The Dark Knight appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 - usually. The filmmakers shot about 20 percent of the movie with IMAX cameras, and that used a ratio around 1.33:1. For those scenes, the Blu-ray expands to 1.78:1; it’s not the full IMAX image, but it’s closer than 2.40:1.
And the half-hour or so of IMAX shots looked spectacular. They excelled in virtually every way, as they showed great definition and vivacity. These sequences provided such stellar visuals that I wished the whole film had been shot that way.
Though not as strong, the 2.40:1 scenes were good as well. Sharpness was usually fine. A little softness occasionally cropped up in wider shots, and some light edge haloes didn’t help. Still, the majority of the movie appeared crisp and detailed. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I witnessed virtually no source flaws. I noticed one or two small specks but nothing more.
Colors worked well. The movie showed some stylized hues but usually went with a natural – though subdued – palette that appeared appropriately rendered. Blacks were usually dark and deep, though some exceptions occurred. For instance, the final sequence with Two-Face came across as a little muddy, and shadow detail – which mostly seemed fine – was less than stellar. Nonetheless, the majority of the dark scenes offered solid visuals. All of this left the film as a “B+” transfer.
I found no reason whatsoever to complain about the stellar Dolby TrueHD 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.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the Dark Knight DVD? I thought the sound seemed pretty comparable, but the Blu-ray’s image blew away the DVD’s visuals. The latter was one of the biggest DVD disappointments of 2008; it looked ropy and tentative, so it totally failed to live up to the expectations that accompanied a brand-new, big budget super-hit. The Blu-ray improved on the DVD’s visuals in almost every way – and added the bonus of the broadened aspect ratio for the IMAX shots. There’s no comparison here; the Blu-ray trashed the picture quality of the DVD.
The Blu-ray features the same extras as the DVD but adds a few more. I’ll note Blu-ray exclusives with special blue type.
On Disc One, we find 18 Focus Points. You can watch these as the film runs, individually, or as one long running program. If you take the last approach, they fill a total of one hour, four minutes and ten seconds; they range in length from 39 seconds (“Mob Car Flip”) to eight minutes, 48 seconds (“The Prologue”).
The “Focus Points” feature behind the scenes elements and interviews. We hear from co-writer/producer/director Christopher Nolan, director of photography Wally Pfister, IMAX consultant David Keighley, producers Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Kevin De La Noy, stunt coordinator Paul Jennings, editor Lee Smith, “A” camera operator/steadicam operator Bob Gorelick, “A” camera first assistant Bob Hall, special effects coordinator Chris Corbould, composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, sound designer Richard King, costume designer Lindy Hemming, costume FX supervisor Graham Churchyard, production designer Nathan Crowley, stunt performer Buster Reeves, visual effects supervisor Nick Davis, first assistant editor John Lee, stunt performer George Cottle, special effects prep supervisor Ian Lowe, and actor Christian Bale.
The “Points” look at cinematography and the use of IMAX cameras for the film’s prologue, stunts and effects, music and audio, costumes, vehicles and props, and editing. That’s a whole lot of technical material, but I don’t mind, as we learn quite a few cool facts about that side of things. The “Points” never feature shots of the participants, so we always see movie shots or – usually – behind the scenes bits. These flesh out the material well and make this a good collection of clips.
(Note that the “Focus Points” replace two “Gotham Uncovered” featurettes on the original DVD. The “Points” offer all the same information and more, so the inclusion of the two DVD featurettes would’ve been redundant.)
Over on Disc Two, we start with two programs under “Behind the Story”. Batman Tech lasts 45 minutes, 59 seconds and includes remarks from Nolan, Bale, Roven, Thomas, Hemming, Churchyard, Corbould, The Science of Superheroes co-author Lois H. Gresh, former DC Comics senior editor/writer Len Wein, Motor Trend Magazine editor-at-large Arthur St. Antoine, DC Comics senior VP/executive editor Dan DiDio, UC Irvine professor of physics Michael Dennin, CIA Museum curator Toni Hiley, DC Comics publisher/president Paul Levitz, Ceradyne Inc. founder/CEO Joel Moskowitz, Chapman University professor of biological sciences Frank Frisch, base jumper Shane McConkey, LA Times motorcycle journalist Laura Carpenter, and Atlas Devices co-founder/CTO Nathan Ball.
“Tech” looks at the scientific facts behind the various vehicles, costumes and gadgets featured in the film. It examines the evolution of the comic book Batman’s arsenal and then discusses the feasibility of the movie character’s equipment. The program moves at a peppy pace and tends toward a glossy approach, but that doesn’t make it insubstantial. It throws out a lot of interesting facts about the technology involved in the movie, so it’s a fun addition to the package.
Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight goes for 46 minutes, two seconds and features Bale, Levitz, Roven, Nolan, O’Neil, DiDio, Wein, Thomas, The Psychology of Superheroes editor Robin S. Rosenberg, Wisdom from the Batcave author Rabbi Cary A. Friedman, Columbia University Chairman of Psychiatry Jeffrey Lieberman, UCLA professor of social psychology Benjamin R. Karney, Forensic Consultation Associates’ Dr. Robert TM Phillips, and Superman on the Couch author Danny Fingeroth. The program views Batman among other vigilantes and digs into Bruce Wayne’s psyche to discuss why he does what he does. It also looks at some of Batman’s villains. The show tends to ramble somewhat, so it doesn’t provide the tightest view of its subject. Nonetheless, it’s certainly more ambitious than the usual bonus feature, and it includes intriguing insights.
Two components appear under “Extras”. Gotham Tonight lets us see “cable news programs” related to the film. All together, these six episodes run a total of 46 minutes, 41 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 Internet ad campaign that set up viewers for various parts of the movie’s story and characters.
The “Gotham Tonight” segments were part of that, and they’re 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 “Joker Cards” (72 images), “Concept Art” (58), “Poster Art” (12) and “Production Stills” (88). I like all of these, but I think the posters are the most interesting. The movie boasted some great ad designs, so it’s good to see them here.
In addition to three Dark Knight trailers and five TV spots, the set 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.
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 Blu-ray boasts very good visuals, excellent audio and a generally good roster of supplements. Given the movie’s success, the latter don’t satisfy as well as I’d like, but they’re still consistently interesting.
The Dark Knight Blu-ray definitely earns a rousing endorsement from me, and that goes for folks who already own the DVD. The Blu-ray includes a much better set of extras and provides radically improved picture quality. This is a must-own set.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of THE DARK KNIGHT