THE DARK KNIGHT
You either die a hero
…some men aren't looking
for anything logical, like money.
With BATMAN BEGINS co-writer/director Christopher Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer reinvented the Batman movie franchise. With THE DARK KNIGHT ($36), Nolan, Goyer and new collaborator Jonathan Nolan have done something more than create just another superhero movie- they built the bottle in which lightning was captured. I am hesitant to say that THE DARK KNIGHT will be the yardstick by which all future superhero movies will be judged, because this film truly forces one to even redefine the term yardstick before it can even be applied in this context. Certainly, THE DARK KNIGHT is the logical next step in the storytelling progression beyond BATMAN BEGINS, but it is also a film of such fierce intensity that it is light years beyond the genre that spawned it. The scope of THE DARK KNIGHT tells a true story of good versus evil, and how even those with the noblest intentions can be pushed beyond the breaking point and be corrupted. No longer ink on the page, or shadow on the silver screen; thanks to THE DARK KNIGHT, superheroes and supervillains are made flesh.
As THE DARK KNIGHT opens, one becomes aware that there has been a change in Gotham City since the events of BATMAN BEGINS. Thanks to the presence of the Batman (Christian Bale), the corruption that once permeated the city has been reduced and the criminals are now on the run. Batman’s positive influence has allowed other good men to step forward to clean up Gotham City including his police force ally, Detective Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman), as well as the city’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Recognizing Harvey Dent as a true symbol of hope for Gotham City, Bruce Wayne offers to endorse the District Attorney to his rich cronies, which will secure him as a hero with a face, and allow the Batman to step aside in favor of a real White Knight.
However, as the mob loses more and more of their control over Gotham, a criminal in clown makeup calling himself The Joker (Heath Ledger) offers his services to the underworld power brokers to eliminate Batman. Let off his leash, The Joker turns out to be a mad dog that cannot be controlled. What follows is an ever-increasing body count as The Joker begins eliminating public figures to draw out the Batman... and force The Caped Crusader to reveal his true identity. As the situation escalates, The Joker proves himself an agent of chaos who will stop at nothing to achieve his personal goal- to leave nothing but death and destruction in his wake. To ultimately contain The Joker, not only does Batman have to pay a highest of prices, so do The Dark Knight’s friends and associates, as well as Gotham City itself.
Much has already been said about Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT and I am not about to contradict what one has likely heard. I personally was blown away by Ledger- he is mesmerizing as The Joker and his performance represents much of the lightning contained in bottle labeled THE DARK KNIGHT. Anytime Ledger was on the screen, I was hard pressed to take my eyes off of him- he is the perfect assemblage of anarchy and seemingly lucid insanity. Ledger’s performance is more than just series of actor’s tricks and little facial ticks- there is something going on behind his eyes that takes the character of The Joker to a very dark and scary place.
To give credit where credit is due, THE DARK KNIGHT is filled with great performances. Aaron Eckhart is just wonderful as Harvey Dent, who in many ways is the single most important character in the film. Both Batman and The Joker are fully defined characters, who begin the film and end the film virtually unchanged. Harvey Dent is the character that is on a journey during the course of THE DARK KNIGHT, and Eckhart delivers upon the emotional richness and ultimate upheaval of the character. Now, I don’t want to make it seem I am slighting Christian Bale; he makes for a great Batman and an even better Bruce Wayne- a man who his hiding his true self inside one role or another. It should also come as no surprise that Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman as Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox also deliver the goods in their pivotal supporting roles. The cast of THE DARK KNIGHT also features Maggie Gyllenhaal, Monique Curnen, Ron Dean, Cillian Murphy, Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall, Keith Szarabajka, Colin McFarlane, Joshua Harto and Melinda McGraw.
Warner Home Video has made THE DARK KNIGHT available on Blu-ray Disc in a presentation that shifts between the 1.78: and 2.40:1 aspect ratios to accommodate a number of action sequences within the body of the film that were shot with IMAX cameras. Additionally, THE DARK KNIGHT has been encoded onto Blu-ray with the VC-1 codec. The 1080p presentation is exceedingly good and I want to give it a few extra points for providing a level of consistency across the different motion picture formats. THE DARK KNIGHT delivers excellent levels of image sharpness, clarity, fine detail and dimensionality. There are some differences in clarity and detail between the standard 35mm scope footage and those shot in the larger format IMAX process, but again, the presentation goes a long way towards keeping the look of the film very consistent across the board. Colors have a realistic level of saturation, while the flesh tones are quite natural. Blacks are totally inky, whites are pure, plus the picture sports smooth contrast and excellent shadow detail. The elements from which THE DARK KNIGHT have been mastered are free from flaws. There is little apparent grain in the image in well-lit sequences, but darker scenes do show a bit more. Some minor issues do crop up in places, as there are moments where the picture appears slightly processed, but it is not overt or objectionable. Overall, the picture looks truly excellent and is demonstration worthy.
THE DARK KNIGHT is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Like the visual component, THE DARK KNIGHT delivers excellent sonics. The sound design is carefully orchestrated to provide more impact to the action sequences by using a less is more approach. Quieter, talky sequences are just that and are never bogged down in too much sonic information. When there is a call to action, the sound goes full throttle and aggressively deploys from out of all the outlying channels. Sound effects also leap, pan and fly across the soundstage without effort. The bass channel is surprisingly effective and deep- there is all the expected ground shaking and percussive force for explosions, but low frequency tones are also used to enhance the atmosphere of the film and work in correlation with the score. Fidelity is truly excellent with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score reaping the benefits. Voices are cleanly reproduced and the dialogue maintains complete intelligibility. English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks, plus an English 2.0 channel track are also encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been spread across this set. Disc one features Focus Points offers viewers an interactive mode of movie playback, which allows one to be taken to in context programs at the time of their relevance within the film. Gotham Uncovered runs sixty-five minutes and covers virtually the same material as Focus Points without the interactivity. Moving onto disc two, one will find additional supplemental programs in high definition. Batman Tech runs forty-five minutes and looks at all of our crime fighter’s wonderful toys. Batman Unmasked also clocks in at forty-five minutes and looks at the psychology of The Caped Crusader. Gotham Tonight is a series of film relevant newscasts that totals forty-six minutes of running time. Still Galleries, Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots close out disc two. Finally on disc three, one will find a Digital Copy of the film.
THE DARK KNIGHT takes the whole genre of superhero movies to a whole new level… maybe one we will never see again. Warner’s Blu-ray presentation is of demonstration quality. Absolutely, positively recommended.
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