The Dark Knight: Two-Disc Special Edition
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
|Studio: Warner Brothers
Film Length: 152 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: December 9, 2008
The FilmThe Dark Knight picks up largely where its predecessor, Batman Begins left off, with Jim Gordon's (Oldman) closing monologue about inevitable escalation in the face of Batman's efforts proving to be all too prophetic. Lieutenant Gordon has been appointed the head of a Major Crimes Task Force, and with Batman's (Bale) help, has had considerable success squeezing Gotham's organized crime community. A new crusading district attorney, Harvey Dent (Eckhart) is more than willing to aggressively prosecute the city's criminals, and is rapidly becoming the symbol of hope for the crime-plagued Gotham City. Bruce Wayne/Batman has a multi-tiered interest in Dent. Dent is Wayne's best hope to be able to hang up his cape and cowl and return to a normal life if he can succeed in becoming the legitimate symbol of law and order that the city needs. On the other hand, Dent is also dating Wayne's childhood sweetheart, prosecuting attorney Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhaal), who is the one person above all others with whom Wayne would like to spend that hypothetical normal life. Into this battle between law and organized crime steps The Joker (Ledger), an aptly named wild card who seems to have no other motivation than to demonstrate to the world that anarchy is its natural state. When the desperate local crime bosses turn to The Joker to solve their "Bat problem", he unleashes a wave of terror on the city by placing most of its leading citizens in his murderous crosshairs in an effort to smoke out the Batman.
Writer/Director Christopher Nolan has stated he wanted to build on his earlier re-boot of the Batman movie franchise, Batman Begins, by creating a follow-up that surpassed it in scale. While "The Dark Knight" certainly builds on its predecessor, it is also a very different film in construction. From a plot standpoint, it is actually much simpler. With a world already created, and characters already defined, The Dark Knight takes a deep dive into that world and those characters by holding up a dark mirror to them that demands re-evaluation not just by the participants in the drama, but by the viewers as well.
Batman's rogue's gallery has generally been acknowledged as the best in all of comics largely because of how so many of his villains are complementary to some aspect of Batman's own darkly compulsive personality. Nolan and his collaborators recognized the complementary archetypes of Batman, the Joker, and Harvey Dent, and have constructed around them an eye-popping Grand Guignol operatic action film of ever spiraling peril and increasingly lethal stakes.
Building a summer action blockbuster around a "character opera" that is more or less an examination of ethical absolutes is a tall order, as constant explosions, hand to hand combat, and car chases tend to interfere with an audience member's ability to reflexively ponder. The filmmakers overcome this obstacle by devising action sequences that seem to flow directly out of the characters' personalities. The Joker's constant mayhem seems to emanate from both his affinity for the anarchic and his compulsive desire to test the limits of those who believe in anything else. Batman and the rest of the characters in the film must contend with these artificially created dilemmas in ways that force them to wrestle with their beliefs and their self-defined ethical limits.
Beyond the film's construction, the success or failure of such drama depends on the ability of the cast to embody their characters in a way that embraces their archetypes, but also brings them to life as something more than just an intellectual construct. Bale demonstrated his ability to do this in the preceding film and continues successfully on an even larger canvas. The rest of the cast proves game as well. Ledger, in particular imbues the Joker with a sense of malevolent glee that is absolutely mesmerizing. The first time I saw the film in a theater, I caught myself reflexively holding up my hand to my face a couple times as if I needed to physically shield myself from what he was going to do next. Even upon repeat viewings when one knows how the film is going to play out, one convincingly gets the sense that he is capable of just about anything, which is exactly the anarchic spirit required to both embody the character and create the suspense that carries the film for most of its two and a half hour running time. It is a tour de force performance worthy of actors such as Marlon Brando and cinematic Joker-emeritus Jack Nicholson in their primes. The hype about the performance in the wake of Ledger's untimely passing actually proved to be well-deserved independent of the understandably elevated emotions that drove it.
The rest of the cast also proves more than up to the task, with Eckhart successfully conveying the potential for his character's ultimate direction without being too obvious. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who takes over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes, and Morgan Freeman, who returns as Wayne confidante and technical wizard Lucius Fox, both benefit from their characters having more interesting things to do in this film than its predecessor. Michael Caine is his usually dependable self as butler Alfred, who quietly displays a better understanding of Bruce Wayne than the man does himself, even after over two hours of forced self-examination.
The VideoThe film is presented on disc via a 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer approximating the wide release theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Considering that there are no extras on the first disc and that the film only has to share disc space with less than seven minutes of promos, one would expect a top notch transfer. Unfortunately, that does not prove to be the case. The film on disc looks generally too soft, especially when viewed on a large projection set-up, and is plagued by annoying digital video artifacts throughout. By way of example, shortly after the 16 minute mark, there is a scene between Eckhart and Oldman that is absolutely pulsing with noise in the background. When Oldman enters the office where the scene takes place, digital video noise erupts around the books on shelves and horizontal blinds in the background. This is not just flickering/aliasing, but a pulsing, spreading fuzzy set of digital artifacts. I was very disappointed, and frankly, puzzled by how this could be the result of a transfer that maintains such a relatively high bitrate throughout.
The AudioThe theatrical soundtrack is carried on disc by a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 384 kbps. Fidelity suffers from the relatively low bitrate, which does a disservice to the alternately heroic and eerily tense score. The soundtrack is otherwise very active in the surrounds with frequent and extensive LFE emphasis during the action sequences in which it is appropriate. Alternate language dubs are available via French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks encoded at 384 kbps.
Disc OneWhen disc one is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following series of skippable promos. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless indicated otherwise:
- Anti-Piracy PSA with clips from Casablanca (1:00)
- Warner Blu-Ray Promo (Dolby Digital 5.1 sound - 1:09)
- Batman Begins Trailer with a tag-on plug for the DVD and Blu-Ray (16:9 enhanced video - 1:13)
- Batman: Arkham Asylum Videogame Trailer (:48)
- Watchmen Theatrical Trailer (2:21)
- Anti-Smoking PSA that tells you that smoking is not as cool as tobacco companies make it look (:34)
Other than those promos, there are no extras on Disc One.
When disc two is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following skippable promos. Both are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
- Batman: Gotham Knight Animated DTV Trailer (4:3 letterboxed video - 1:36)
- Soundtrack promo (mis-presented in a 16:9 format that looks vertically "squashed" - :31)
The proper special features on disc two are presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio and available English and French subtitles unless otherwise indicated below:
Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene is a link to two behind the scenes featurettes. In a novel approach, no footage of interview participants just sitting and talking is used. All participants are identified by subtitles with their comments playing out over montages of production stills, film clips, and behind the scenes footage. The only exception is when the interview participant is actually physically demonstrating something while talking.
The Sound of Anarchy (6:25) focuses on the music for the film created by Hans Zimmer, especially the themes associated with The Joker. Interview participants are Zimmer and Christopher Nolan. It also includes footage of Zimmer working with cellist Martin Tillman creating the dissonant anarchic "Joker" tone.
The Evolution of the Knight (17:35) goes into detail on the revamped bat suit design, the Batpod, and the cinematography and visual look with special emphasis on the choice to shoot key sequences in IMAX and how other aspects of the production were scaled up to match. It ends with a montage of behind the scenes action and effects footage. Interview participants include Christopher Nolan, Costume Designer Lindy Hemming, Costume FX Supervisor Graham Churchyard, Producer Charles Roven, Christian Bale, Production Designer Nathan Crowley, Special Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Corbould, Stunt Coordinator Paul Jennings, Director of Photography Wally Pfister, Sound Designer Richard King, Producer Emma Thomas, Producer Charles Roven, IMAX Consultant David Keighley, Visual Effects Supervisor Nick Davis, Editor Lee Smith, Composer Hans Zimmer, Composer James Newton Howard, Sound Designer Richard King, and Executive Producer Kevin De La Noy.
The Dark Knight IMAX Sequences presents the six key action sequences from the film that were shot entirely or substantially with IMAX cameras. All of the footage is presented enhanced for 16:9 displays with the IMAX footage windowboxed to a 1.43:1 aspect ratio and the standard 35mm footage that is intercut with it presented letterboxed to 2.35:1. The scenes and their running times are as follows:
- The Prologue (6:23)
- Hong Kong (3:51)
- The Armored Car Chase (8:28)
- The Lamborghini Crash (7:55)
- The Prewitt Building (7:22)
- The Dark Knight (2:42)
Gotham Tonight (46:34 w/ Play All) presents segments from the fictional news program that were created to promote the film. Segments are anchored by either Mike Engel (played, as in the film, by Anthony Michael Hall) or Lydia Filangeri (played by an un-credited actress). Various interview panelists discuss topics of interest to the citizens of Gotham, occasionally including unique footage or extended interview segments with cast members from the film in character. These include Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Eric Roberts (Salvatore Maroni), Melinda McGraw (Barbara Gordon), and Colin McFarlane (Commissioner Loeb). Bale's segment as a faux inebriated Bruce Wayne is extremely brief, but extremely funny. Segments are as follow:
- Episode 1: Election Night (7:58)
- Episode 2: Billionaire Without a Cause (9:41)
- Episode 3: Escalation (7:52)
- Episode 4: Top Cop (6:14)
- Episode 5: Cops and Mobsters (7:06)
- Episode 6: Gotham's White Knight (7:40)
The Galleries is a collection of still images that the viewer can step through with their DVD remote. They are browsable separately or together if "Play All" is selected. Poster Art consists of twelve posters that were used to promote the film. Production Stills contains a generous 87 stills from the film's production confirming, if nothing else, that director Christopher Nolan is one snazzy dresser. In a nice touch, the 88th frame in the gallery gives credit to the production photographer.
Trailers (5:35 w/Play All) collects three theatrical trailers for the film. Trailer 1 (:56) is the teaser w/production audio over logo graphics. Trailer 2 (2:07) is the Joker-centric character-based trailer. Trailer 3 (2:30) focuses on the details of the film's plot.
Finally, a Digital Copy is contained on the disc that is compatible with Windows, Vista/Playsforsure Portable devices, iTunes, Macs, and iPods. Once I entered the access code, I was able to download the 1.67 GB file into my iTunes library in about eight minutes. In a nice touch, this version of the film is presented in 16:9 video with most of the film letterboxed to 2.35:1, and all of the IMAX scenes and shots filling the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. This unique standard definition presentation of the film makes it an unexpectedly value added proposition. While the digital copy exhibits the expected artifacts associated with medium-low bitrate digital video, it does not suffer from the weird noisy artifacts that marred the DVD presentation.
PackagingThe DVDs are packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs. A paper insert provides the access code to unlock the digital copy on the second disc. As a guy whose pet peeve is slipcovers that do nothing but replicate the art from the hard case underneath, I got a big kick out of this one. While the cardboard slipcover has an action shot of Batman on the Batpod on the front cover and standard promotional text and production images on the back, removing the slipcover reveals a fun treat. The Batman image on the cover is replaced by an appropriately menacing image of the Joker, and the back cover is the same except that it has Joker graffiti scrawled all across it. Very nice
SummaryChristopher Nolan's intense brooding operatic Batman sequel featuring a mesmerizing performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker is presented on disc with a disappointing audio/video presentation marred by some excessive digital video noise and average at best audio fidelity. Extras are not nearly as comprehensive as the two-disc SE of its predecessor, Batman Begins, but what is there is quite interesting, and I hope they keep it all for the inevitable double dip . Purchasers are advised not to overlook the digital copy which presents the film in a different format than on the DVD by dedicating additional video frame space for the IMAX sequences.