Release Date(s)2008 (December 17, 2017)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures/Syncopy (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
It’s fair to say at this point that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was the best Hollywood blockbuster of 2008. It’s also fair to suggest that, along with Richard Donner’s original Superman, the film still ranks highly among the finest examples of its genre to date. This is simply a great piece of filmmaking – sophisticated, intelligent, and uncompromising. It grounds the boilerplate comic book trappings in a context that seems more real and immediate than we’ve ever seen before on screen, even in Nolan’s previous Batman Begins (reviewed here in 4K Ultra HD).
The Dark Knight delivers everything you’d hope for in terms of action, then delivers on a whole other level as well. Without spoiling anything, the plot can perhaps best be described as a psychological dissection of the nature of Good and Evil, and the perilously fine line that often separates the two. This story is dark – Batman for adults, just as it should be. Every single piece of the chain holds tight: acting, production design, direction, all of it. What’s more, Heath Ledger’s Joker is something you really need to experience for yourself. His performance makes Jack Nicholson’s earlier turn in the role seem almost cartoonish by comparison... and it was great too for its day. But Ledger delivers a cinema villain for the ages, playing perfectly off of his ensemble of co-stars, including Christian Bale as Batman, Gary Oldman as Gordon, Aaron Eckhart as D.A. Harvey Dent, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (who replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes).
Like Batman Begins before it, The Dark Knight was shot mostly on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras with anamorphic lenses. But portions of it (roughly 30 minutes of footage in all) were shot on 65 mm film using IMAX and VistaVision cameras. It was finished on film (with VFX rendered in 2K and 5.6K). For its release on Ultra HD, the 35 mm footage was scanned from the interpositive in native 4K (rather than the OCN, per Nolan’s instruction), combined with the material scanned from 65 mm, and graded for HDR10. The result is a variable aspect ratio presentation that shifts back and forth from 2.39:1 to 1.78:1 (for the IMAX sequences). Scanning from the 35 mm interpositive results in a small reduction in fine detail, but softens the grain structure (to better match the clarity of the large format footage) while allowing for lovely texturing. Of course, the IMAX material packs a tremendous amount of detail at all times. The large format is also used here not for visual effects, but for bold scenic shots and stunt sequences shot practically, that firmly establish the iconic character in his environment, again lending an immediacy that such films often lack. The HDR grade deepens the shadows significantly, while allowing the highlights to gleam brightly. The colors are also greatly enhanced in terms of accuracy, nuance, and naturalism. The result on balance, even with the tiny amount of detail reduction in the 35 mm material, is a lovely image that – while not perfect – looks exactly as Nolan wants it to. The improvement upon the previous Blu-ray is not insignificant.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in another new English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that’s of excellent quality and appears to be a slight improvement upon the previous Blu-ray’s already reference-grade Dolby TrueHD presentation. As with Batman Begins, it offers a big, full soundstage, with excellent dialogue clarity, robust bass, smooth and natural panning, and strong atmospherics. The LFE, if anything, is just a bit more muscular here than before, while the mix’s dynamic range appears to have expanded a bit, both characteristics that further enhance the creeping tension of Hans Zimmer’s nervous and edgy score. Additional audio options include French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package also includes the previous 2-disc Blu-ray edition. This starts with a movie disc offering the film in 1080p HD with the following extras (in HD):
- Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene (an Enhanced Viewing Mode)
- Focus Points (18 featurettes – 64:10 in all)
You can either watch the Focus Points featurettes in the context of the film, separately, or with a “play all” option. There’s also Blu-ray bonus disc of additional features that adds the following (all in HD):
- Batman Tech (45:59)
- Batman Unmasked (46:02)
- Gotham Tonight (6 episodes – 46:41 in all)
- Joker Cards Gallery
- Concept Art Gallery
- Poster Art Gallery
- Production Stills Gallery
- TV Spots (6 in all)
- Theatrical Trailers (3 in all)
It’s a decent amount of material, but much of it is glossy and promotional in nature, and thus not especially satisifying. It should be noted again that the exclusive bonus content found in Warner’s The Dark Knight Trilogy Blu-ray set is not here (including The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of The Dark Knight Trilogy documentary and the Christopher Nolan and Richard Donner: A Conversation featurette). If you purchase The Dark Knight by itself in 4K (but not if you buy it in the Nolan 4K Collection), you also get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
The Dark Knight is like an origami made of black construction paper that keeps unfolding and revealing itself right to the very end. It’s not quite a masterpiece of cinema, but it’s certainly a masterpiece of the superhero genre, raising the bar for everything that followed it. Warner’s 4K release delivers the film in its best-ever quality, with a striking image and reference grade audio. If you’re a fan, whether you purchase it alone or in the Christopher Nolan 4K Collection, it’s well worth having on Ultra HD.
- Bill Hunt