark Knight Rises that includes an extra featurette not found on the standard Blu-ray.

Note: Next year Warner Bros. will release The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition.

Sizing up the video and audio, The Dark Knight Rises has a near-perfect HD encode that swaps between 2.40:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratios in an attempt to mirror the film’s original IMAX presentation. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is gold and looks fantastic on Blu-ray. The IMAX footage is reference quality material to make your friends envious of your LED, LCD, Plasma, or Projector set-up.

If you live in an apartment complex and want to wake the neighbors, the aggressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA track will do the trick. As impressive as the film is visually, the audio is just otherworldly. People who complained about Bane’s manipulated voice when the film’s original six-minute IMAX trailer premiered with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol thanked their lucky stars when the film finally arrived and the voice was decipherable. However, I think Bane’s voice has been further altered for the home video release, because it is definitely one of the audio’s biggest highlights. The rest of the dialog is just as clear.

The individual sound effects and music score are discernable in surround sound creating a very immersive experience. And bass-lovers are going to love the rumble. Just skip to the football stadium sequence and feel the room shake. Definitely one of the best 5.1 soundtracks I’ve heard.

If it’s extras you are interested in, the Blu-ray release is the only way to go. Warners has made the supplements exclusive to the high-def release. Judging from the back cover you might think the disc is lacking in special features, but that is further from the truth.

Already mentioned is The Dark Knight Rises FX HD App. Since I don’t have an iPhone or iPad this feature is lost on me, but apparently you can take an image of yourself and plaster across the different posters used to promote the film.

The Batmobile (58:17). Everything you wanted to know about Batman’s favorite means of transportation but were afraid to ask. The hour-long documentary includes interviews with directors Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, and Joel Schumacher, plus other artists, writers, editors, and even some fans make up history of all versions of the Batmobile. An interesting watch for fans that wish they could drive Batman’s wheels.

Ending The Knight, isn’t a singular documentary but allows the viewer to access multiple featurettes covering the making of The Dark Knight Rises, particularly the production, the characters and reflections.

Production. Includes the following:

      The Prologue: High Altitude Hijacking (7:52)
      Return to the Batcave (3:37)
      Beneath Gotham (2:34)
      The Bat (11:08)
      Batman vs. Bane (6:07)
      Armory Accepted (3:19)
      Gameday Destruction (6:44)
      Demolishing a City Street (4:15)
      The Pit (3:04)
      The Chant (5:19)
      Race to the Reactor (7:52)

Characters. Gives us a deeper look at Bruce Wayne, Bane and Catwoman.

      The Journey of Bruce Wayne (8:53)
      Gotham’s Reckoning (10:05)
      A Girl’s Gotta Eat (9:26)

Reflections. In this last section we look at the problems with shooting in a large format (ahem, IMAX) and ultimately finishing the trilogy.

      Shadows & Light in Large Format (5:37).
      The End of a Legend (9:04)

Rounding out the extras we have the Trailer Archive (8:35), which contains four trailers, and a Print Campaign Art Gallery.

The Dark Knight Rises is an epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman. However, because the bar was raised so high with The Dark Knight, a film that could make the argument as the best film of the 2000s, this one falls short, lacking the same balance of character, plot and emotion. As a Blu-ray, the video transfer is luscious and the audio is thunderous and dynamic. The supplements are strong as well, with a neat documentary on the various Batmobiles and many featurettes on the making of The Dark Knight Rises. Even fans of the first two installments that felt the conclusion lacking the Blu-ray is recommended for the demo potential alone. If you’re not a fan of the franchise, then anything I’ve written above probably won’t sway you see the trilogy now.

Warner Home Video presents The Dark Knight Rises. Directed by: Christopher Nolan. Written by: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on characters created by Bob Kane. Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Running time: 164 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released: December 4, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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