The Feature: 4.5/5
For once Gotham's criminals are scared. Much of that has to do with Batman (Christian Bale), whose one-man war on crime has not only changed the rules of the game but served to inspire people like District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). It's in Dent that the future of Gotham really lies, a man who can lock up criminals without resorting to the shock and awe of masks and military hardware. Though they've served their purpose, they've also had their price, bringing out a criminal like the Joker (Heath Ledger), who's not only willing to stand toe-to-toe with Batman, but resourceful enough to destroy everything he stands for. Though gasoline and dynamite are used for the work, the Joker's real weapons are chaos and insanity as he pits Gotham's citizens against each other and forces Batman into one impossible scenario after another. Ultimately, stopping the path of destruction will take more than brute force or even superior strategy - Batman will have to become Gotham's guardian, not just its hero.
With its commercial and artistic success, "The Dark Knight" has joined the distinguished ranks of other successful sequels like "The Empire Strikes Back," "T2" and "The Godfather Part II." While I personally prefer "Batman Begins" (I love origin stories) I can't deny "The Dark Knight" is in many ways more exciting and more profound. While the action set pieces have been amped up considerably (and the Bat-Pod is the crazy-coolest thing ever), the themes around heroism, loss and human nature impressed me most on this third viewing. While Dent's fall from grace still seems to lack the necessary foundational elements to make for a convincing turn, what that fall represents to Bruce Wayne, Batman and the city of Gotham resonates more than ever, especially in this current time when hope is so fundamental. And while the film may be viewed as relentlessly grim, it speaks a truth that hope is not realized without loss or tragedy and though one hope may disappear, another must naturally take its place. It's in those crucial moments that people prove themselves and it's in their depiction that "The Dark Knight" is brightest. Though it's merely a glimmer, its potential is great enough to overwhelm the bleakness around it.
Video Quality: 5/5
Attempting to replicate the IMAX presentation that had limited presence, though record-breaking consumption, the film's aspect ratio shifts between 1.78:1 for the IMAX footage and 2.40:1 for the 35mm material. This has caused some rather heated debate on the forum - one side emphasizing director's intent, the other wishing there were simply a choice to view it with a consistent 2.40:1 aspect ratio, as it was seen in most theaters. While having a choice would have pleased everyone, the director opted not to provide it, suggesting that, at least on the superior Blu-Ray format, shifting aspect ratios is how he prefers the film to be seen. And ultimately, as much as I believe in giving people choices, I have to respect the prerogative of the filmmaker.
That said, I found the aspect ratio shift - in both my earlier IMAX screening and this Blu-Ray viewing - largely transparent. On both occasions I had to, at times, consciously check for the 2.40:1 matting, which speaks as much to the execution of the changes as to the engrossing quality of the storytelling. While my IMAX theater experience was not as exciting as others', due to my IMAX venue having a smaller screen than those found elsewhere, I still appreciated the increased detail and depth found in the IMAX footage. And this Blu-Ray presentation replicates that experience, though this might mean that those who saw the film on a larger screen will be disappointed.
I doubt anyone will be disappointed with how the video looks though.
What impresses first is the excellent detail and sharpness - from skin texture to strands of hair - certainly with the finer grain IMAX footage but also with the conventional 35mm material. The grain structure on the latter is more apparent, but I found its visibility reassuring, a sign of the lack of noise reduction. Black levels are equally impressive, their depth and inkiness being particularly important given the naturalistic, available light cinematography that defines the film's look. Colors - though somewhat limited in use - also have very good depth and saturation.
The minor issues - so minor I don't think they necessitate a reduction in score - are the occasional presence of slight halos along high contrast edges and some subtle black crush here and there. These issues could also be inherent to the source material.
All-in-all it's an excellent video transfer that I expect will be the latest go-to demo disc in home theaters.
Audio Quality: 5/5
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix is highly immersive, offering beautifully seamless directional effects, clean and clear dialogue and deep and powerful LFE. The latter element will probably impress the most, being used aggressively but effectively in both atmospheric and environmental sound effects. Whizzing bullets, caped crusader flyovers and enveloping echo effects will also leave their mark. Though silkiness of violins in the score is usually a good indicator of a track's level of detail, the dissonant Joker theme, played on a cello, is also a good gauge, the subtle bite of the bow on the strings coming through wonderfully. Though perhaps more subtle in its sound design compared to something like "Transformers," it is nonetheless a reference quality track.
The 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds constrained and less detailed in comparison, though I imagine most would have trouble differentiating between options without some aggressive A-B switching.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Viewers will probably find Disc One's behind-the-scenes "Focus Points" the most interesting, with the highlights on Disc Two being the trailers and image galleries. The rest has little replay value, though ardent fans will likely appreciate the inclusion of the History Channel programs. Personally, I would have preferred more interviews or an audio commentary with the cast and crew.
Focus Points: Eighteen behind-the-scenes featurettes totaling over an hour can be viewed at select points during the film or accessed separately. The pieces are uniformly fascinating, if sometimes a bit too brief (though no time is wasted with the the use of talking head footage). All are in high definition with stereo audio.
- The Prologue (8m48s): The filming of the opening sequence along with the advantages and challenges of shooting in IMAX.
- The New Bat-Suit (4m47s): Redesigning the costume.
- Joker Theme (6m18s): Composer Hans Zimmer talks about the Joker's musical theme and shares a few of his thousands of aural experiments.
- Hong Kong Jump (3m05s): Includes test footage when the jump was conceived as an on-location stunt.
- Judge's Car Blows Up (1m09s): The challenges of blowing up a car in a high rent neighborhood.
- Challenges of the Chase, In IMAX (4m04s): Shooting the tunnel chase sequence with the bulk and expense of IMAX cameras.
- SWAT Van into River (1m44s): The timing and mechanics of the stunt.
- Miniature Unit (1m35s): The Batmobile rams the garbage truck, in one-third scale.
- Destruction of Batmobile (2m08s): The multi-stage, multi-location crashing of the Tumbler.
- Bat-Pod (6m06s): The conception, creation and implementation of the lean, mean two-wheeler.
- Helicopter Crash (1m12s): Combining CG and practical effects for the crash.
- Truck Flip (4m02s): The mechanics of the jaw dropping vehicle flip.
- MCU Explosion (1m12s): Shooting the interiors of the explosion.
- Lamborghini Crash (1m54s): Crashing the Lamborghini Murcielago (Spanish for "bat"!).
- Hospital Explosion (6m43s): What it takes to blow up a building with style (and with a principal actor included in the scene).
- Mob Car Flip (39s): More flipping pistons.
- String of Sausages Stunt (2m08s): The mechanics and timing of tying five men together and tossing them off a building.
- Upping the Ante (6m40s): The creative team talk about what they did to make a bigger film.
"Batman Tech" (45m59s): The History Channel program looks at the various weapons and gadgets used by the Batman character since his creation in 1939, many of which have their grounding in military and espionage hardware. Though slickly produced in the standard History Channel manner and promotional in quality with its copious use of film clips, it has some interesting bits of trivia if few surprises. In high definition with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
"Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight" (46m02s): The History Channel program explores the pysches of Batman and his various nemeses. Another slickly produced piece offers few new insights, though lovers of all things Batman will eat it up. In high definition with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
"Gotham Tonight" (46m41s): Six episodes of Gotham Cable News, most hosted by Mike Engel (Anthony Michael Hall), provide background story to the film. Things sometimes border on parody, but most of the pieces provide interesting set up for the issues and characters found in the feature. In high definition with stereo audio.
- "Election Night" (7m58s): The election of Harvey Dent.
- "Billionaire Without A Cause" (9m41s): Profile on Bruce Wayne.
- "Escalation" (7m52s): Discussion of Gotham's criminal landscape.
- "Top Cop" (6m14s): Profile on Lt. Jim Gordon and the Major Crimes Unit.
- "Cops and Mobsters" (7m06s): Mobster Sal Maroni and Commissioner Loeb go head-to-head.
- "Gotham's White Knight" (7m40s): In-studio interview with District Attorney Harvey Dent.
Trailers and More (8m48s): Includes three theatrical trailers and six TV spots. Each are in high definition with stereo audio on the trailers and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on the TV spots.
Digital Copy: Download a digital copy for playback on computer or portable video device. Compatible with both Mac and Windows.
The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 5/5
Special Features: 3.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5
The grim but thrilling - and equally thought provoking - sequel to "Batman Begins" gets reference audio and video treatment and an acceptable, though slightly disappointing, set of special features. The release is nevertheless recommended based on the strength of the feature and its technical presentation.