The Dark Knight on Blu-ray
By Jim Bray
Though not quite as good as "Batman Begins", the best of all the Batman movies to date, the 2008 sequel "The Dark Knight" is a terrific adventure on screen and in the home theater.
Many would disagree with my assertion that Batman Begins is better, but a lot of it has to do with my love of "origin" stories, which is also why Spidey 1 and Superman 1 were my favorites.
I tried to see the movie in IMAX during its initial release and ended up being forced into a shoebox-type multiplex theater instead, suffering through a picture dark and fuzzy and audio muddy yet overly loud. It was a horrible experience that, yet again, turned me off movie theaters.
But I could see and hear enough that I nearly salivated in anticipation of the Blu-ray's appearance, so we could watch the film properly via our 106 inch screen filled by our reference Epson 1080p projector and with what turned out to be Dolby TrueHD audio as reproduced by our reference Rotel equipment and JBL speakers. I was especially anxious, since Batman Begins was such a great, reference quality Blu-ray in its own right.
And boy, was I not disappointed. The Dark Knight is a fabulous home theater experience, a roller coaster ride that's exciting, smart, and a delight for the senses.
Heath Ledger got most of the hype thanks to his unique way of ensuring he isn't available for any subsequent sequels regardless of how much money they wave under his nose. And his Joker is, indeed, a classic performance. He's a real whack job, a loon with a chip on his shoulder large enough to have been capable of saving half the Titanic's passenger roster if it had been floating around the north Atlantic way back then.
Whereas Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero's Jokers were evil buffoons, Ledger's is chilling. Is it an Oscar-caliber performance? Who knows? But it's definitely startling.
Alas, lost in the hype was Christian Bale returning as Bruce Wayne/Batman, in a characterization I thought made him the best of all Batmen when he donned the cowl in "Batman Begins." He has this character nailed, right down to the way he disguises his voice when cloaked. He's completely believable, in an unbelievable role.
Also lost was Michael Caine's warm turn as Alfred and Morgan Freeman's as Q (oops, wrong movie franchise), er, Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as the eventual Commissioner Gordon, and Aaron Eckhart as new District Attorney Harvey Dent (who becomes Two-Face). Eric Roberts also turns in an excellent performance in a smaller role as a crime figure.
The weak link is Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne's former love interest who's now involved with Dent. She replaces Katie Holmes, but she can't fill her shoes. It's a shame, because everything else in the movie works so well.
I won't dwell on the story, both because I don't want to spoil it and because you probably know it already. Suffice it to say The Joker isn't your average super villain and his diabolical plots challenge Batman and the Gotham police (and the D.A. department) to their utmost. And the plots just keep unfolding as Joker nearly always seems to be one step ahead of the good guys; just when you think Batman and the forces of good are going to pull it off, all hell breaks loose again.
The script is smart and thoughtful, not your typical comic book fare. It's a look at life and civilization and not just good and evil presented with black and white characters.
It's a bit long, at 153 minutes, but I can't think of much that could be cut – and it never gets boring.
Watching the Blu-ray on a truly large screen with oodles of audio power is definitely the best way to see it. I hoped it would be good, since Warner Brothers' excellent presentation of Batman Begins was so outstanding, and I wasn't disappointed.
The 1008p picture is presented in two aspect ratios, flipping from one to the other seamlessly. It begins in 1.78:1, the IMAX-filmed opening robbery, and subsequent IMAX scenes pop up to fill the home theater screen fully when they come along. The rest of the time the aspect ratio is 2.4:1 and that can actually feel just a tad closed in after the gigantic IMAX sections.
But it works for the most part, prompting more than one "wow" from the audience as we watched it. Then we started noticing it and calling out "Look, it's gone into IMAX again", which kind of got in the way a bit.
Both aspect ratios look terrific, however. This is a reference quality disc that's sharp and colorful and which offers real depth. There's really nothing to complain about so far as the picture is concerned, no artifacts, etc. In all, a gorgeous presentation for which Warners deserves credit. I wish all Blu-rays looked this good.
The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround, and it's as stunning as the picture, another store demo-worthy presentation. All the audio channels get good exercise here, with excellent separation and placement around the room, and your subwoofer has been waiting for a soundtrack like this one for a while. In all, very dynamic and involving and rewarding.
The Dark Knight Blu-ray is a three disc set, one of which is a digital copy. Disc one contains the movie and "Focus Points," a series of behind the scenes vignettes that are pretty interesting, though the Blu-ray format can do a better job of the interactivity. Still, some of it's neat; I especially enjoyed the sections that dealt with the challenges of shooting an action film in IMAX.
Disc two has a couple of very good documentaries, both of which are presented in high def. The first one, "Batman Tech" looks at the gadgets the dark knight has used over the decades since he was first introduced to the comic book world. It's full of interesting stuff and very worth your time.
So's "Batman Unmasked", the second documentary. It brings together comic book historians, criminologists and shrinks to poke around inside Batman's head and, like the previous doc, it's more concerned with Batman's overall history than this movie specifically, though connections with The Dark Knight are of course there.
Of the two, I preferred "Tech," but to each his own.
You also get "Gotham Tonight," six fake newscasts, some five galleries of stills that cover concepts, production, posters, etc. And of course there are trailers and TV spots.
The set also features the Blu-ray Live feature that lets you log onto a web site and download more extras. I got bored wit BD Live after my first attempt and could care less if it were included on any more discs. Your experience may be different, and that's fine.
But to me, it's the movie that counts and everything else is gravy, and with its Blu-ray presentation of The Dark Knight, Warner Brothers has really hit it out of the park.
The Dark Knight, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.