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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Dark Knight [Blu-ray]


(Christopher Nolan, 2008)







Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Warner Bros. Pictures

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video



Region: All

Runtime: 2:32:13

Chapters: 39

Feature Size: 35.07 GB

Disc Size: 40,716,923,842 bytes

Average Bitrate: 30.72 Mbps

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case w/ slipcover

Release date: December 9th, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 (35 mm) & 1.78:1 (IMAX)

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1


Bitrate Graph:



Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1505 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1505 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio English 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround



English, French & Spanish



• Movie with Focus Points: Gotham Uncovered – mostly in HD (1:04:10)

• Batman Tech: The Incredible Gadgets & Tools- in HD (45:59)

• Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of The Dark Knight – in HD (46:02)

• Gotham Tonight: 6 Episodes of Gotham Cable's Premier News Program – in HD (46:41)

• The Galleries: Joker Cards, Concept & Poster Art, Production Stills (slide show: about 31 minutes)

• Trailers & TV Spots

• Digital Copy Disc

• BD-Live



The Film:

I gather there are 2.40:1 video screens out there - an idea that has always struck me as odd - though my math has never been good enough to say why exactly. In any case these folks are going to be SOL for the new Dark Knight video.

Perhaps you saw The Dark Knight in the theatre. Perhaps you saw it in IMAX. If so, then you would have been aware of the shift in aspect ratios between 2.40:1 for those sequences shot in 35 mm to 1.44:1 for the IMAX bits. I wondered how Warner was going to handle this when it came to bringing out the movie on Blu-ray. I had read advance notices that indicated Warner would do something to respect director Nolan's intentions. In fact they did, and the result is very impressive. More on this later.

Each of the three directors of the big Batman movies made since 1989 has had a second shot (cf: Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher), but no one until Christopher Nolan has significantly improved upon his initial effort. Burton's Joker made it clear that the main difference between him and the caped crusader was that one of them was insane. It was evident even then that Batman operates under rules he makes for himself and those rules trump the rules of society when it comes to catching bad guys. Burton scratched the surface, but Nolan drives us right into the darkest recesses of the batcave that resides deep in Waynes's psyche. One thing is clear: the aptly monikered Dark Knight does not follow the precepts set down by the Corleone's: with Wayne, everything is personal; business applies only to his toys, as Nicholson so gleefully referred to them.

Alas, The Dark Knight will be remembered for its being Heath Ledger's final on-screen role perhaps even more than the intriguing film it is. It will take some time to put the performances of Ledger and Bale in perspective, for the one is meaningless without the other. (My present take on Ledger's characterization of Joker is that is mesmerizing while not entirely coherent. On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves if we ought to expect an insane character to be coherent.) Hedger's fate aside, both actors play their parts well in bringing about Batman's psychological crisis. And they get help from Two-Face Harvey Dent, played with unexpected tragic menace by Aaron Eckhart. Michael Caine reprises his role as the faithful Alfred, and Morgan Freeman returns as Wayne's enterprising technical wizard, Lucius Fox. Lt. Gordon is played by Gary Oldman. And Rachel Dawes, previously played by a lightweight Katie Holmes, has matured into Maggie Gyllenhaal.



Image: 9~10/10      NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other
Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The 9~10 score corresponds to the parts of the movie that were shot in 35 mm vs the parts shot in IMAX. IMAX has a negative area some 4 times greater than 2.4:1 on 35 mm film. The resolution is fabulous, and requires a higher scanning rate in mastering to retain all of its advantage. I have a call into Warner to see if, like Baraka, the IMAX portions were scanned at 8k, and will revise my remarks when I find out. What I can tell you is that the image on my 104-inch screen is as dense as any live action film I've seen outside of Baraka. I did detect some problem with image coherence in the opening helicopter shot as the IMAX camera moves across a rooftop, but it may have been a weakness in motion processing at my end. I don't recall observing this problem at the theatre.

The Dark Knight was the first feature film I saw at an IMAX theatre and I did not know what to expect except that I knew that only some portions of the movie were shot in that format. Curiously, I was not really aware of the switching aspect ratios (possibly because I was sitting so close) but I was aware of the difference in resolution, and that difference was not at all subtle. And while the difference between the IMAX and 35 mm portions of the
Blu-ray are evident, they aren't nearly as spectacular as they were in the theatre.

Despite the presence of an hour's worth of a 1080i bonus feature (though typically at bit rates of less 10 Mbps), bit rates for the feature film, regardless of its being 35 mm or IMAX-sourced tend to wander around the low 30s. And if you thought you were seeing noiseless blacks before, just wait until you see these nighttime shots in IMAX!




IMAX Screen caps!







Screen caps provided by BLU-NOTE (DVDBeaver reviewer)













Audio & Music: 10/8
There are two things I remember distinctly from my IMAX theatrical viewing (I went a second time to the same theatre a week later and sat further back): the first is that the last word of Joker's first line without his mask: "I believe whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you. . . stranger" was swallowed by the mix. I noticed it both times and I was eager to hear how this would play at home. The second is Bale's voice as Batman, which sounded like the microphone was placed inside his body. I speculated that this might be the same kind of inflated midrange that Cineplex theatres offer. I was surprised on both counts: "stranger" is not swallowed, and Bale's voice is still cavernous, but in proportion to the rest of the mix.

The surround track is an opportunity to make one's day or screw the pooch. In this case, the pooch can go back home – without dinner. There are numerous action scenes with cars, trucks, motorcycles, planes and helicopters careening and crashing into one thing or another, to say nothing of all types of gunfire in all manner of indoor and outdoor locations, to say nothing of building explosions – with us in or near the worst of it. A good deal of all this is filmed in IMAX so it is essential that the audio mix – effects, dialogue and music (with significant contributions by veterans Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard) – all come to together in a series of uncompressed audio knockout punches. I want to give special mention to the music score which is conceived more as an effect than a melodious support.



Note that, unlike other audio mix pairings I've encountered, the Dolby TrueHD is set at a lower level, so don't neglect to turn it up a bit if you start with DD 5.1. Right from the opening, with some of the softest audio cues on video, to the awesome low frequency music and other effects, the upgrade is felt to be an absolute must. The low frequencies are no longer simply thuds, but have impulse; dialogue is clearer, with or with masks, and all arms fire and their ricochets are more clearly identified and placed.


Operations: 8
If you happen to look at the back cover before hastily grasping your disc for play, you might notice some childlike scribbling and graffiti – like so much vandalism. Guess who wrote it!

Like Warner DVDs and
Blu-rays before it, The Dark Knight begins almost by the time you return to your seat without preambles, assuming you have a fast-loading player. This process can be interrupted if you want, but be warned that the default audio mix is Dolby Digital 5.1 so if you want uncompressed audio you'll have to ask for it.

The menu operations are very easy to use and, considering the opportunity for being devious, they're not. I'm so happy. One last: I noticed an audio track I had never seen before: a Descriptive English Language that described the events on the screen – for the visually impaired I wondered? (See Extras for details re: "Movie with Focus Points," which is contained on disc 1 along with the feature film for obvious reasons.)

Two points off for the unnecessary and accident prone internal flip-page.




Extras: 10
Warner's answer to Universal's U-Control is "Movie with Focus Points" – not very catchy, but a very different and, I feel, more effective solution to bringing up special feature material in the context of the movie. Universal relies mostly on picture-in-picture: an icon appears inviting you to bring up the PIP. Now this PIP is not like a running audio commentary that might refer to the very frames you are simultaneously viewing or about to view, so I have always found it a bit distracting to have both running at the same time. More problematic, even for those of us with large screens, is the size of the PIP. It's almost too small to get engaged, especially when the feature film is blazing away six times larger. Nor do these same PIP episodes appear elsewhere on the disc, though the information is often incorporated in other bonus features.

Warner's Movie with Focus Points prefers you concentrate on one thing or the other. So when you click on the icon, you see a full size replacement of the feature film with several minutes of relevant background material. Or, you may simply watch them all in one huge segment, like a making-of documentary of the sort we have seen in the past. Either way, it takes the place of both the PIP concept and the traditional audio commentary – for there is none on this

The hour-long Gotham Uncovered feature concentrates a good deal on the choice of IMAX for more of the movie than you might expect, and the particular technical and practical challenges that come with it. It's a fascinating piece. Other sections examine the new Bat-suit and Bat-pod, the latter was especially interesting, I thought, inasmuch as I hadn't picked up on how difficult the thing must have been to steer. As much as I enjoy an audio commentary (which I usually watch in audio only), I thought the material here demanded a video commentary and, given how thorough and well-produced this one is, I didn't miss a running audio commentary.

On the second disc there are another roughly three hours of material: Batman Tech looks at Batman's gadgets and tools, many of which are military and industrial real-world based. Batman Unmasked delves into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego from the perspective of psychotherapists in the field. Gotham Tonight presents six (count them) faux news stories, totaling some three quarters of an hour, about Gotham's caped crusader and the man whose face Gotham does see. Very droll. The main Galleries can be viewed either as slide shows or in manual advance. The many varieties of Joker playing cards are many and various - Fascinating.


Bottom line: 10
The Dark Knight certainly wins a place on my Ten Best
Blu-ray releases from 2008 which so far includes: Baraka, Wall-E, Nightmare Before Christmas, Black Narcissus, Sleeping Beauty and The Restored Godfather Trilogy. I shall say no more.

Leonard Norwitz
November 24th, 2008










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