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.