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Christopher Nolan
Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy
Writing Credits:
Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan (and story), David S. Goyer (story), Bob Kane (characters)

Why So Serious?

The follow-up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in his continuing war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves effective, but soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker, who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. Heath Ledger stars as archvillain The Joker, and Aaron Eckhart plays Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as Rachel Dawes. Returning from Batman Begins are Gary Oldman as Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.

Box Office:
$185 million.
Opening Weekend
$158.411 million on 4366 screens.
Domestic Gross
$529.696 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 152 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 12/9/2008

• “Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene” Featurettes
• IMAX Scenes
• “Gotham Tonight” Sequences
• Galleries
• Trailers
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Dark Knight: Special Edition (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 2, 2008)

Going into the summer of 2008, movie fans debated what flick would become the season’s biggest hit. Iron Man? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? WALL-E?

Nope, nope and nope. Batman returned and mopped the floor with all of them. Its $529 million gross meant it surpassed Iron Man’s number two spot by more than $200 million! No flick has dominated the box office like that since Titanic ruled the waves.

And as was the case when the James Cameron epic soared, The Dark Knight deserved its success. In Batman Begins, we saw Batman (Christian Bale) deliver a blow to organized crime in Gotham. However, he couldn’t completely kill the mob, and they continue to thrive under different management. A new figure enters the picture via the Joker (Heath Ledger), a bizarre figure who merrily steals the mobsters’ money and defies them at every turn.

While the heads of organized crime deal with threats from crusading new Gotham DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the Joker tells them that their real problem is the Batman. With him on the case, they’ll never be able to rest. He offers to kill Batman for half of all their money. Initially they laugh off this proposal, but it becomes clear they don’t have many other options and agree to the deal. This sets the Joker on a chaotic path to undermine everything in Gotham’s social order and eventually expose Batman.

Some relationship issues arise as well. Dent dates assistant DA – and Bruce Wayne’s longtime friend/potential paramour – Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She had previously indicated that she’d wait for Bruce to move past his fixation with vigilante justice, but with Dent on the scene, that window looks to close soon. The situation sets up a romantic triangle that adds to various tensions as Bruce/Batman has to deal with the terror the Joker inflicts on Gotham.

Expectations are a bear. As I’ve whined in the past, when I see a movie I really look forward to viewing, I almost always leave with some sense of disappointment. Oh, I may enjoy the flick in its own right, but it becomes tough to match up with the super-inflated expectations that accompany much-anticipated films.

Films like The Dark Knight. I really liked Batman Begins and Knight came from virtually the same cast and crew, so it stood to reason I’d enjoy it as well. In addition, my least favorite aspects of Begins came from Batman’s “origin story”. Since the sequel would dispense with that side of things, it seemed likely the flick could more fully satisfy in terms of its own story and action.

Perversely, that made me nervous and led me to worry that I wouldn’t like Knight because I’d expect so much greatness from it. Add to that many positive advance reviews and I figured there was a low chance I’d walk out of the theater happy.

Perhaps my fears actually lowered my expectations – or maybe Knight is simply a great film. I don’t know, but when I walked out of the theater after my initial screening, I left on a high I’d not received at a movie for quite some time. It was the feeling that I’d seen something remarkable, the kind of theatrical experience that comes along very infrequently.

The kind I’d not felt at all in 2008, as a matter of fact. I had high hopes for Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that they didn’t match. Oh, I enjoyed both those films, but compared to Knight they seemed lightweight. Neither lived up to the hype, whereas Knight surpassed expectations.

Almost everything about Knight succeeds, though I won’t claim it’s perfect. For one, the story is a bit of a mess. I think my synopsis makes it sound clearer than it is, but the truth is that it took me three viewings of the film to pare down the tale to its core. Essentially the whole organized crime side of the plot is a bit of a MacGuffin; those elements serve to spark some action, but they’re essentially meaningless in the greater scheme. The film really concerns itself with the Joker’s attempts to wreak havoc on Gotham and bring Batman down to his level; all other issues become secondary.

Don’t expect to figure that out during your first screening, though. Knight zips through the plot elements at a quick enough pace and pounds us with enough action that the story/script flaws don’t become a real concern, but they’re there. Really, it shouldn’t take three viewings to figure out such a basic tale.

Knight succeeds on such a powerful, visceral level that I can easily forgive its storytelling concerns. Ledger’s work received much attention, and not just due to his tragic death half a year before the film hit the screens; rumblings of a great performance grew well before his demise. That circumstance can make it tough to objectively examine Ledger’s turn here, but I really do think he soared.

Given the character’s 60-year existence and general audience familiarity, I’d think it’d be tough to truly re-invent the Joker, but that’s what Ledger does. His Joker bears a connection with those that came before him but doesn’t emulate them. This isn’t the merry psychopath executed by Jack Nicholson; Ledger’s Joker is an altogether scarier, more twisted piece of work.

And one who terrifies us even more because we don’t understand how he came to us. Prior Jokers – Nicholson’s included – appeared with origin stories in tow, so we were able to see what brought them to their criminal insanity. In this case, we have no idea how Ledger’s Joker evolved. Early in the film, he tells us an apparent origin tale, but since he later offers another totally different version of his roots, it’s clear that neither is true.

That means we have no idea who the Joker is or what created him, and he becomes even scarier due to his randomness. When I first saw Knight, I got the impression that many viewers didn’t quite accept the Joker for the vicious piece of work he is; they expected the jolly nutbag and not a terrorist/anarchist. I thought a lot of the laughter at the Joker's exploits was inappropriate, and I believe much of it stemmed from preconceived notions. Everyone thinks the Joker's supposed to be a laugh riot ala the Nicholson performance, but I don't believe the Ledger Joker is intended to be 1/10th as funny. I heard a lot of laughs at scenes that I really don't think were supposed to be especially amusing beyond a limited sense of dark humor.

It reminded me of the first time I saw 48 Hours in 1982. Since this was an Eddie Murphy movie, people expected a big comedy. It's not - it's an action flick with comedic elements. However, so many people were so convinced it'd be a hoot, they'd laugh at scenes that weren't remotely funny, like graphic, cold-blooded murders.

The Joker here is a more complex case because he's got some humorous elements, but I still think people laughed more than they would have if they didn't go in with particular expectations. Ledger's Joker was a grim character, not a comedic one.

Eckhart’s Dent is also a complex case. I thought that this film would just set up the character for future reference, like the Burton Batman did with Billy Dee Williams as Dent; though they never used Williams as Two-Face, it seemed logical that the flick put him into events for potential later use. I had no idea they'd transform Dent into Two-Face during Knight and use him as an active villain.

His "origin story" was brilliant - both complex and emotional - and I felt the third act used Two-Face well. It made sense within the Joker's mission and the film's context. Some think he became one villain too many, but I don’t agree, especially since the first two acts set up the Dent character so well – something that never occurred in the prior Batman flicks.

Most of the remaining main actors return from Begins, but one major exception occurs: Katie Holmes played Rachel in the earlier film. As I mentioned in that review, I thought Holmes’ lightweight performance was one of its main weaknesses, so I welcomed her replacement.

And Gyllenhaal makes good on the hopes I felt when I heard Holmes wouldn’t return. Gyllenhaal brings an actual weight to the role wholly absent in Holmes’ performance. In Begins, Rachel seems like a petulant teenager, while here she's a force with which to be reckoned. I can buy Gyllenhaal's Rachel as a prosecutor; I never remotely accepted Holmes in that way.

Some fans griped about Gyllenhaal’s looks; they felt that a billionaire stud like Wayne would demand a hotter babe. Yes, Holmes is prettier, but Gyllenhaal isn't dog meat. As for those who think it's irrational that Bruce and Harvey fall in love with a woman who's not a "10", ever think maybe - just maybe - her intelligence sways them?

If Bruce just wants a babe, he can have that - and he clearly has had plenty of them, as the movie shows us. He honestly loves Rachel, which makes the movie's emotional thrust all the more compelling. Looks probably aren't that important to Bruce because of the "been there, done that" factor; he wants someone more substantial, and that’s what we get from Gyllenhaal’s performance.

I could continue to rave about The Dark Knight but I’ll leave some things unsaid. Suffice it to say that it’s arguably both the best movie of 2008 and the greatest superhero flick ever made. I loved it so much I didn't want it to end, but my bladder felt differently. I held it until the end because I didn't want to miss anything, but it was a close call. That's my biggest complaint about the flick: no built-in bathroom breaks! It's so relentless that it gives you no chance to step out for a minute. This is a powerful, emotional and downright thrilling flick.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio A/ Bonus C+

The Dark Knight appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not unwatchable, the film provided a very disappointing transfer.

As seems to be the case with many Warner Bros. DVDs these days, compression artifacts were the main distraction. Knight often took on a blocky look that affected definition. Shimmering and jagged edges cropped up throughout the film; many shots displayed a ropy look, and I also saw mild edge enhancement. All of these factors often gave the image an unnatural roughness.

I also thought the movie looked darker than expected. Yes, I realize it’s called The Dark Knight, and one should anticipate lots of shadows in a Batman film. However, the image sometimes became more opaque than desired. Low-light elements sometimes seemed fine, but many scenes were too murky and dark. It could become tough to differentiate the action, and these were shots that displayed proper delineation when I saw the film theatrically.

Otherwise, blacks were fine; they occasionally suffered from a little muddiness but usually appeared solid. When the movie avoided blockiness, sharpness was good, as the flick rarely seemed soft. Colors worked well. The movie showed some stylized hues but usually went with a natural – though subdued – palette that appeared appropriately rendered. The transfer wasn’t a total loss, but the negatives became too prevalent for it to get a grade above a “C”.

At least I found no reason whatsoever to complain about the stellar Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Dark Knight. From the opening bank heist to the concluding drama, the movie displayed an active, powerful mix. It worked the various speakers well, as each channel offered lots of unique audio. The whole package blended together smoothly to present a wild ride through Gotham.

Audio quality supported matters well. Speech was consistently natural and concise. Actually, that side of things may’ve sounded better at home than in the theaters; Batman’s bass-heavy dialogue didn’t seem as over the top in this mix. Music was quite full and dynamic, as the score showed great clarity and range.

Effects were terrific. The movie boasted excellent fidelity and allowed the gunshots, explosions and other elements to shine. Low-end was absolutely top-notch, as the bass kicked the track to a higher gear. This was a simply fantastic soundtrack.

Since The Dark Knight became the biggest box office smash in a decade, you’d expect this two-disc Special Edition to come packed with extras, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Virtually all the materials appear on DVD Two; Disc One simply opens with Previews for Blu-Ray, Batman Begins, the Batman: Arkham Asylum videogame, and Watchmen.

Over on DVD Two, we start with Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene. This area breaks into two featurettes: “The Sound of Anarchy” (6:25) and “The Evolution of the Knight” (17:35). Across these, we hear from director Christopher Nolan, composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, costume designer Lindy Hemming, costume FX supervisor Graham Churchyard, producers Emma Thomas and Charles Roven, production designer Nathan Crowley, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, stunt coordinator Paul Jennings, director of photography Wally Pfister, sound designer Richard King, IMAX consultant David Keighley, visual effects supervisor Nick Davis, editor Lee Smith, executive producer Kevin de la Noy, and actor Christian Bale.

“Creation” looks at aspects of the score, Batman’s costume and his vehicles, locations, shooting IMAX, the film’s audio, and the film’s scope. Based on the title, you’d expect the featurettes to provide a detailed look at one Dark Knight scene. They don’t. Instead, they give us info about a mix of filmmaking topics. Both are informative but not as substantial as I’d like.

Portions of The Dark Knight were shot specifically for the IMAX format, and we find those scenes here presented in their IMAX dimensions. Six sequences appear: “The Prologue” (6:23), “Hong Kong” (3:51), “The Armored Car Chase” (8:28), “The Lamborghini Crash” (7:56), “The Prewitt Building” (7:22) and “The Dark Knight” (2:42). That adds up to 36 minutes, 42 seconds of footage, but don’t expect all 36:42 to offer the IMAX shots. Instead, the elements cut from the roughly 1.44:1 IMAX dimensions to the 2.35:1 featured in the rest of the film. Most of it’s IMAX, but shifts do occur, and they occasionally seem a bit jarring, as we’ll go from a quick IMAX shot back to 2.35:1 without much time to absorb the ratio shift.

How did the presentation work at an IMAX theater? The IMAX-specific shots filled the squarish screen, so the 2.35:1 elements – which meant most of the movie – were letterboxed. Yup, just like watching a widescreen movie on a 4X3 TV, black bars filled the space above and below the footage. This sounds distracting, but despite the occasional jarring jumps, the film usually flowed well. I thought the ratio changes would be a mess, but they moved pretty smoothly.

On the huge screen, the IMAX footage was stunning. My second screening of Dark Knight was IMAX, and I loved the exclusive footage. It wasn’t just the size of the material; the IMAX bits also looked crisper and more vivid than the standard shots. It looked so great that it just made me wish the whole movie went IMAX.

What worked great on the enormous screen doesn’t translate especially well to the home theater situation. The DVD presented the 2.35:1 shots in the normal manner; they extended to the screen’s sides and featured mild black bars on the top and bottom. For the IMAX shots, the image filled the spaces occupied by black bars for the 2.35:1 elements but became pillar-boxed on the sides.

So the advantages of the IMAX presentation vanished when viewed at home. The set-up means that we lose the coolness of the huge visuals. Do the IMAX segments have any point on DVD other than for curiosity value? Yeah, since they show elements of the shots cropped during the widescreen presentation. Some of these give the scenes a grander scale, though again, the way this appears on a TV diminishes the impact. Still, it’s fun to be able to see the shots as originally composed.

Actually, it’s too bad Warner didn’t simply provide the entire movie in the IMAX format. Yes, we find all the IMAX footage here, but it’s less interesting to watch it away from the context of the full film. It’d be more entertaining to view the whole flick with the IMAX elements and not just check out bits and pieces.

Gotham Tonight lets us see “cable news programs” related to the film. All together, these six episodes run a total of 46 minutes, 34 seconds. We see news specials that cover Harvey Dent’s election, biographies of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon, crime in Gotham, and an interview with Dent. Dark Knight featured a terrific promotional campaign that set up viewers for various parts of the movie’s story and characters, and these clips come from that endeavor.

The “Gotham Tonight” segments are quite fun to see. They include appearances by a number of the movie’s actors, and they do set up film elements quite well. Indeed, it’s probably a good idea to watch them before you first see the flick, as they help fill out the different aspects of the tale. In a clever move, they literally end with the movie’s opening; the last report shows the Joker’s heist as breaking news. The “Gotham Tonight” pieces are the best supplement in this package.

Two subsections appear under The Galleries. We find “Poster Art” (12 images) and “Production Stills” (88). I like the “Production Stills” but think the posters are the most interesting. The movie boasted some great ad designs, so it’s good to see them here.

Next we locate three Dark Knight trailers. DVD Two also opens with some Previews. It provides ads for Batman: Gotham Knight and the soundtrack for The Dark Knight.

Finally, DVD Two includes a Digital Copy of Dark Knight. It seems like every DVD provides this option these days; it allows you to easily transfer the flick to a portable gizmo or your computer. While I have no desire to watch the movie on either of those devices, the digital copy of Knight comes with an unusual twist: it opens up to a 1.78:1 ratio for the IMAX sequences. I find it frustrating that we get this cool option in such a limited way.

Fans need to put The Dark Knight on the short list of the best superhero movies ever made. Heck, I could argue it’s the best of its genre, as the film provides a thoroughly dramatic and exciting experience that dazzles from start to finish. The DVD boasts excellent audio but it suffers from erratic visuals and includes a rather meager collection of extras. The Dark Knight is such a great flick that I must recommend it, but this DVD disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0695 Stars Number of Votes: 115
5 3:
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main