On DVD and Blu-ray: The Dark Knight

An interesting little movie came out earlier this year. The Dark Knight. You might have heard of it. Today it's available on DVD and Blu-ray in various editions, including a pricey "Bat Pod Collectible Special Edition" that augments the Blu-ray disc with a hand-painted model of Bruce Wayne's latest ride. If you're a fan of the film (and there were quite a few), no matter which edition you choose, you're going to be satisfied. Not joking. No two-face about it.

It's no stretch to predict that this will quickly become the biggest-selling home video title of '08, and by a large margin. Moreover, I'm assuming that no other title this year will push more fans to spring for their first Blu-ray player. So I'm going to focus on the Blu-ray edition, which I just finished checking out on a 52" screen with 5.1 Surround sound.

In a word: SpecTACular! In the theaters, The Dark Knight's muscular, epic-sized, action-adventure movie-making came perilously close to overwhelming the movie's story, there was so much to take in. Now that it's scaled down to a home-theater environment, the narrative gets a better chance to step forward, but with no loss of sheer movie muscle. The Blu-ray disc's high-definition image is showroom quality. In particular, the sequences shot for IMAX display a dizzying clarity and depth of field that (for me) look even more stunning at home than they did when spread out across a vast cinema screen. A film that's this dark -- visually, not just thematically -- risks losing detail in all the shadows and low lighting, which can get crunched into so much digital noise, but here again the definition is rich and crisp and the contrast smooth as black silk. Seriously, the imagery looks so good that there were times when I hit the Pause button just to admire what the disc was giving me.

At least as impressive is the TrueHD (uncompressed) 5.1 audio mix. There's also a Dolby Digital 5.1 option, which is the one the Blu-ray defaults to when you load the disc. Either 5.1 choice does a fine job of immersing you in the movie. The multi-channel directional effects are precise and active without being gratuitous or show-offy. With the TrueHD especially, you can look forward to plenty of that low-end rumble that helps make the movie a visceral experience. If your subwoofer is set too high, you might risk having photos fall from the wall or items shaken off shelves. The alternative 2.0 stereo mix is likewise as excellent as you'd expect from such a new, well-mastered, high-profile release.

To summarize: When it comes to high-def imagery and powerful audio, no other disc on my shelf has given me such a "home cinema" experience as this one. Whether you opt for the DVD or the Blu-ray, expect to be wowed.

The extra features on both the Blu-ray and DVD editions are pretty standard fare, and I suspect a more fully packed "Ultimate Collector's Edition" (or whatever they'll call it) will be released sometime next year. Still, what's here is certainly worth a look.

There's no commentary track, which is a shame as hearing Nolan (at least) annotate and chronicle the production scene by scene would probably be an interesting lesson in Big Filmmaking. On the other hand, we do get more than three hours of extras, and that includes a strong hour-long "making of" documentary, Gotham Uncovered, which the Blu-ray also offers as Movie with Focus Points, a picture-in-picture option that provides video making-of insights into scenes as you watch them. However you access it, this behind-the-scenes material underscores what an impressive and technically arduous production The Dark Knight was, especially when you factor in the unique challenges of shooting for IMAX.

(Unfortunately, we don't get much at all on some key items of interest, such as how this Joker came to be conceived and developed, or how Harvey Dent's scars -- spooky in their fidelity to the recent graphic novels -- were achieved. What do you bet we'll be seeing all that and more in a subsequent release?)

Among the other menu items, we get some TV promo pieces that are fluff and filler, but well-made all the same. Batman Tech tries a little too hard to impress us with the realistic cutting-edge science and engineering behind Bruce Wayne's gadgets, tools, and arsenal. (The piece acknowledges that Bruce's access to unlimited funding helps him quite a bit too.) Batman Unmasked belabors the Freudian, Jungian, and general pop psychotherapy that theoretically dissects Batman, the Joker, and other extreme cases in the rogues' gallery of the generations-old Batman mythos. Amusingly, the on-screen experts give us differing definitive answers to the question of who is the "real" persona, Bruce Wayne or Batman. (And the debt that The Dark Knight's new Joker owes to Alan Moore's short graphic novel The Killing Joke is acknowledged at least in the visuals used here.)

Originally released online as promo items, Gotham Tonight collects six mocked-up newscasts, totaling 46 minutes, about the explosive goings-on around the city. Clips from the film are combined with cast members in character (Harvey Dent, for instance) fielding interviews and guesting call-in talk shows.

Finally, we get the usual selection of still image galleries (with all the Joker playing cards revealed) and trailers.

Additionally, Warner Bros. has invested a lot in Blu-ray technology's interactive "BD Live" feature. Pushing the home-video nu-tech envelope out quite a bit, this disc offers us the ability to use our home webcams to record and share online our own picture-in-picture video commentary tracks. Other BD Live functions include "My Community Screening," permitting real-time online invitational community viewings of the film with chat during playback. (In the Blu-ray trailer below, Warner Bros. mentions a "My Community Screening" that includes a live Q&A with director Christopher Nolan. We'll keep you updated on that as we get info about it.) Plus, as usual with BD Live, you'll be able to download more content and shop at the WB Store.

(Is BD Live here to stay, or will consumers shrug it off as a digital resource-hogging gimmick that the studio will soon abandon? I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences and opinions regarding it.)

There's no need to hit this nail on the head any longer. Here's a disc that's bound to fill a lot of stockings this month. If I hadn't already invested in a Blu-ray player, it would push me over the line and I'd be at Best Buy right now. As it is, I'm already in the mood to watch this disc again, and it's been a long time since I felt that urge so soon after putting down my remote.