It is hard to fathom a movie with more hype behind it than The Dark Knight. This is the point where the comic book movie has truly come into its own, surpassing the usual boundaries to become something more. This is not a perfect film by any stretch, but it’s a great, involving thrill ride.

Director Christopher Nolan eschews the usual build-up, creating a villain entrance that’s both eerie, impressively scaled, and almost completely illogical (no one saw a bus crash through a bank while walking on the streets?). It is the only thing the audience needs to become involved with the Joker, played by Heath Ledger in his heavily hyped final starring performance. There is no need for a backstory to explain where he came from or why he does what he does. It’s all there in the performance, and it’s certainly one that’s notable.

That opening is a perfect set piece to what becomes a sometimes overlong investigation. The mystery here is deep, at times slightly confusing, and always intense. The personal side to this conflict gripping Gotham City is portrayed through sheer mass panic to gain a sense of scale and one-on-one confrontations where the actors can shine. Likewise, action-a-plenty delivers what audiences came to see, including an unforgettable tunnel chase, and multiple fights that offer incredible impact.

Katie Holmes is gone as Rachael Dawes, strangely choosing to star in the comedy Mad Money instead of this sequel. In her place is Maggie Gyllenhaal who offers up a stronger performance than Holmes. It’s evident as she faces off with Ledger at a fundraiser, where the emotion of the moment lets her shine.

Underrated is Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face. While Ledger steals the show, Eckhart is forced to play under him, and it’s a shame. Part of that is the scripting, which overwhelms audiences with the Joker, making Two-Face feel unnecessary at times. It’s crowded, and it shouldn’t be. That said, the special effects used to create this secondary villain are amazing, and absolutely rock-solid. Never does the effect come off cheesy or even slightly unrealistic. It’s as impressive as it is gruesome.

It is hard to find fault in a movie that does nearly everything right, although claiming this to be a cinematic masterpiece is probably going a bit far. This is undoubtedly the best of the Batman films, and that’s including any era. It is probably the best of the comic book movies as well, transcending the usual colorful stylings and one-liners (though Dark Knight does slip a few in there) for a serious, involved tone. Dark Knight is too long, loaded with too many characters, and not always as smart as it thinks it is, but it is enormously entertaining.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Dark Knight was a major release for Blu-ray, the first disc to reach one million printed/packaged discs at launch. It was imperative that Warner delivered to reach those new to the format, and for the most part, they failed

Nolan was adamant about shooting in IMAX format, and some of the film was shot this way. The problem when the film comes home is that the jarring switch from the IMAX ratio to the wider 2.35:1 format of the rest of the movie is still intact. In the theater, it wasn’t that noticeable, but on home video, it’s irritating. Yes, this is keeping with the intent and proper aspect ratio, but it’s a shame it turns out like this. Warner’s customer service will probably have some angry, confused customers to deal with thinking their discs are defective.

On that note, the IMAX footage looks mind-blowing. The clarity, the detail, the color, and black levels are easily some of the best you’ll see on Blu-ray. It is so sharp, it can challenge the best of the computer animated films on the format. The level of minute detail that comes through is truly remarkable.

Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for those shot in the wider ratio. While yes, the contrast is wonderful, colors spectacular, and detail is relatively fine, numerous shots are marred by ugly edge enhancement, and even DNR. It’s a constant problem. Flesh tones are also inconsistent, ranging from orange to pink. It is at its worst during the quieter scenes. Action tends to look perfect. It’s better than a lot of films out there (and the remarkable clarity of the unaltered IMAX footage makes up for a lot), but with the expectation this disc had riding on it, it’s also inexcusable.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

Unlike many other recent studio releases, Warner has wisely graced the film with an uncompressed audio track, this time in TrueHD. Whatever disc you have on your shelf to show off your hardware can now be retired. The bass is the highlight, easily offering some of the deepest explosions, loudest musical cues, and massive gunfire you’ll hear.

Surround use is somewhat more subtle, being less pronounced than the fronts, but those channels have plenty to work with. Listen for the amazing echo in the tunnel chase, easily the disc’s highlight. Even better, dialogue is better mixed than the theatrical release, picking on the nuances of Christian Bale’s routinely criticized low speaking voice.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Extras are a bit of letdown, with only minor insight into the actual film itself. Most notably, there’s no commentary. The first disc contains “Focus Points,” a pop-up feature that can be played during the movie, or separately from the menu. These run a little over an hour total, and some areas are skimped. It’s hard to get a feel for the miniature work from a two-minute segment. Despite the footage and Nolan’s narration, many of these are far too brief.

Over on the second disc are two 46-minute features. The first, Batman Tech, focuses on the gadgets and their real world equivalents. The follow up is Batman Unmasked which delves into the psychological side of the characters. Six episodes of Gotham Tonight also run 46 minutes in total (what’s with the pattern?), and are decently produced news segments reporting on films various storylines. Some trailers and art are the final pieces of on-disc content.

There’s more to see via BD-Live, though it’s not easy to access at this time. Unlike other studios, Warner only requires an e-mail address to register on the player itself. The other part of the registration is done on your PC (thankfully). However, if you don’t complete it, you can only access limited features, such as multiple digital comics with awful voice acting. Since the servers weren’t responding (or gave error messages), the other features such as live chat couldn’t be tested.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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