The Dark Knight

Movie •••• Picture ••••½ Sound ••••• Extras ••••
Terrorism, torture, intrusive surveillance, and a city facing the dark night before the dawn: As it thrilled moviegoers with electrifying acting, state-of-the-art stunts, and good old-fashioned storytelling, The Dark Knight actually managed to sneak in a parable on the loss of American innocence. Not bad for a summer blockbuster.

It also was technologically innovative, in that the whole bank-job opening, much of the Hong Kong footage, and some cityscape fly-bys were shot using IMAX cameras. On this Blu-ray Disc, the IMAX material is slightly sharper and more detailed than the 35mm images. That said, I'm talking excellent and slightly more than excellent here - and despite the fact that the IMAX material has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 while the 35mm is in 2.35:1, director Christopher Nolan's involving filmmaking makes the switch between the two surprisingly undistracting.

Contrast is superior. When it comes to star Christian Bale, his Batman cape and cowl are inky black, and his Bruce Wayne shirts are bright white. Meanwhile, there's an exceedingly wide range of colors in backgrounds and other characters' clothes. Images have plentiful detail throughout and great depth (check out the expanse of Wayne's operations room), with faces and bodies looking solid and three-dimensional. And skin tones are as natural or unnatural as they should be, whether for Bale's Wayne or Heath Ledger's grotesque Joker.

Even more impressive than the picture is the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. It's highly surrounding, and there are some tasty, superbly executed pans - the Batpod zooming all around you, or Batman's cape fluttering by as he seems to glide diagonally over your listening room from front left to back right. The dynamic range in this complex mix is striking. Despite some elements being bassy, pounding, and at times very loud - such as the batterings of the Batmobile-cum-Tumbler and a convincing series of all-channel explosions - the subtler, high-end sounds aren't drowned out. The same is true of the well-separated score, which uses everything from electronic rumblings to the screeching of razor blades on piano strings.

Warner has promised a host of BD-Live features for The Dark Knight, among them the ability to record and post your own PIP commentaries and to participate in communal screenings while interacting with other fans - and at some point, with director Nolan himself. As of midday on the Blu-ray Disc's release date of December 9, the BD-Live features that were actually up and running weren't always impressive, such as 11 lame 3-minute, partially animated Batman comic strips and 31 (count 'em!) trailers of Warner titles. But they also included a couple of cool featurettes - one on the Harvey Dent theme music, the other on a live rendition of the overture at an IMAX theater screening, which includes the complete 15-minute performance by orchestra, electronic keyboards, and MacBooks.

The two-disc Special Edition itself boasts some enjoyable extras. Disc 1 has Gotham Uncovered, comprising 18 informative featurettes that can be watched all together (totaling 1 hour) or as branching clips (so-called Focus Points) from relevant scenes. Switching between standard-def and high-def, they cover stunts, vehicles, shooting in IMAX, and most interestingly the creation of the Joker theme music using loops and manipulated noises. Watching the film again afterwards gave me a whole new appreciation of the score.

Disc 2 has a pair of 45-minute documentaries, entirely in high-def. Batman Tech deals with all gadgets great and small, tracing their evolution from glass cutters and lock picks to the developing utility belt and wonders like the Tumbler. Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of The Dark Knight analyzes both the avenging Caped Crusader and the villains who mirror him. Both documentaries treat their subjects seriously, bringing in scientists and other professionals to put everything into real-world context, illustrated by lots of nostalgia-evoking comic-book cells. You also get multiple galleries and a bonus disc that houses a digital copy of the film.