The Dark Knight Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Nov 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    The Dark Knight Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £22.31


    The Dark Knight, save for a couple of very slight niggles, offers possibly one of the best live-action transfers on Blu-ray. Utterly pristine and devoid of damage, artefacts, noise or DNR, Warner's disc is amazing.

    As already mentioned, Chris Nolan opted to use IMAX cameras to film six large-scale action sequences. Although the film plays out in 2.40:1 (encoded via VC-1) for its majority, these scenes zoom out to fill the screen at 1.78:1 with scintillating detail and a vividness that will have you believing that you gliding down from impossible heights with Batman and surveying the sprawling steel and glass canyons of Gotham from the skies. Now, detail is considerable during these scenes and something that is guaranteed to impress. Big action set-pieces, such as the bank-heist and Joker truck carnage are loaded with the delights of extra resolution, but it is the jaw-dropping scale and depth of the location shots that constantly wows. Mind you, I have got to say that there is some shimmering taking place, particularly as the camera roves past towers of gleaming windows or the patterned geometry of endless rows of buildings. Nothing too detrimental, but enough to dampen the splendour ever so slightly.

    Elsewhere, the film is opened-up with more daylight sequences than first time around, many more locations - the pristine sight of a gleaming Hong Kong is especially welcome - and some tremendously moody, Michael Mann cool night blues. These daylight scenes are bolstered by absolute clarity and spot-on contrast, the natural light and texture providing an image that is like a window. Finite delineation is never in question even in the long shots - just look at Loebb's funeral parade, the mass exodus and people-jams during the final act, or the gobsmacking image of the hospital exploding. But, of course, close-ups fare just as magnificently, with material, facial and costume texture (look at Scarecrow's burlap mask), Joker paint, office props and fluttering debris from the many, many explosions all rendered with further superb clarity whether the scene is light or dark.. And then there is the grisly delight of Harvey's stripped-raw face, which will no doubt provoke much scrutiny - the bared sinews and tendons, the blistered bones and teeth and that rolling eyeball.

    Colours are bright and extremely well-saturated. Primaries are bold and leap from the screen. The Dark Knight is nowhere near as grim or muted as its predecessor and many scenes, shots and images provide reference-quality hues and shades. The radiant gleam of Wayne's Lamborghini, the yellow sow'esters of the ferry crew, the greens, reds, whites and purples of the Joker, himself, the beautiful, if eerie, clown masks of his henchmen, especially during that spellbinding opening, the half-baked half-face of Harvey and ... take a deep breath ... the awesome array of orange-red-black fireballs that punctuate the movie every so often - everything the spectrum throws at this movie, the disc handles with precision, warmth and vibrancy.

    The exquisite blacks are beautifully deep and robust and totally consistent in depth and strength. Shadow delineation is faultless, whether we are talking about high rooftops, murky streets and underpasses, mob meetings in subdued interiors or the deep noire of the Batsuits ... all of them. Those Michael Mann-style midnight blues are smooth and entrancing and flow between the shadows of the deeper blacks and the rest of the image with ease. Look at the tiny pinpricks of silver light gleaming light from the Bat's eyes and, gorgeously, look at the Joker's face sliding within the shadows of the interrogation room before Jim Gordon, a little pocket of depravity. Skin-tones, throughout, are natural and faces are exceptionally well-detailed in addition.

    Three-dimensionality is at a premium during the IMAX segments - objectivity is firm and fully-realised from the closest feature to the furthest figure in the depths of the image - but is prevalent throughout the entire film, with even the most crowded interior shots - the holding pens in the MCU, for instance, or the fund-raising party - looking alive with visual presence and realistic perception. The Dark Knight roaring down streets and through plazas on the Batpod offers some extraordinarily “in-yer-face” imagery too, especially when he is seen barrelling towards us, and even the sliding back of the door on the Joker's truck to reveal him and his goons perched there with ballistic anticipation has that innate sense of depth that hi-def brings out.

    Now, despite all this good - no-greatness, The Dark Knight does have a couple of problems. Okay, some people - and I know several who have denounced the transfer because of this - don't like the chop 'n' chance aspect from 2.40 to IMAX 1.78, but this is an intended visual design to the film. When you think about it, the movie was made with this swing-shift already inherent in its look and, as far as I am concerned, the snap to and from fuller to narrower screen, and vice-versa, looks fine and its enacted very smoothly. In fact, after a while, I didn't even notice it as being a different aspect - just enjoyed that richer, deeper and more fascinating imagery. However, I did spot a couple of instances when motion drag seemed to take the edge off the transfer. This seemed noticeable to me only regarding Batman moving about - when he gets up after being slammed into the wall by the Scarecrow's van, for instance. Only slight, folks, and I wouldn't go looking for it - if you don't see it, then that's great. There is also some minor edge enhancement on a couple of shots that I don't think is entirely down to back-lighting - but, once again, this is minimal and shouldn't be sought out if you don't see it.,

    Thus, despite containing imagery here that is, undoubtedly, hi-def perfection, because of these iddy-biddy faults I can't give The Dark Knight full marks. Once again, it is a shame that we cannot officially grant half-marks, because I would have no hesitation in awarding it 9.5 out of 10. Mind you, unofficially, that is exactly what it deserves.


    The Dark Knight Picture


    Warner unleash The Dark Knight onto Blu-ray with a reference quality TrueHD track that rises to the challenge of bringing one of the most incredible, pumping, immersive and detailed soundtracks of the year to the home market.

    The sound design, much like the first film, is bass-heavy and geared for all-channel usage right from the get-go. At the flicks, it was easy to pick out the moments that would sound great on disc but what you possibly didn't notice was the discrete and subtle elements that were smuggled in along with the chaos, all of which are picked out and clearly rendered with this lossless track. The high points are too many to mention, but you can't go wrong with the Batmobile's sudden gate-crashing arrival at the Scarecrow's gathering, or fail to be ultra-wowed by the SWAT-van sequence, with a tumbling Tumbler, lots of high-calibre firing, more crunching metal than a Transformers smack-down and the incredible roaring introduction of the Bat-pod.

    Split-channel effects abound throughout the movie. Voices and gunfire echo around the soundstage with tremendous aggression. Poor Harvey sitting in the back of that SWAT van may not feel reassured when some mighty big dents (or should that be Dents) hammer away at its flimsy hide, but you can rest assured that the ballistic broadside packs some real heft. Objects and vehicles that happen to be in the path of the racing Batpod get blasted out of the way with incredibly directionalised oomph - distant cars rising up in flames sound genuinely further back, whilst glass walls and alleyway-junk are more immediately placed before and around us. The roaring of the pod's engine also helps to have you weaving from side to side as Batman veers through an arcade.
    and the sound of the Sky-Hooking plane comes overhead with real presence, thrumming across the ceiling. Shattering glass is eminently dispersed around the soundscape, too. Rejoice, boom-boom-fans, this is a strong, loud and powerful mix that is not as dominated by the score as it frequently sounded at the flicks - every single element of the soundtrack has its correct spatial position. Nothing is ever drowned out, submerged or dwarfed by anything else. Whatever the audio chaos going on around it, dialogue is always clear and distinct and realistically steered - a quiet, reflective voice by a child's bedside, the haunting speech from both Batman and Jim Gordon at that emotional climax and, oh yeah, that little rasping lick of the lips that the Joker does.

    The snap of Marino's shin-bones, the intimate crunch of a bottle swung at Batman, the fizz of electric shocks - emanating from the bank vault and Batman's little suit booby-trap - the ringing of a mobile phone, etc, etc ... all completely pin-sharp, excellently placed and totally believable. The sub-action - including Batman's voice, eh - is staggeringly effective. There are way too many superlative, bar-raising examples to list here, since every impact has a solid weight of power behind it. But, let's face it, William Fichtner's (yep, the great William Fichtner as that ballsy mobster-cum-bank manager) shotgun booming out during the robbery, the incredible, floor-shifting series of explosions that tear the hospital apart, the incendiary death-traps that kill and maim Bruce's nearest and dearest, just about every vehicular crunch and crash and Batman landing on the roof of Scarecrow's van - all offer some of the best LFE. currently decorating any disc.

    And the rear support is frequently active and always authentic with its catalogue of discrete noises and ambience and the carrying of panning effects - vehicles, gunshots, crowd movement etc.

    I think you get the point, don't you? The Dark Knight sounds as near to perfect as you can possibly get it.


    The Dark Knight Sound


    A three-disc affair, Warner's BD release may seem reasonably well-stocked, but there really isn't much meat to it, I'm afraid.

    As well as carrying the BD-Live feature - none of which is available yet - and the movie, Disc 1 contains the Focus Points, an elaborate set of behind-the-scenes vignettes covering such things as the new Bat-suit, the stunts and action, the theme for the Joker, the broader elements of the screenplay, expanding Gotham and the rigmarole of filming with IMAX. There are numerous little episodes that are activated by you when an icon appears on-screen, or available separately from the menu. The segments are full-screen and, as interesting as they are, don't make up for the lack of a commentary track, in my opinion. Much of the material is found elsewhere and none of it is wildly revelatory. Moreover, the focus loiters around the more action-orientated aspects of the film, which naturally leaves a lot of the emotional and psychological themes barely touched-upon.

    Disc 2

    We gain access into the world of Batman via a look at his weapons, gadgets and tools in Batman Tech. Lasting for 45 minutes and taking in such far-ranging fare as heat-vision, grappling hooks, flying-suits and vehicle innovation, this pretty interesting - but still quite fluffy - feature amasses a number of participants, from DC honchos and Batman editors, to CIA museum curators (!) and inventors who all assert that the majority of the Dark Knight's equipment is practically available today. And the stuff that isn't - the memory cloth for the cape, for example - just isn't ready yet. Some great footage and examination of Kevlar and air-inflated flying suits - just look close those flyers are to the mountainside!!! Jeez! Everything that the Bat has used since his early days is covered, from cowl to utility belt and from Batarang to Batpod. Enjoyable hokum, folks ... nothing more.

    What should have been an essential element of this package, and something that I am pleased that they, at least, thought about, is Batman Unmasked: The Psychology Of The Dark Knight. But this second documentary (also 45 mins) lacks weight and integrity and comes across as woefully light on anything even approaching the emotional and intellectual might that the Nolan's have embedded into their movie. We hear from DC bods, criminologists and psychologists, but their theories and diagnoses of Batman and the Rogues he goes up against offers nothing new or profound. A shame.

    A bit of fun comes courtesy of the six little episodes of Gotham Tonight, created especially for this release, which are possibly the best extras to be found. Totalling another 45 mins with a Play All option, these I found to be extremely entertaining. Done wholly in the style of whip-snap media talk-show and topical discussion, the episodes run in chronological order and trace the swapping of power from the Carmine Falcone Family to Sal Marino, via Harvey Dent's highly publicised campaign to bring him to justice and uproot the cancer growing in the heart in the Gotham PD. Alternating between news journalist and TV pundit, Mike Engel (Weird Science's Anthony Michael Hall reprising his role from the movie) and his luscious co-journo, Lydia Something-or-Other between episodes, this is great, fully developed stuff that fits into the mythology of the new films perfectly - it actually ends with the breaking news of the Joker's robbery of the mob bank. Well acted and presented with eye-witness accounts and convincing interviews with the grieving parents of a teenager who fell victim to a drug spiked with Dr. Crane's fear toxin, political analysts looking at whether Batman is a friend or a foe, and scoop-like insider profiles on billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and ascendant cop Lt. Jim Gordon, the icing on the cake comes in the immensely entertaining use of Aaron Eckhart as Dent, Eric Roberts as Sal Morino - “You know what I'm saying?” and even Colin McFarlane's Commissioner Loeb in intriguing interviews. We even get a very brief snippet of Bale's gurning Bruce. This is good stuff and I fully applaud Nolan and Warner's for concocting such a cool series of asides.

    There are five excellent galleries to follow, with numerous fantastic stills to be found in each. We get to see Concept Art, some truly majestic Poster Art, Production Stills and the enigmatic and disturbing Joker Cards that have a tendency to litter the scenes of recent explosions.

    Then we get a the great little Teaser and the brilliant and pulse-pounding two Theatrical Trailers, followed by six themed TV Spots - in DD 5.1, as well.

    Disc 3 holds the Digital Copy of the film for downloading onto your PC or personal media player of choice.

    You know that this is just the tip of the iceberg, don't you? This edition is a stop-gap to tide us over until the next and, I'm sure, super-stacked version comes along. Possibly next year when we celebrate Batman's 70th Anniversary. Possibly it is still too soon and too raw to have anything that actually commemorates Heath Ledger, but this still comes as a disappointment that the power, success and impact that the film, and his performance in it, is not reflected.

    I'm giving this a 7 out of 10 and I am being perhaps a little too generous here, I'll admit.

    The Dark Knight Extras


    As mean as a rattlesnake and as remorseless as a Great White Shark, The Dark Knight is a cinematic incendiary, the genre's new benchmark lit up with Dante's fires and driven relentlessly into some deep, dark places. The hype was certainly unparalleled, even in this game, but it was totally, one-hundred percent on the ball. Chris Nolan, always a talented and methodical worker, a film-maker keen to learn and to improve, has, indeed, created a masterpiece. Those franchise equations of Godfather Part II, Empire Strikes Back, Mad Max II etc - are not ridiculous hyperbole. My first impressions were simple and unequivocal. This was a better film than any of those classics, and it is so heart-warming to me that a character, an icon, a hero that I (and many others) have always known was a powerful metaphor and actually meant something, said something important about society, has now reached such an indomitable level of mass-acceptance. All those muppets who were thronging the premier with “WE LOVE BALE” banners are going to be different once they've seen this - maybe just a little, but there is a power and a resonance to this film that many, Bat-fans included, won't be expecting.

    The film excited me, inspired me and moved me in ways that I had always hoped it would - yet, even anticipating such an experience was no preparation for the effect that The Dark Knight had upon me. An incredible Pandora's Box of a movie, this raises the bar considerably and should become “required” viewing that will be looked-back upon with greater awe and appreciation as time goes by.

    This BD edition raises more than the bar with its transfer, it sends the roof into the clouds with thundering sound and blisters the eyes with an awesome video encode that proves you can have your cake and eat it too, with those scintillating changes from 2.40:1 to IMAX 1.78:1 that don't, in my opinion, disrupt the flow at all. Extras-wise, this is a bit of let-down, though. This will be a sure-fire double-dip sometime in the near-future ... but who is going to wait that long?

    The Dark Knight is immediate, raw and complex. Quite where the character can go to after this is a daunting prospect, indeed, but it is one that I truly cannot wait to see visualised by this epic team. In a year that saw Indiana Jones disappear up his own trans-dimensional “space between space”, it is profoundly reassuring that one of pop-culture's greatest and most enduring icons has been embraced with such reverence, skill and intelligence.

    The year's best film ... by far. And that's no joke.

    The Dark Knight Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.31

    The Rundown



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