Dark Knight, The (UK - BD)
BAM! KAPOW! Our Marcus hasn't had this much of a Bat-fever since 1989...
There’s a new hero in Gotham city and his name is district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He’s taking the fight directly to the dark mob underbelly of Gotham and he seems to be winning. The public love him for what he’s achieving and one Gothamite in particular has great faith that Dent is the public hero Gotham needs.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), the now fully up and running Batman, finally sees an end in sight. Dent could actually achieve what Batman had dedicated his life to and Gotham could finally be a better place, but there’s a still one card to be played in this struggle and that card has a clown on it.
The anarchic Joker has hit Gotham and hit it hard and now he’s offering the Mob the ultimate prize—to kill the Batman. However, the Joker has a far bigger plan in store for Gotham and it’s going to push everyone to their absolute limits.
There hasn’t been this much of a Bat-frenzy since 1989. Seriously, the buzz for The Dark Knight was legendary. From the moment Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) passed Batman that Joker card at the end of Batman Begins it seems like we were just waiting for this movie to hit. Waiting for a confirmation that the Joker would be involved, remaining steady through the list of names attached to play the greatest villain of all time, not being 100% sure that Heath Ledger was right when he was confirmed, getting giddy over the many fake images that hit the web once filming got underway and then getting the rumbles that Harvey Dent’s twisted alter ego would be along for the ride as well. The trailers were absolutely classic with their 'every line is a classic line' approach and strangely this was a movie that somehow had not only the diehard Bat-fans following but the casual cinema goer as well.
I fall happily into the Bat-fan camp. Jumping back to 1989, Bat-mania had taken a hold of the world and on a more personal note, I’d have to cite Tim Burton’s Batman as the movie that really started my love of film. Of course, I was a big movie watcher before then, but the timing of Batman couldn’t have been better. I was eleven and my Dad took me to the cinema for the new Batman movie, knowing that all kids like Batman, though at the time my only real points of reference were the Adam West 60s TV show and a small splattering of comic books. It was sick-exciting sitting in that screening as I watched this dark figure going after the criminals, sitting in awe of his cool car and watching his bat-wing fly up to the moon to create a bat symbol and watching the Joker having fun while he tussled in his purple suits. I had been hit with the movie bug in a big way. I went back and saw Batman on the big screen a multitude of times and that was it, I was hooked. So in many ways, Batman can be considered a huge part in what I love about big event movies.
In 1992, we got the first of the Bat-sequels, this time bringing along Catwoman and the Penguin. I know this was considered quite the flop, but I love Batman Returns. It’s beautifully dark and the Christmas setting gives it that extra fairytale feel. I still think Batman looks his best in this instalment with the suit being pretty close to perfect for my tastes, and there’s just something about Keaton’s presence as the Batman that feels right to me. Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed, but whoever was soon forgot about their issues when Batman Forever and Batman and Robin arrived.
Batman Forever is a horrible movie and I know I’m probably bucking popular opinion, but I think it’s even worse than Batman and Robin. Seriously, at least Batman and Robin has Arnie in it, who manages to transcend badness into classic goofiness. Forever is just dull. It plods along lazily with its neon lights and just feels so un-engaging. Whoever cast a grown man as Robin shouldn’t be allowed to watch any more Batman movies and whoever came up with that silver Batsuit or the completely OTT Riddler lair should be... I’ll leave it there. This list of WTFs could go on forever, for both of these movies. A Bat-credit card??? Who is that even charged to?
So yeah, the Batman movie franchise was left for dead. But it was still alive and well on our small screens—thriving in fact, in the form of the Batman animated series. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it's an absolute masterpiece within the Batman history on screen. Bruce Timm and Co. took our caped crusader and somehow managed to get him pretty close to perfect, despite the kid friendly arena it was intended for. This Batman evolved over the animated series, through Batman Beyond and right up to Justice League Unlimited into something that really should be considered a blueprint for all future Batman attempts. This was the first time that Batman really felt lived-in as a character on the screen, every angle explored, and every relationship with the characters around him used to make Batman an even stronger character. Outside of the comics, this really is what I consider to be the perfect Batman and I can’t praise these animated projects enough.
So then came 2005’s Batman Begins, which read like the perfect shopping list when all the details came out. Warner Bros. had seen sense and were taking Batman down the darker, grittier route again. They got Christopher Nolan to direct and opted to develop Batman from the ground up, giving us an origin story that went beyond just seeing the murder of Bruce’s parents and actually delving into Bruce’s life after this life-changing tragedy showing us how he trained his body, mind and more so how he reached the decision to use the image of the bat to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Christian Bale was now in the cape and cowl and the fans took him to their hearts immediately, Begins struck the right cord with cinema go-ers and our new Bat-franchise was off and running. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked Batman Begins, I really did, but I didn’t fall in love with it like many did. The darkness was a welcome return. Bruce Wayne’s drive was up on the screen to see and to use the charismatic Qui Gon Jinn lectures of Liam Neeson as Ra's ah Ghu training Bruce, along with the Scarecrow doing what he does best on film was superb, but somewhere around the midway point I really zone out and everything all becomes a little obvious for me.
The biggest of the few niggling issues I have with Begins is that the Batman I know and love wouldn’t let a villain die under any circumstances within his control, but any and all of the issues I have can be forgiven, or indeed forgotten after that closing scene. That ending is the finest moment of any Batman movie ever. It’s so good in fact, it almost completely threw my mind forward to what’s to come, rather than what I’d just seen. There’s something about it that makes me forget Begins as something that’s passed and it immediately made me want to leap forward to a fully functioning Batman rather than revisit how we got to this point. It’s a hell of a movie promise of things to come but with this entire history of Batman on film behind it could The Dark Knight possibly live up to expectations.
It's 2008. We had seen the collapse of the Spider-Man franchise the year before, despite it promising massive things and the beginning of the New Year had delivered comic book movies with a stronger presence than ever. We had the surprisingly huge hit that was Iron Man, the reboot of The Incredible Hulk, the unleashed Guillermo del Toro Hellboy sequel, (though this came after The Dark Knight for some countries) and it was all beginning to look pretty special. So the big day came, 24th July 2008. I sacrificed going to the midnight screening so I could take my bat-lovin-daughter to see her very first Batman movie on the big screen (seemed like a good tradition to pass on) at the first 'regular' screening on opening day.
From those opening scenes with the continually exciting bank robbery you know this is a Batman movie like none before it. Begins had touches of being in a real city but never on this scale. Gotham is suddenly real but even more exciting—it’s every bit the perfect introduction to the Joker. It’s chaotic, its genius and it’s just damn exciting. Even watching it again on Blu-ray, the sense of momentum and sheer presence this character has is every bit the introduction the Joker deserves and the score backs him up. It’s absolutely the perfect piece of music to capture what the Joker is. Batman also gets a fantastic introduction with a real sense that he’s a totally up and running now. The cameo of the scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) being a genius way of getting the message across. This is Batman’s day to day. This is Gotham’s current state of affairs. This is Batman doing his job. That is until things change...
How Nolan takes all of the elements we know and love about the franchise and grounds them in reality, without losing the comic book nature of the source material, is actually close to genius and to be honest probably wouldn't have even been possible to get us to this point without the previous Batman films and incarnations. Nolan grasps that Batman is an icon and uses it expertly in playing with the many themes he takes on. He somehow manages to keep the audience in the dark at almost every turn with every carpet that’s pulled out beneath you and the Jokers game becomes as surprising to you as it is to the characters that have to deal with the outcome and what’s even more impressive is that he never takes it too far into ropey thriller territory. This is a plot that has been thought out a lot and executed with a steady hand.
Many have compared The Dark Knight to Heat, which is a fair comparison. It’s a huge epic tale, dealing in crime, law and the classic good guy after bad guy scenario. Heat has De Niro and Pacino sure but what it doesn’t have is Batman and the Joker. De Niro and Pacino may very well be the finest actors of our time and seeing them together was exciting as all hell, but Batman and Joker are to many, the ultimate good vs. evil partnership. Everyone knows this relationship on some level and everyone knows Batman isn’t up against any old face in his vast rogues gallery when the clown comes to town. Joker is the real deal and once again Nolan hasn’t let this go unnoticed. Somehow Nolan and Ledger got this relationship pretty close to perfect. No better scene showcases this than the interrogation room scene. Not only does it start perfectly, with a classic Batman entrance, but it just pays out like a dream come true. All of the dialogue feels true to the long history between these characters. The idea that these two characters have to co-exist and how they’re are part of the same problem, is absolutely spot on and by far my favourite scene in the movie.
The more I watch Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, the more impressed I become. He’s lost in that character. Every movement feels as if it’s making the character more than could be without this much dedication. Every twist on a line, or emphasis on a word, every story he tells of his origin, every look on his face coming beneath the layers of grimy make up. I never thought I’d say this (and I often pinned my hopes for the movie on this very performance in the long build up to its release), but somehow Heath Ledger is the Joker in every way I’d hoped for. Even writing that down seems like the craziest thing ever, considering the Jokers of the past, written, drawn or acted, but watching this again and really taking the opportunity to sit back and just watch the performance in the comfort of my own home, I just can’t help but come to that Bat-fan’s dream conclusion. With so many great moments to choose from, it’s hard to pinpoint just the one, but I’d have to go with the scene with him hanging out of a police car shaking his head in the wind. It’s a quiet moment with a lot building up to it but his presence on screen just seems to capture the Joker's insanity perfectly and always strikes me on every viewing. It’s just a damn shame that Ledger’s early death has prevented him from taking this now-classic performance even further in future instalments.
That said, Heath shouldn’t get all the praise. I’m still not sold on Bale’s Batman, mainly due to the over use of his ‘big gravelly bat-voice’ but his performance was solid one and he's a great Bruce Wayne, even if it’s not an entirely impressive Batman. Michael Caine has less to do this time out, but makes the Alfred role special, Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey works very well, but his alter ego didn’t quite get fleshed out how it really deserved but for me, and largely overlooked in all the Joker talk over the summer was Gary Oldman’s development of Jim Gordon. He does some incredible work here, not only capturing the attitude of a character that’s been deserving this amount of spotlight for quite some time but making him every bit as important to the struggles in Gotham as Batman. I can’t wait for the next instalment when he’s Commissioner.
I could go on but I’ve probably done that too much already. The Dark Knight is probably more impressive than I was even hoping for and watching it again has happily confirmed it wasn’t just the giddy excitement of seeing a good, involving, pitch-perfect Bat movie on the big screen. I still have some minor issues with some elements, but they are so small they’re forgettable and I still don’t think it knocks Batman Returns off of my top spot of Bat-movies, mainly due to the fact that for all of this realism, something simply ‘comic book’ is lost in there somewhere, but I confess a re-watch is probably in order to confirm this me. With all that said, The Dark Knight did something special this year. It took Batman ahead of the game again. The Dark Knight wasn’t just another superhero movie. The Dark Knight transcended those restraints and became a franchise that can sit comfortably in the ‘proper’ movie pantheon of greatness and made all the other superhero movies to date look a little generic. After many years of being a summer event, Christopher Nolan just made Batman and all of Gotham’s citizens proper movie stars, and come award season, it’ll be interesting to see who else acknowledges that.
Well to get straight to the big talking point, a little while back it was announced that The Dark Knight would come with the IMAX scenes in their intended ratios. This caused a bit of a stir because who wants to watch a movie where the ratio keeps popping? Well let me start by saying, I was one of the people who wasn’t looking forward to this at all. I can get distracted at the smallest of things happening on my screen and I didn’t want to be forced out of the enjoyment of a movie with something that seemed like a weird idea, especially to those people who probably aren’t even aware of what IMAX is.
Thankfully, despite the image changing from a 2.40:1 to a 16:9 in a blink of an eye a number of times, I have to say it’s not jarring at all. This is handled with care and even in scenes where it hops back and forth a number of times, it still didn’t register too much and felt seamless.
It helps that the IMAX shots look absolutely beautiful. Mostly consisting of large cityscapes, they just glow with natural lighting and masses of detail. Colours are rich and every single time you see them, it really shows off a fine transfer. Other impressive shots include Wayne’s Lamborghini tearing down the Gotham streets, the sun reflecting off of it and the reflections travelling along its body look absolutely stellar. All in all this was a decision that paid off.
As for the rest of the movie, this is still a very solid transfer, though the naturalness of the IMAX shots is lost with some very stylized movie lighting and colouring. The movie flicks between dark blues, heavy greens and occasionally strong warm oranges. This can make skin tones look very unnatural and sometimes makes the image feel a little less detailed than it deserves. This is obviously a style choice and is there to give the movie a tone or feel, so it’s easily forgiven, and when the scenes have a solid source of natural light all of this looks far more impressive. I especially liked seeing some of the richer colours that I’d missed in the cinema. The purple of the Joker's pieces of string or the feel for the fabric of his suits as well as the Bat costume looking fantastic under brightly lit sets. This all really show off the greatness of HD transfers.
It has to be said that there was a slight presence of edge halos in some scenes. Nothing on the scale of older DVDs, but it’s still there and it really prevents the presentation from being considered a show off disc as many predicted it would be.
For The Dark Knight to really excel, you need to have it loud—all of the time. Unfortunately on a comfortable level the subtle use of some of the musical cues, mainly the creeping Joker music, can feel a little lost in the mix and the balance between dialogue and score can feel a little uneven, and so I found myself constantly adjusting the volume levels on one of my viewings.
However, when listening to it loud in a full cinematic experience I found the mix to be very powerful and it uses all of the surrounds effectively. The blast of shot guns, the smashing of windows and the echo of the Jokers laugh all sound pretty amazing and strong. The dialogue remains in the front and mostly the centre speakers but still sounds clear and works for the many conversations in the movie and all in all, whilst this isn’t the most impressive mix I’ve heard, it does all it needs to do in order to impress.
Disc one comes with a vast selection of ‘Focus Points’ that are split down and accessible whilst watching the movie. They total sixty-four minutes in length and cover a lot of stunt work, a very interesting look at the IMAX scenes as well as a look at the work that went into the absolutely blinding Joker score. This runs almost like a director and crew commentary intercut with footage and images from the shoot and was pacey enough never to get too bogged down in detail.
Moving onto disc two, there are a couple of made-for-TV specials, which I think aired on US TV last year. 'Bat Tech' (45:59) is a look at the bat gadgets over the years, from ludicrous to classic and many are shown in relation to real world designs and technology. The second is 'Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight' (46:02) which goes into the elements of Batman that come from classic literature or have evolved over the years. Both are totally watchable but are fluff pieces at best.
Rounding off the features, are the six episodes of Gotham Tonight that were used as viral internet marketing in the build up to the film and a whole host of galleries (Joker Cards, Concept Art, Poster Art, Production Stills) and of course the superb trailer campaign that ran, which includes the three trailers as well as six TV spots.
I really enjoyed all of disc one, but it has to be said that I was a little let down with disc two. Where are the cast interviews? Where’s the Heath Ledger as the Joker documentary? Why no lengthy documentaries on the history of the Joker and Two Face, or even a featurette on the successful and many viral campaigns that kept the hype for The Dark Knight going for so long in the build up to its release? This second disc feels like tacked on filler in all honesty and they may as well have chucked on an advert for the next edition as it feels more than inevitable at this stage.
Maybe not the set that I’d hoped for overall, but still good enough before the eventual double dip that’s bound to arrive further down the line.
Batman still proves that he’s not only the best character in comic books but the best one on film too. The Dark Knight did exactly what we all thought it would and blew a huge bat-sized hole in this year big releases. I’m glad to say that unless there’s a real curve-ball of a movie between now and December 31st 2008, I once again have a superhero movie at the top of my year's best movies and that hasn’t happened since 1989.
Now let’s just hope Watchmen makes it a double next year...
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Aspect ratios differ between the 'Scope' and IMAX scenes.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 8th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Audio Descriptive Service 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish. Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish,
Extras: Focus Points, Behind the Story, Gotham Tonight reports, Galleries, trailers,
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama and Thriller
Length: 152 minutes
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