The Dark Knight Rises is encoded via AVC … and, before we go into any specific detail, it looks utterly fantastic on Blu.
With a huge amount of footage filmed in IMAX, over seventy minutes, the image flits so frequently between the aspects of 1.78:1 and 2.40:1 that you really should get used to it pretty quickly. Personally speaking, this chopping and changing doesn’t bother me at all, but I did find myself wishing that the entire film was IMAX because these sequences look absolutely stunning. The sense of vertigo that I had at the flicks when the Bat flies up one side of a high-rise, glides over the top and then drops down the other side, and the release-and-fall of the shredded CIA plane, is pretty much retained. The level of depth to the frame when we survey those fantastic cityscape shots is staggering. This is where the BD conceivably wins over the theatrical presentation because there is much more scope and potential to study the imagery and let your eyes travel over the incredibly detailed vistas yawning out before you. The opening plane antics lensed over the gorgeous Scottish Highlands and benefitting from dazzling low clouds that add contrast and texture produces terrain so detailed, and at the bottom of such a tangible drop, that these deep exterior shots are sure to impress you … as well as probably making your ears pop with the wind and the altitude. Ensuing IMAX sequences all carry this devastating visual plunge, with the barnstorming action gaining incredible depth and jolting vitality. The streets of Gotham during the massed police charge, the subterranean warren that becomes a fateful stopover for Batman, and night-flight of the gliding Bat as it roars out of the shadows of cop-blocked alleyway – take your pick – they all look outstandingly crisp and detailed, and frequently mesmerising.
I can imagine that some people will bemoan the fact that there is a degree of black crush going on. Well, I am on record as stating that I don’t mind this sort of thing as much as others do, but, even with this in mind, what I’m seeing here seems to reflect the stygian shadow depths that I saw on the big screen for those six outings … although I would have to concede that some details are certainly squashed down in favour of such insanely impenetrable depths. You would expect and appreciate such inkiness down in the subways and the recesses of the pit that Wayne is imprisoned in, but there are some corners of the manor, Daggett’s suite and the bar in which Selina turns the tables on some stooges, that seem to close down over the definition that probably should be on show. However, in my opinion, these elements are easily overlooked with the sheer wealth of intensely moody atmosphere that is conjured. High points are too many to count and catalogue, but some standouts would be when Batman meets Catwoman down in the subway and the feisty feline cat-burglar summons the big guy from out of the shadows, his night-draped crusader stepping out from the surrounding gloom with impressive realism. Their subsequent taking-out of Bane’s guards also reveals similarly terrific levels of black presentation and solid integrity. Contrast is peerless throughout. Again, look at the white faces glimpsed beneath masks and cowls and the flecks of light shining on leather and rubber. The back-snapping fight that comes just afterwards is another typical example of how the transfer fares with the extremes of light and dark and the subtle blend that they make in the middle. Shot with powerful lights that shine downwards upon the two enemies, the image conveys the intense shadows cast by these enigmatic beams and the heightened, ghosted-out pockets of humanity brawling within them. It is eerie and striking. And quite breathtaking.
We have the warm tones that Warner transfers seem to favour. Despite some deliberately austere settings – ghostly, lonely old Wayne Manor, the wintry, snow-flecked Gotham – the palette, itself, is never frosty. Night-times in the city are bathed in luscious midnight blues and deep blacks. But the neon becomes of almost Michael Mann-like beauty. The sight of a fleet of flashing police lights flooding the streets becomes an intoxicant. The multitude of lights in high-rises during the sweeping aerial views make the screen look like a Christmas invasion. They are deliciously bright and iridescent. The primaries are deep and sumptuous. Flesh tones err towards the flushed and the ruddy, but this is pretty much how I remember them looking from the presentation at the flicks. Bright, bold colours are at odds with the main aesthetic, which is appreciably darker and more shadowy, but when they do appear they are very satisfying, crisply delineated and redolently saturated. Think of the plentiful explosions, the red design on Bane’s bogus delivery-boy jacket and motorcycle helmet, and the sudden pockmarks of costume punctuation that provide such a contrast for the stock exchange sequence. Plus, there is the massive influx of blazing yellow for the jerseys and the flags of the Gotham football team at the stadium, the image suddenly looking pollen-draped, and the beautifully sharp yellow piping on Matthew Modine’s dress uniform, and those Daz-white gloves.
Our appreciation of the extensive worldwide shoot and the elaborate urban chaos is enhanced by a splendid depth of field that produces brilliantly three-dimensional imagery of city streets, stretching overhead views, imposing shots looking up towards the top of the pit, great distance, space and height revealed down in the subterranean tunnels, and fully immersive street-battles with hordes of combatants. Detail, even for far-away subjects is never left wanting. There can be some occasional softness to distant imagery or to peripheral information, but this is down to Wally Pfister’s mostly immaculate photography, and is not an error of the transfer. Close-ups are spot-on. For example, the mottled, dodgy-looking skin on Bale’s back, which is partly to do with the extensive makeup incorporated to hide Tom Hardy’s tattoos, and the intricacies of the tubes and pipes that comprise his ghastly mask, are achingly well defined. Then there is the texture on Kyle's catsuit ... and you know that you want to study that!
There’s nobody out there expecting to see any banding, edge enhancement, DNR or aliasing with a top tier release such as this anyway, and, for the record, there is nothing of the sort going on. The image we get is film-like, consistently textured and finitely detailed. I had no problems with ringing even during the IMAX sequences. In short, this looks gorgeous.
Officially, this gets 9 out of 10 … but, personally, I’m awarding it a 9.5.
This is stellar again, folks.
Warner have come up trumps with this audio mix and provided us with a walloping, demonstrative, no-holds-barred experience that really generates powerful, foundation-trembling bass levels, pin-sharp clarity and impeccable precision across the full speaker set-up. The track is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and it is one of the best that I’ve heard in the last couple of years. The film was brutally bombastic enough to crack ribs during its theatrical run, especially if you had the privilege of catching it in IMAX, but fear not, sub-junkies, the lossless mix on this disc threatens to bring the house down around you with just as much intensity and, man, when it kicks-off, the entire neighbourhood will know you’re watching it.
Okay, so the track is loud and meaty and very aggressive. But it doesn’t sacrifice subtleties or finesse in order to beat you around the head with such Cro-Magnon bedevilment. The scraping of Catwoman's serrated high-heel as it pins Daggett's gun-arm to the wall, for instance. The thwap! of the arrow that Wayne sends past the crafty Cat's shoulder. Dialogue is perfectly presented with nuance and character. Bale’s little lisp is present and correct. Caine’s sorrowful cockney whinging brings a lump to the throat. Hathaway’s implacably cold and arrogant tones of super-confidence bring a softer, more insidious dimension, whilst the voices of both Morgan Freeman and Tom Conti provide a certain degree of soothing warmth. And, of course, there’s Hardy’s wild, audience-splitting, voice-changed and dislocated timbre as big baddie Bane. Now this is something that some people love and some people loathe. I am most decidedly in the former camp, and I love quoting “The fires rises!” repeatedly at home and in work. And on the train. The one line that I had difficulty deciphering at the flicks – a line that he growls at Daggett before silencing the idiot – comes through with clarity here on disc. Whether or not the mix has been cleaned-up or modified, I’m not entirely sure, but Bane’s voice does now seem to be sharper and clearer. The audio track at home is bound to sound different from the cinema in some ways, even if only because the space it is filling is smaller and your control over it and the sound delivery it provides is far greater, but I will stick my neck out and say that TDKR sounds better at home – certainly with regards to Bane’s controversial voice.
And, wow, that bass!
The opening plane-heist sequence is sure to become one of your go-to demo-pieces. We already know that the picture is tremendous, but the audio for this is a relentless tour de force boasting savagely intense bass levels that thrum and reverberate as though Satan is tossing and turning in his molten bed. When Bane’s Hercules moves over the top of the CIA plane, you get the feeling that you always wanted to have when the Imperial Star Destroyer rumbles overhead at the start of A New Hope. The sheer force of this actually seems to press downwards, pressing your head into your shoulders. The passage of the bigger aircraft moves with an insane amount of downdraught thrumming across the room, back to front, and totally convinces you that your lounge has become a landing strip.
Gut-crunching body-blows vie with the fearsome sound of Bane’s boots striding upon steel gantries and walkways. We may be mercifully spared from the sight of the uber-thug crushing a duplicitous Wayne Enterprises’ board member’s head, but we hear the beginning of the skull and neck snapping from a very convincing distance. The sound of explosions taking place somewhere deep down the subway tunnels is also authentically distances and muffled, yet still very potently heard and felt.
The churning roar of the Tumblers are one thing, but the whine and hiss of the Batpod provides another flavour to the vehicular chaos. And then there is the Bat, with its deliciously underplayed belly-propeller fans whirring in flight. Perhaps this effect would have been nicer had it been awarded a little bit more prominence in the mix, but this still sounds accurate to me. Directionality of these mad mobiles is superb, with detailed movement expertly steered around the speakers.
Zimmer’s score takes up acres of space within the mix. It is such a forceful presence in the trilogy that it has become a character in its own right. Its power and resonance in The Dark Knight was perfect, but its might and passion and vigour here is extraordinary. Bane’s theme, the U-jam Chant, takes the mix and completely assimilates it, morphing the track into its own relentless orchestra of martial terror. We can make out the phrase of the chant in the voices that spit it out, even when it speeds up to a rollercoaster levels of rabid spit and froth. But during the finale of this opening sequence – when Bane is transferring the physicist’s blood into another body – the percussive savagery of the track takes over with such sharp power and distinction that if shut your eyes you’d swear that some Tahitian tribal band had suddenly struck up right in front of you.
Yep – it is that good.
If I had to make one negative observation, it would only be a very slight one … and one that is purely from a personal perspective. During the scene when the imprisoned Bruce Wayne sees the image on the TV screen of the three bodies that Bane has hanged from the bridge “where the world can see,” Zimmer’s score builds up to a fever-pitch of anger as Wayne hurls something at it in frustration and fury. At the flicks I found this to be one of the most emotive parts of the movie and one that was massively propelled by the volume and aggression of the music. On disc, despite the undeniably galvanising effect the moment still has, I was surprised to find that the music appears to have been dialled down in the mix. Now, this is just my assumption, but I have arrived at it based upon hearing the film’s soundtrack six times at the cinema and relishing its swollen sonic madness every time. Different environment – different mix. And, as I say, this is the only negative that I can come up with.
This is a fabulous audio track that really celebrates what you want from wraparound home cinema action. Engrossing, detailed, precise … and wildly, gut-thumpingly exciting.
No commentaries from Nolan, or anyone else for that matter. No big making-of, and no proper full-on and comprehensive retrospective overview of the entire trilogy.
Well, we know the drill by now, so none of this comes as any surprise.
This edition carries two BD discs, with the movie on one and the extras on the other, and a third disc housing a DVD version of the film.
On disc one, we have the Second Screen Experience, for which you must download the Dark Knight Rises FX app to your mobile or tablet, sync it with the BD player and launch it to explore some exclusive content whilst watching the movie. Ain’t tried it … so don’t ask.
The most substantial extra is the 58-minute documentary that charts the history of the Batmobile. This is awesome, folks. Entitled The Batmobile, this looks back at the evolution of the iconic crime-busting vehicle from its initial debut in Detective Comics, though its various comic-book iterations from normal conveyance to outright souped-up, avenging machine. All the directors get to have their say, and we hear from the people who designed and constructed the cars, test-drove, crashed them and performed the stunt-driving in. The crazy, jazzed-up, neon-lit exo-skeletal designs for Schumacker’s garish visions are suitably dissected, as are the originals for Adam West and Michael Keaton. Then the Tumbler gets to shine, although we don’t get more than a token reference to the Batpod.
The rest of the special features are dominated by a series of small, but actually good value featurettes that break down the move into various segments and categories. You can explore interviews and footage and clips and pre-viz and conceptual artwork in sections such as Production, Characters and Reflections. Under these headings, the stunts, fights, vehicles and large-scale set-pieces are dissected, and you can study the journey of Bruce Wayne, the rise of Bane and the ambiguity of Selina Kyle. The fantastic cinematography of Wally Pfister is examined, with attention paid to the IMAX process. And the filmmakers get to bid farewell to the trilogy that revamped the cinematic ethos of the superhero.
Sadly, these don’t have a Play All option, which seems a bit remiss.
Finally, we get a Trailer Archive that presents us with four theatrical trailers for the movie.
You’ll enjoy what’s here … but even though a lot of material is covered, it all still feels very shallow and superficial.
We need that big making-of!
Sit tight. Hold on. And watch as The Dark Knight Rises.
It is not a masterpiece like its predecessor. And, to be honest, I never really thought it would be. But, plot-holes, daft bits and silly contrivances aside, this is a missile accelerating at a thousand miles an hour. He fought to keep his vision as grounded in reality as possible, and Chris Nolan has even managed to do that with a trio of costumed characters running about in this third instalment. We love the Joker, of course, but we always wanted to see Batman go toe-to-toe with Bane and, to paraphrase Heath Ledger’s nutso-anarchist, he doesn’t disappoint.
With the fighting improved, the violence upped and the stakes raised unfeasibly high, this is Batman’s darkest hour. The regulars all acquit themselves commendably, like a well-oiled machine by now, but it is Hardy, Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt who give this final act its class, its finesse and its raw energy. It is sad to see Bale hang up the cape and cowl, he brought the greatest comic-book character to life in a way that reflected the seething fear and anger of the modern world, but it is certainly right that he should do so. Narrative problems with this instalment notwithstanding, the full saga has been an amazing ride that will, undoubtedly, stand the test of time and be looked back upon with awe at what it has accomplished with a genre that, until Batman Began was still smirked upon by the masses.
Ultimately, TDKR may not be quite as good as we all hoped it would be, and some of the flaws are probably fundamental to the hefty desire to get Bane into the story and to tell the tale of the broken bat, but none of this alters the fact that Bale’s final outing as Batman is superbly exciting and thunderous entertainment. There is power here and the ending is beautifully emotional and fitting.
Sealing the deal with a Bat-stamp of approval is the imperious AV quality that this release offers. The image is frequently jaw-dropping, with those IMAX sequences simply dazzling, and the audio is an astonishingly pulverising thrill-ride. Nobody is ever going to say that the roster of extra features is any great shakes, but there is still a lot to savour here. We’d kill for a commentary track, though preferably a few of them, and it still beggars belief that we haven’t got the big feature-length trilogy making-of that we all know this series demands
The Dark Knight will ride again, though just not in this captivating world. Perhaps he will go gothic once more, or maybe he will be seen amongst the Justice League. But he will have to go some if he wants to be as important, as respected, as tragic, or as downright valid as this.
Dark. Epic. Awesome.
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