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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: The Dark Knight: Two-Disc Special Edition



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#1 of 65 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 28 2008 - 06:56 AM


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

Year: 2008

Rated: PG-13

Film Length: 152 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Release Date: December 9, 2008

The Film

The 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 Video

The 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 Audio

The 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.

The Extras

Disc One

When 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.

Disc Two


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.

Packaging

The 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

Summary

Christopher 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.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 65 OFFLINE   Ben J Loews

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Posted November 28 2008 - 07:07 AM

I agree that the video quality isn't great. Some sections of the film look worse than others, but generally its heading for the 8/10 score. Those with bigger screens (LCDs) should probably get the blu ray. Looks ok, but could have been better.

#3 of 65 OFFLINE   Shad R

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Posted November 28 2008 - 10:05 AM

NNOOOOOO! What is wrong with Warner? Not only is this the biggest movie of the decade, but it was greeted with critical praise, appeased comic book fans, and had fantastic word of mouth, even possible academy nominations. This movie had amazing visuals and a surround mix that(in the theater) packed a wallop! I am very disappointed with what I'm hearing about a soft, noisy picture, and a soundtrack that suffers fidelity. Warner should have taken more care with this title. I guess I will be getting the blu-ray now. Why would Warner do this?

#4 of 65 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted November 28 2008 - 10:20 AM

You have a Blu-ray player but were planning on getting the DVD?

#5 of 65 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted November 28 2008 - 10:32 AM

That's a bit confusing to me too, but I'll be sure to pick up both DVD and BD steelbooks. Sorry to hear about the quality. This is apparently a trend with WB, right?

#6 of 65 OFFLINE   Steve_Pannell

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Posted November 28 2008 - 10:39 AM

Maybe because of the shifting aspect ratios on the BD? I just got a Blu-ray player a few days ago and can't wait to see this one. I may not like the shifting aspect ratio or it may not matter but I'm willing to give it a chance.

#7 of 65 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 28 2008 - 01:10 PM

Wow. I just gave my review another editorial pass and want to apologize to anyone who had to read that thing before now. I banged it out on a laptop computer in a coffee shop with WiFi since I was away from home for the holidays, and somehow I missed a ton of typos and grammatical errors. I have since fixed most of them and hope the review is more presentable.

Sorry!Posted Image
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#8 of 65 OFFLINE   Aragorn the Elfstone

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Posted November 28 2008 - 05:09 PM

Posted Image

...and with that, I officially go Blu. It's obvious that Warner has no interest in making quality DVDs anymore. I shall finish out my DVD purchasing with the Fourth Season of Battlestar Galactica and any future (great quality) DVD only releases - but other than that, I will now fully embrace Blu-ray.

Hopefully I'll dig the switching aspect ratios. I wasn't too keen on that, but as I see it this will be the only possible way to watch this.

#9 of 65 OFFLINE   Shad R

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Posted November 28 2008 - 11:17 PM

I have netflix, I was planning on buying the DVD (which can be had for less than $15 bucks), and renting the blu-ray just to check it out. With all the bad things I've been hearing though, looks like I'll be buying it on blu-ray. Plus I wanted it on DVD so I could take it over to a friends to watch it...no blu for him yet. Just because I have a blu-ray doesn't mean I buy the discs, I just rent. Just to clarify for you guys.

#10 of 65 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 29 2008 - 01:27 AM

One thing I like about these digital copies, especially with Blu-Ray titles, is that they provide me a portable SD version of the movie so I don't need a standard DVD to watch it at a friend or relatives house who does not have BD. Of course, you need a video capable iPod or other supported device and a cable to output it to a TV/display. Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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#11 of 65 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 29 2008 - 04:10 AM

Not always - I thought Speed Racer looked great. But WB have been putting out a lot of crap transfers lately. Usually it's the titles that feature both WS and FS presentations on the same disc - that makes the problematic visuals of Dark Knight more confusing, since it has no competition for disc space...
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#12 of 65 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted November 29 2008 - 05:51 AM

As well as the lower bitrate for audio. 384kbps for THIS film? Talk about a bad joke... Perhaps those conspiracy nuts out there might find something in this issue - crappy DVD transfers which will persuade people to go Blu? Probably not, but who knows.

#13 of 65 OFFLINE   Aragorn the Elfstone

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Posted November 29 2008 - 06:07 AM


Put me down as a conspiracy nut - If Warner was putting out the same quality DVD transfers as they were back a couple years ago, I'd be going for one of the DVD exclusives (probably the "Why So Serious?" Circuit City cover).

I'm quite happy with quality DVDs, why does Warner have to suck so much?! Posted Image

#14 of 65 OFFLINE   Andrew Radke

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Posted November 29 2008 - 06:31 AM

Well they wanted to push the format, and they found a way to do it.......unfortunately at the expense of those of us who prefer DVD (or have opted not to adopt the format at this time). They know full well that 'The Dark Knight' will undoubtedly be the most successful title on Blu so they obviously want to make it look head over heels better than the DVD counterpart. A shame really. We've given Warner our hard earned bucks over the years AS DVD collectors and now we're more or less getting the shaft in favor of the new format. That's business for you I guess.......
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#15 of 65 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted November 29 2008 - 06:40 AM

Yeah, never say never but it doesn't make much sense to me. A fraction of the people buying the DVD have a discerning enough eye to see the flaws being discussed so deliberately sabotaging the release in hopes of pushing a few people over to Blu-ray seems very unlikely to me.

#16 of 65 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 29 2008 - 07:38 AM

As far as theatrical new release titles over the past year, I think Warner did a good job on the transfers for 'Speed Racer" and "I Am Legend". Heck, within the last couple of weeks they released a pretty decent video presentation for "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2". I was expecting better.
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#17 of 65 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted November 29 2008 - 08:58 AM

Wow! My second favorite film of the year reduced to a rental. This really sucks, but I guess it's more more in my Christmas budget and less in WB's coffers. I'm not going to be forced to Blu until I'm good and ready and that's not going to be until I get in to a new residence hopefully sometime next year. Until then, this title is a rental.

#18 of 65 OFFLINE   MLamarre

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Posted November 29 2008 - 09:56 AM

Maybe they did it to give people more incentive to upgrade to the "Ultimate" edition that will undoubtedly be released in 6 months.

#19 of 65 OFFLINE   Ric Easton

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Posted November 29 2008 - 02:25 PM

Well, even though I'm Blu, I was seriously considering picking this up so I could also watch it in a stable aspect ratio. Also, it's nice to be able to play a movie or the extras (including commentaries) in other rooms of the house. Now, I'm really on the fence after hearing that the video leaves much to be desired. Thanks for the heads up, Ken. Even if its not what I wanted to hear!

#20 of 65 OFFLINE   Nicholas Martin

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Posted November 29 2008 - 02:33 PM

My rationale for wanting both DVD and BD versions was similar - a more flexible DVD and a one-room-only BD, in addition to wanting the collectible packaging of both. As much as I love the quality provided by Blu-ray, DVD is no slouch and I'll never think of it as inferior, because both formats have major ups and downs and its all transfer-dependent.





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