Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Dark Knight’ Excels Technically But Misses Special Features

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CHICAGO – The most highly anticipated movie of the summer was also the most highly anticipated Blu-Ray release of the year and that was before the film had even hit theaters. The hype paid off in critical acclaim and commercial success, and audiences should be satisfied with “The Dark Knight” on Blu-Ray, if not quite as blown away as they were at the multiplex.

In one of the most brilliant marketing decisions of the year, Warner Brothers included the first six minutes of “The Dark Knight” in high-definition 1080p on their special edition Blu-Ray release of “Batman Begins” earlier this year, giving audiences a taste of what the sequel would look like on the next-gen format. Most of us, heavily under the influence of the incredible viral marketing and hype for the biggest movie of the decade, watched those six minutes more than any other part of the “Batman Begins” Blu-Ray release.

The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.
The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.

After “The Dark Knight” made a billion dollars (give or take) around the world, a special edition Blu-Ray release was inevitable. But Warner Brothers was clearly caught in a double-dip dilemma. Would they release all of the special features and produce one of the best Blu-Ray releases of the year or hold back and release an inevitable even-more-special edition to coincide with the Batman film following “The Dark Knight”?

They went with the latter choice. “The Dark Knight” is a technically beautiful Blu-Ray release, but the selection of special features and their execution is consistently frustrating and not up to the caliber of the movie itself.

With “The Dark Knight”, Warner Brothers has made two things clear. 1.) They are very interested in the potential of BD-Live, a special feature that could truly revolutionize the home viewing market and, in turn, the theatrical one. 2.) They’re going to ask for your money twice. There are just too many missing special features on “The Dark Knight” to not assume that they’ll be back for more. Come to terms with that, and you’ll enjoy “The Dark Knight” on Blu-Ray. But just know that it’s a placeholder.

As for the film itself, it would be hyperbolic overkill to review it for too long. “The Dark Knight” is the best superhero movie ever made. It’s what is often referred to as a game-changer - a movie that changes the genre forever. A new bar has been set. For more on the greatness of the film itself, check out publisher Adam Fendelman’s 5-star review.

The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008
The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.

The most positively remarkable thing about the Blu-Ray release of “The Dark Knight” is that it represents perhaps Warner Brothers’ best video transfer to date. This studio led the way in standard definition, but backed the wrong army in the HD war and has only been doing Blu-Ray since the merciful end of that conflict.

But they have quickly risen to the top in Blu-Ray as well with “The Dark Knight” representing the apex of that rise. Put simply, the 1080p High Definition 16x9 Variable 2.40:1 and 1.78:1 (IMAX Sequences) video transfer is flawless. Films with as much darkness as “Knight” often lose the clarity of their color. Blacks blend into blues and browns aren’t as distinct as they should be. And it’s not surprising to see visual noise or loss of clarity in the dark backgrounds. NONE of that is apparent in the transfer of “The Dark Knight”. Stores looking to sell more Blu-Ray players this holiday season need only show this on a 24/7 loop.

And stereo stores should play it too. Sound is such a crucial part of director Christopher Nolan’s vision and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track on “The Dark Knight” is perfectly mixed. Turn it up loud, wake the neighbors, and enjoy.

Before we get into what special features are included and their quality - a general note. “The Dark Knight” comes with no commentary tracks, no deleted scenes, and a bizarre selection of featurettes that miss the mark in providing a full look at what went into making and marketing this masterpiece. It’s not as much a case of what IS there being bad, it’s just poorly arranged and incomplete.

The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.
The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.

The most interesting aspect of the special features for “The Dark Knight” is the attempt at interactivity. Users can provide their own video commentary and share it with their friends via BD-Live. Now your interpretation of “The Dark Knight” can be heard by all. BD-Live also allows for live chats with filmmakers, exclusive content not on the disc itself and more trailers for WB product than your average multiplex.

When I accessed it, all I got was the preview for the movie on a constant loop for a while. There are clearly some kinks still being worked out. Once that was cleared up, there are some interesting extras available for stream, including some pretty cool animated short films (that buffered forever but eventually played) and more behind-the-scenes information.

As for what is included, Warner Brothers has unwisely gone from including scene-specific featurettes picture-in-picture, as they had been most of this year, to something new called “Focus Points”. When they’re activated, a gold disc will appear in the upper corner of the movie when there’s a related featurette available. So, instead of watching the movie and having the b-t-s features available automatically, you’ll have to hold your remote in your hand the entire time. It’s a stupid change.

The entirety of the “Focus Points” can be watched in one, hour-long sitting under the banner, “Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene”. There are 18 mini-featurettes with relatively self-explanatory titles. They are “The Prologue”, “The New Bat-Suit”, “Joker Theme”, “Hong Kong Jump”, “Judge’s Car Blows Up”, “Challenges of the Chase, In IMAX”, “SWAT Van Into River”, “Miniature Unit”, “Destruction of Batmobile”, “Bat-Pod”, “Helicopter Crash”, “Truck Flip”, “MCU Explosion”, “Lamborghini Crash”, “Hospital Explosion”, “Mob Car Flip”, “String of Sausages Stunt”, and “Upping the Ante”.

The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.
The Dark Knight is available on DVD/Blu-Ray on December 9, 2008.

The second disc includes three featurettes, galleries, and trailers. Here’s where the missing pieces - no deleted scenes, comprehensive documentary, etc. - come into clear focus. The “Behind the Story” section includes two 45-minute featurettes called “Batman Tech” about the gadgets of the film and “Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of The Dark Knight” about the history of the damaged hero. “Gotham Tonight” is a 46-minute collection of news broadcasts that were partially seen in the background of the film. It’s a lot of time with Anthony Michael Hall. All the excellent trailers and marketing materials are included in galleries.

“The Dark Knight” is one of the best movies of 2008 with one of the best video/audio transfers in the history of the Blu-Ray format. Those two things alone make it a must-buy, even if it’s pretty clear that you’re going to be asked to buy it twice.

‘The Dark Knight’ is released by Warner Brothers on DVD/Blu-Ray and stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Gary Oldman. It was written by Jonathan Nolan and directed by Christopher Nolan. It was released on December 9th, 2008.

Staff Writer

Anonymous's picture

Pre production?

inevitable even-more-special edition to coincide with the third Batman film already in pre-production?”

There is no part 3 in pre production. Not sure where you’re getting your info.

BrianTT's picture

Technically, you’re right

Technically, you’re right and I’ve corrected it, even if a third film is practically guaranteed at this point - that’s all I meant. Thanks for writing.

blu ray movies's picture

one of my favorites

well this is one of my favorite movie. This is really good. 

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