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Dark Knight, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Image“The Dark Knight” is more than just the latest superhero movie, more even than the newest Batman movie—it takes the superhero movie is a different direction. Here, though there are many stunning action sequences, including a showstopper chase scene late in the film, the emphasis is on the characters and their relationships. The movie is still stylized, still taking place in a world other than ours, but it’s more involving, more a real drama than most such films.

The movie is unusually detailed, with at least five strong central characters. It covers a lot of ground emotionally and in terms of events. It’s complex in the character relationships and in terms of action—and I haven’t even mentioned Batman’s activities in Hong Kong. The production values are strong—with this budget, they’d damned well be—and it’s a great-looking movie. Six sequences were shot in IMAX (in a 1.44:1 aspect ratio), the first time this has been done for a feature film, although the print I saw was in standard format. Christopher Nolan is an inventive, imaginative director; I’m sure the IMAX sequences (mostly action scenes) will look even better in that big-screen format.

The movie has gained an unwanted notoriety because of the death in January of co-star Heath Ledger (effects technician Comway Wickliffe also died, in an accident associated with the film; both are paid tribute on screen). But Ledger’s memorable here for more reasons than having died too young—his performance as the Joker is definitive. In earlier on-screen incarnations, he’s been just a gaudy crook who laughs a lot (Cesar Romero in the TV series) or a vengeful lunatic pitting himself against the Batman (Jack Nicholson in the Tim Burton movie). Here, the Joker is as mysterious at the end as he is at the beginning; all we know about him is that he’s brilliant, has a vivid but usually inappropriate sense of humor, and that he not only loves chaos, he seeks to bring it about. He doesn’t give a damn about money—he even sets a pile of bills ablaze—nor really about power. He has the same function in this story that a joker does in a card deck: he’s a wild card, an agent of disruptive change.

He can’t be pinned down, he’s constantly shifting position and means of attack. His face reflects this: his eyes dart from side to side, his tongue flicks over his lips. The Joker, of course, has always had white skin, red lips in a broad, permanent grin, and green hair. Here, he CHOOSES to have those features—the white greasepaint is occasionally wiped off part of his face; the next time we see him, he’s reapplied it. His matted, dirty-looking hair is dark green, like some seaweed. He does have a carved grin—the corners of his mouth terminate in scars. Twice in the movie, he explains to a captive how he got those scars—and the two explanations are completely different, even contradictory. (We do know he hated his father—there’s a concept, Father of the Joker—and after the exciting bank-robbery sequence that opens the movie, we know he must be a smooth talker, or how could he enlist new henchmen?) Ledger’s performance is riveting, engrossing; we miss him when he’s not on screen. The Joker’s mind is constantly churning—no wonder he loves chaos, that’s what his mind delivers every day. Ledger makes this incredible, disturbing creature entirely credible; his performance is as valid and committed as if he were playing Hamlet. And the Joker is occasionally funny, as is traditional, and does laugh a lot; even when he falls off a tall building (no, that’s not a spoiler), he’s still laughing. As usual, the Joker favors purple and green for his clothes, but he’s not the flashy clown Nicholson was, his clothes aren’t the modified Zoot suit the Joker wore for years in comic books. He looks like he just crawled out from under a junkyard bus. He’s dangerous partly because he’s unpredictable, partly because he’s completely fearless—he seems at time to embrace pain, and clearly doesn’t really care very much whether he lives or dies. How can you intimidate or even come close to controlling an opponent without greed, who shrugs off pain, who’s casually murderous—and cares no more for his own life than he does for the lives of others? He wants to force those with morals and ethics into betraying their basic beliefs. As Alfred quietly remarks about the Joker, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

The screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan (they also wrote “Memento” and “The Prestige”) is rich with fascinating ideas. Near the beginning, the crooks are confronted by Batman—who’s carrying a shotgun. Then another Batman shows up, and another. When the REAL Batman arrives, we realize the others are vigilantes modeling themselves on their hero—who doesn’t need or approve of this kind of hero worship. (There are consequences to be paid, by the Joker.) There’s a great confrontation between Batman and the Joker toward the end, where the Joker has all the great lines: “You complete me!” he declares to Batman, who fears this may be true. The Joker also suggests that he and Batman are so evenly matched, one is so much the opposite of the other, that their fight will go on forever. (And it almost has.) The world is crumbling into chaos around them, says the Joker, people are becoming more and more corrupt. “I’m not a monster,” he claims, “I’m just ahead of the curve.”

Batman not only has his swift but hulking Batmobile, but a motorcycle-like “Bat-Pod” that erupts OUT of the Batmobile. The Batsuit has been improved, including offscreen: in “Batman Begins,” the suit was in fewer than 10 parts; this time, it has over 100 components. The stunts are bigger and more spectacular, too; that car chase includes an 18-wheel truck flipping forward onto its back. And a Batmobile-police car collision that shakes your bones. Some of the movie was shot on the streets of Chicago, including some of the chase sequences.

The score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer is outstanding; it’s rich, orchestral and driving, working particularly well with the editing to create several sequences of increasing tension. Some scenes are underscored by a single rising tone, increasing in pitch and intensity along with the action on screen. (Truth be told, this is done at least once too often.) The special effects are also excellent, but this movie isn’t about the effects.

To a degree, Christian Bale is a supporting player in his own film. Heath Ledger’s Joker is so vivid and disturbing he seizes control of all sequences he appears in. But Aaron Eckhart is also very good; Harvey Dent is never simply a paragon of goodness; he’s as driven as Bruce Wayne, and probably as brilliant, too. Eckhart always keeps him convincing, even when he undergoes the transformation, late in the film, into the coin-flipping madman Two Face. His face is divided down the middle, with one half hideous—and boy howdy, is he ever hideous on that side. It’s so extreme they had to use computer graphics to fill out the makeup. But Two Face comes in fairly late; the Joker is the primary villain. And Heath Ledger is so strong in the role, so iconic, makes it so much HIS role that if they do want to bring the Joker back in a future Batman movie, they’re going to have an uphill struggle. Who the hell else could do THIS?

But the movie isn’t about the Joker, it isn’t even about Batman. It’s about this situation, or rather a group of interlocking situations, and the characters living through these very tough times. The leading characters are not immune to death.

“The Dark Knight” runs 152 minutes, probably too long, though it’s well-paced throughout. One difficulty is that at about the 2/3 mark, the rhythms of the film seem to be winding down to a finish—but there’s at least another half hour to go. This gives the movie a sense of having a broken back. It overcomes this minor difficulty, but perhaps the script should have been reduced in size a bit.

I wasn’t as fond of “Batman Begins” as most comic book/movie fans, but this wins me over, the rare sequel that surpasses the original in every way. “The Dark Knight” is one of the best superhero movies yet made, even better than “Iron Man.” It’s up there in the rafters with “Spider-Man 2,” and leaves me hoping that Christian Bale will again lead the way to Gotham City and the midnight world of Batman.

[Written by AVRev] [START]
"The Dark Knight" is presented on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc with a 1080p/VC-1 encode.  The video quality is damn near perfect.  It truly lives up to the hype and is worth the wait.  The film was shot on both 35mm and IMAX 70mm film.  So, the film flip-flops back and forth between the two aspect ratios – 2.40:1 for the 35mm footage and 1.78:1 for the IMAX footage.  I can't call this a flaw of the transfer, but it is fairly annoying.  Short single shots bounce from one format to the other.  Switches after long sequences are not as distracting, but still highly noticeable.

The transfer itself is nearly flawless.  The source appears to be pristine, which I would expect nothing less from with such a new and high-budget film.  Black levels are crucial for this film, and gladly they hold up well.  They are rich and deep, providing a textured image.  Some details are lost at times in the severely dark and black sequences.  For the most part, the shadow delineation is excellent.  Colors are accurate and deep.  The three-dimensionality of the image is consistently good.  There is one flaw to the transfer.  There is a bit of edge enhancement that has been applied to the transfer image.  This result in halos, particularly around the bright spots in a dark sequence.  Other than that, there are no compression or motion artifacts.

While the video quality is near exemplary, the audio track is even better.  Warner gives us a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track.  This is a relief as Warner has been putting standard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks on recent Blu-ray releases of new films.  This TrueHD track is certainly demo worthy.  Your subwoofer will get an extended workout with this film.  The bass is present throughout the film, whether is be action sequences with powerful sound effects or music sequences.  In terms of sound design and demo presentations, the Batmobile action sequence will definitely be the scene of choice for some time to come.  The rear channels are constantly engaged.  Discrete effects are well placed and panned in the surround channels.  The ambience and music is also filling in the surround channels.  The dynamics are perfect.  Dialogue is clear and audible in the low-key scenes, while action-packed scenes push the limits of the audio format.  It is not very offer I can say that the audio is perfect.

This two (three) disc special edition comes with a sub-par amount of bonus materials.  The feature film is located on disc number one.  Also on the first disc is a collection of focus points, about 65 minutes in total.  This picture-in-picture track contains behind-the-scenes footage that plays back during random moments in the film.  You must use the remote to select the track when the icon appears on screen.  Most of the material is present on the other featurettes located on the second disc.  This PIP track doesn't make up for the lack of any audio commentary track, but it does help.

On the second disc there is the "Batman Tech" documentary, running about 45 minutes.  This featurette covers all the Batman gadgets.  The second documentary is "Batman Unmasked."  This documentary delves into the history of the Batman saga and comic books.  "Gotham Tonight" contains six newscast segments.  Lastly, there are some still galleries, trailers and TV Spots.  The final disc is a standard DVD that has the Digital Copy of the film.  There is also some BD-Live functionality, which looks to include the ability to record your own video commentary and share it with other fans.  That's all.  It is a bit disappointing to not find any deleted scenes or audio commentaries.

"The Dark Knight" lives up to the video and audio expectations of consumers.  In addition is not a bad sequel.  This is a must add to your Blu-ray collection. [END]

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