Review: The Dark Knight Blu-ray Disc

I don't claim to think that I can in any way influence your purchase of The Dark Knight on Blu-ray ($US24) or DVD ($US15/$US21). In fact, I don't really want to. I couldn't care less if you buy it, rent it or stomp any loose copies you spot at the store.

But to me, the 3-disc Blu-ray set (2 discs of content and an extra disc for the digital copy) has brought an unparalleled experience to my home theatre. And I'm going to fanboy out a bit for 30,000 or so words.

The Movie
In one respect, a 1080p display could never hope to capture the multi-story IMAX experience. And it doesn't. But seeing the first shot of the movie, that of a less recognisable Chicago skyline, rekindled what it was like to sit in the theatre and see film as I'd never quite seen it before. It was also the prettiest high definition moment I've experienced yet.
Just as in its theatrical release, the IMAX footage plays at a different resolution. It fills an HDTV in 1.78:1 aspect while the rest of the movie plays back with black bars in 2.4:1. And just as in its theatrical release, the transition is barely noticeable.

But despite all of this video glory, I've never felt so torn over a DVD release. On one hand, The Dark Knight is a technical masterpiece—sharp, colourful, vivid and pretty much any other advertisement-inspired words you could imagine. On the other, its inability to be contained on a 40-inch LCD reminds me of why we will always need theatres. A big movie simply cannot be captured on the small screen scale, even though it's a lot of fun to watch The Dark Knight try.

The Extras
As for the extras, I was shocked to find no commentary by director Christopher Nolan. It's rare that I actually watch those things, as much as they've successfully tipped the scales on me making many a DVD purchases. But I wanted to hear Nolan's unscripted reminiscences of filming in Chicago, flipping trucks and blowing up cars on the streets of my hometown.
What we get instead is about an hour of featurettes that can be called up during relevant parts of the movie or just played from the main menu. While I was initially pretty bummed about the unworthy substitution, I will say that these short documentaries were lovingly assembled, providing incredibly detailed accounts of pulling off a chase sequence on shady Lower Whacker Drive with only ambient lighting, and loading an IMAX camera onto a steadicam rig...only to snap the metal suspension bar under the camera's weight.
I hadn't realised that the film used minatures for some of the great Batmobile sequence, which was entertaining in the most childish-fulfilling way. But maybe even more impressive was when the crew submitted to the impossibility of shooting Batman's base jumping scene over Hong Kong. They used a stunt double on a green screen instead—a stunt double that still dropped 120 real feet in a studio.

There are countless little bits of trivia like these along with lots of behind the scenes footage (all shot with decent HD cameras, btw). From the Batpod to all of Batman's tiny gadgets, we get access to it all in this fantastic hour of features.

That's disc one.

Disc two contains is technically the one containing all the extras, but honestly, it's the first disc that's more impressive. There are two History Channelesque documentaries (one on Batman's gadgets and the other on Batman's psyche). Both are extremely professionally assembled, and they tend to explore the Batman from comic books as much as the Batman from recent films. I enjoyed watching the CIA discuss Batman's utility belt from 1960s comics and getting a look at how we build bulletproof ceramics in real life.

But the rest of the features disc is filled with about an hour's worth of faux newsreels known as Gotham Tonight. It's bad internet content that's filling up room on the back of The Dark Knight box. And it's just awkward to watch b-list talk about Batman sightings and Gotham politics, frankly.
There's also a notable series of slideshows, but the pictures should really go full screen.

The BD Live
As for BD-Live content, you've got to remember that this is Warner Bros' first BD Live enabled disc, and it actually offers something really, really promising with the platform. You can record your own commentary track. The only catch is that you actually do the recording through Warner Bros' site while you watch the film streamed (before you later download it to your Blu-ray player). But it's a neat idea for BD Live and it will be interesting to see what the fan base does with it. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the website working yet.(AU Note: The local release of The Dark Knight won't actually have BD-Live, for some reason...)

The Heroic Ending
Like I said, it's more than a bit futile to review The Dark Knight on Blu-ray. It's almost a sure thing to outsell its predecessors. The most popular movie of the decade will certainly be the best selling BD of the last handful of lackluster years.

But I do think that Warner Bros. did the material justice, even if the discs have a bit of worthless filler. The film is, of course, excellent. And the extras that are worthwhile really are worthwhile, representing the upper echelon of behind the scenes film content.

If I had one complaint, it's that Nolan and Bale clearly didn't have contracts that were binding enough to force them to sit in the same room for two and a half hours, making awkward, human small talk over a film that's grown so legendary in its reputation and lore.

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