Given that, as of this writing, The Dark Knight is approaching the billion dollar mark in worldwide revenues, one wonders if an introductory paragraph or two is really necessary. But for those two or three of you in the far future, reading this on a dusty Google cache etched on solid impervium, here is the skinny:
Director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to the successful Batman Begins begins with the promise of the last few moments of that movie, as a villain just as theatrical and flashy in his own way appears in the Gotham City underworld: The Joker, destined, as all comic book geeks know, to become Batman's arch-nemesis, his distorted funhouse mirror reflection. Throw in crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent, and those same geeks know that we're going to see a Two-Face before the evening ends.
Due in a large part to the untimely death of the actor playing the Joker - Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight had quite a bit of pre-opening hoopla, and savants critique the world over sat back and waited for the movie to fall flat on its sequel face, as usual. Then something odd happened... The Dark Knight turned out to be a damned fine movie.
It's gratifying to see that Ledger's performance was not over-hyped - his Joker is intense, disturbing, and just as driven as his foe. What's even better is that the rest of the cast is easily up to his level, although they don't get to be as flashy. The story draws on many semi-revisionist threads planted by comic writers over the last couple of decades, most notably the concept that Batman, by his very presence, is causing his damaged, psychotic opponents to step into the limelight, instead of merely fading away to homeless shelters and state institutions. As the Joker himself once says, "You changed the rules," and seeing Batman cope with this is one of the more interesting subplots of the movie.
The Joker likes to force people to make hard choices, and none of the choices the characters face are easy, even the ones untainted by a painted loon with a pocketfull of knives. That is the basis of good drama, and while it could be argued that The Dark Knight would make a fine crime drama even without Batman or the Joker, it would not have the grand archetypal overtones, which play out ever so much more starkly against the otherwise realistic backdrop.
It's also at least fifteen minutes too long, but that's a common complaint I have these days. I forgive that in the light of the preceding awesomeness.
The menu system is clean and stylish, and unlike a lot of menus that run footage from the movie, it does not engage in spoilers. Every time you make a selection, a brief clip plays, which I usually find annoying... but for some reason, pressing "Play Feature" and seeing the Joker say, "And here we...go" is entertaining enough to override my annoyance.
Disc One starts out with that thrice-damned anti-piracy ad bastardizing footage from Casablanca. Ilsa was apparently pirating DVDs instead of fighting the Nazis. You really have to wonder about the moral stance of such an ad when it assures you that "Pirating DVDs is bad," but "Making time with Victor's girl is good".
There's also an ad pimping Warner's Blu-Ray offerings, an anti-smoking ad, and appropriate trailers for batman Begins, Watchmen and the Arkham Asylum video game. Then you get the movie. No commentary track, but then there wasn't one on the bare-bones single disc of Batman Begins, either.
Disc Two will begin with ads for Gotham Knight and the various forms of the soundtrack album. It then gets down to business with the ungainly-titled (and not quite true) Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene, which is split into two parts: Sound of Anarchy, about Hans Zimmer's quest to find an appropriately disturbing signature Joker sound, and Evolution of the Knight, which boils down to making a bat suit with a head that could turn, and quite a bit on the Bat Pod, which is so positioned front and center in the various packagings of the movie, one almost suspects a Cartoon Network series is in production, a la Speed Buggy.
There are also the six scenes shot in iMax - though one must wonder why these are included, as not many consumers have an iMax set-up in their living room - six episodes of the eratz news program Gotham Tonight, from the movie's Website, Galleries of Poster Art and Production Stills, and three trailers for Dark Knight. That, in itself, is a welcome feature, as far too many DVD releases will shill for other movies, but neglect the marketing of the very movie you just bought. That leaves an aching hole for the historically-minded.
That is a fair amount of extra material, yet the set seems to be lacking, in a gut-level-feeling sort of way. Gotham Uncovered, all told, runs 25 minutes, and when Special Editions of the other big ticket superhero movies of that Summer, like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk had making-ofs that easily hit the hour and a half mark and beyond, not to mention additional featurettes on various special effects. The Gotham Tonight sequences, though a nifty idea, are rather tepid, and I've already scratched my head in print about those iMax segments.
The answer, of course - and the consumer is justified in feeling some bitterness here - is that there will inevitably be an Ultimate Edition next summer or so, which will include all the extras one expected in this offering - you know, the one which was released cagily near the Christmas season. So save your "Bah! Humbug!"s for that release.
Really, none of this should detract from the core of the set, a very good movie, indeed - and most people finding this under their tree are not going to care one fig (or sugar plum) about a perceived lack of features. Every time I'm drawn back into Nolan's vision of Gotham City under siege, the last thing on my mind is a two-hour examination of why Ledger's tongue is so important to the Joker. I'm watching Batman, dammit, and that's all that counts.
And hey. The second disc also contains the all-important Digital Copy (take that, Ilsa!) . At least they didn't plop that on a third disc and claim this was a Three-Disc Ultra-Spectacular Edition. They got some class.
Dr. Freex, 12/22/2008