The Dark Knight

Batman (Christian Bale) continues his war on crime in Gotham City with the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Determined to destroy organized crime, the three make great strides toward restoring order until a criminal mastermind know as The Joker (Heath Ledger) thrusts the city into anarchy, forcing Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante.

The Dark Knight is arguably the best film I've seen in 2008, but I can't say it was an uplifting experience. It's extremely dark and violent, especially the riveting performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. I didn't think anyone could top Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman, but Ledger took the psychotic character into uncharted waters, and he should posthumously receive the Oscar after his untimely death in January. Much like Batman Begins, the pacing is a little slow in the second act, but the action sequences are amazing, especially the 18-wheeler that flips end-over-end in real life without the use of CGI.

The Dark Knight marks the first time that a major feature film has been shot in part using IMAX cameras with 65mm film mixed with traditional 35mm photography. The VC-1 video encode takes advantage of this by using a hybrid master to replicate the unique theatrical experience of switching between two different aspect ratios throughout the film—2.40:1 for the 35mm footage and 1.78:1 for the 65mm IMAX footage. I can hear the screams of complaint from enthusiasts with 2.35:1 screens and anamorphic lenses on their projectors!

Complaints aside, it was an amazing experience on my 1.78:1 screen. The only unfortunate aspect of this approach is that the 35mm scenes look woefully inadequate compared to the IMAX footage. Detail and clarity is superior in the 1.78:1 shots, and excessive edge enhancement in the 2.40:1 sequences detracts from the viewing experience with abundant edge halos. Shadow detail is staggering—in fact, it may be the best yet on Blu-ray. Color saturation is also exemplary, especially the rich purple of The Joker's suit.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel soundtrack is simply amazing with tons of infrasonic bass. The front soundstage is alive with numerous panning effects, and the surround channels are extremely active—especially during the well-choreographed fight scenes. Dialog is intelligible, although I didn't much care for Batman's raspy voice. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard teamed up for the understated musical score, which complements the eerie screenplay.

The highest-grossing film of 2008 gets the A-list treatment on Blu-ray with a three-disc set, although the third disc only contains a digital copy of the film. Disc one contains the film plus 65 minutes of "Focus Points" (HD), which can be played back during the film or watched separately—my personal choice. Also available are BD-Live features that won't be available until street date, which will allow users with Profile 2.0 players to access additional content.

Disc two contains two documentaries (both in HD), one on the tech of Batman and the other a marketing fluff piece on the film. Other supplements include six "Gotham Tonight" newscasts, over 300 still photographs, and theatrical/TV trailers with every supplement in 1080p video.

The Dark Knight will undoubtedly be the best-selling title on Blu-ray in 2008, with the expectation of 1 million copies in its first week alone—a first for the format. I have no doubt that this expectation will be met because there's a lot to like about the film with its incredible cast, intense action, and gripping story. Beware, this isn't a kid's movie, and anyone under the age of 13 shouldn't be subjected to its graphic violence—both physical and psychological. Regardless, it's an instant classic on Blu-ray and gets my highest recommendation.

Release Date: December 9, 2008

Movie: 9/10
Picture: 9/10
2.40:1 scenes 8/10
1.78:1 scenes 10/10
Sound: 10/10

Review System

Panasonic DMP-BD55

JVC DLA-RS1 projector
Stewart FireHawk screen (76.5" wide, 16:9)

Onkyo Pro 85 pre/pro
Anthem PVA-7 Amplifier
Belkin PF60 power conditioner

M&K S-150s (L, C, R)
M&K SS-150s (LS, RS, SBL, SBR)
SVS PC-Ultra subwoofer

Monoprice HDMI cables (source to pre/pro)
Best Deal analog-audio cables
PureLink HDC Fiber Optic HDMI Cable System (15 meters) from pre/pro to projector