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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

THE DARK KNIGHT -- DVD review by porfle

How dark should a "Batman" movie be? Some fans despise the Frank Miller-influenced take on the character that's become popular in recent years, especially after Tim Burton exorcised all of that jolly Adam West campiness once and for all back in '89. Others, like me, loved the Michael Keaton version of the caped crusader and were even happier to see director Christopher Nolan's BATMAN BEGINS take the subject to still greater heights of realism. Now, with Nolan's 2008 sequel THE DARK KNIGHT, Batman gets his darkest and most adult screen adventure yet, and--unless you prefer your Batman scurrying around on giant pennies with Robin and Bat-Mite--it's a complex and magnificent achievement.

The story opens with a Gotham City beseiged by a hornet's nest of gangland criminals stirred up by the Batman's tireless efforts to thwart their underworld enterprises. Desperate to stop him, they turn to the only person who seems crazy enough to take him on--The Joker, a mysterious, seemingly fearless psycho in clown makeup who lives to create as much chaos as possible. He also aims to prove that anyone is corruptible by taking on Gotham's dauntless new D.A., Harvey Dent, who rivals Batman as a crusader against crime. To do this, Joker plans to murder Dent's one true love, assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes, and place the blame on Batman and newly-appointed police commissioner James Gordon, thus twisting Dent himself into a vengeful agent of terror.

There's a lot of story packed into this film's 152-minute running time, perhaps even too much--it took me two or three viewings to get everything straight and fully appreciate all the twists and turns--but it's riveting. More than just a superhero flick, THE DARK KNIGHT is a top-notch crime drama that takes itself seriously in every respect, while also fully exploring the dimensions of each character. Mix all that with a series of breathtaking action sequences featuring Batman in some of his most dazzlingly audacious exploits ever, and the effect is nothing less than exhilarating.

The best thing about the action scenes in this movie is how much of it is done without CGI, using good old-fashioned stuntwork and practical effects instead of digital cartoon figures slugging it out. This is especially true of the film's central setpiece, in which Harvey Dent is being transferred to the county lock-up after publicly confessing that he is Batman. It's all a ruse, of course, to draw the Joker into the open, and it results in a no-holds-barred chase scene involving police and SWAT vans, a tractor-trailer rig, a garbage truck, and the Batmobile. At one point, Batman emerges from the wreckage of the Batmobile riding his new Batcycle (officially it's called the "Batpod", but I like Batcycle better), which you gotta see to believe. The Joker takes one look at this contraption careening out of an alleyway and remarks appreciatively, "Now THERE'S a Batman."

It's this admiration and respect for Batman that helps make the Joker character interesting. Heath Ledger doesn't act stereotypically evil as much as gleefully, insanely prankish, almost childlike at times, as though the Joker simply gets a thrill from messing things up and causing trouble, and rather than try to kill Batman, he finds him a delightfully fun playmate with whom to engage in deadly games. With little regard for self-preservation and a pronounced suicidal streak ("HIT ME!" he shrieks as the Batpod bears down upon him), he hurls himself into each harrowing situation with utter abandon. But he's incredibly dangerous, too, as evidenced by his explosive escape from police custody and his lethal dealings with Gotham's mob underworld.

Ledger's Oscar-worthy performance is amazing from start to finish, consistently fascinating and endlessly surprising. Some have said that the script gives him too many speeches explaining his behavior, as in his "I'm an agent of chaos" scene with a bedridden Harvey Dent, but I could listen to him all day. He's just plain fun to watch. People have mentioned detecting elements of Richard Dreyfuss or Jack Lemmon in his portrayal, while I thought I heard a little of Al Franken's "Stuart Smalley" in there as well. He's got that insane laugh down pat, too, but it isn't an affectation--he really comes off as a total loon.

The rest of the cast is awesome as well. There's Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman from the first film (that's a kickass lineup right there), with the addition of Aaron Eckhart (THE CORE) as Harvey Dent, who later morphs into the hideous Two-Face. Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the role of Rachel Dawes and is effective in a non-glamorous, down-to-earth way. Cillian Murphy makes a brief return as the Scarecrow early on, and Anthony Michael Hall appears as Gotham's leading television newsman. A really pleasant surprise for me was the appearance of one of my all-time favorite actors, Eric Roberts, as the head of Gotham's criminal element, and it's great to see him in a high-profile role such as this. Likewise, I enjoyed seeing Tommy "Tiny" Lister, who appeared with Roberts in the classic RUNAWAY TRAIN, in a brief but pivotal role, as well as Melinda McGraw as Gordon's wife Barbara and William Fictner as a shotgun-wielding bank manager during the film's exciting opening sequence.

As you might expect, the movie looks and sounds great on DVD. The standard two-disc edition is a little light on extras, though. There are two brief featurettes, one covering the creation of the new Batsuit and Batpod, the other describing Hans Zimmer's musical themes for the Joker. Six sequences from the movie are presented in their IMAX aspect ratios. My favorite is the six-episode series of segments from a fictional news show, "Gotham Tonight", with Anthony Michael Hall's character interviewing various Gotham notables. Rounding out the selection are production stills, poster art, trailers, and a digital copy of the film.

In addition to these, the Blu-Ray edition includes the following:
Movie with Focus Points (picture in picture)
Batman Tech: The incredible gadgets and tools (in HD)
Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of The Dark Knight--Delve into the psyche of Bruce Wayne and the world of Batman through real-world psychotherapy (in HD)
Galleries: The Joker cards, concept art, poster art, production stills, trailers and TV spots.

THE DARK KNIGHT ends on a suitably dark note with the Batman on the run from the law, now a suspect in several murders and a pariah in Gotham City. Is this the traditionally downbeat middle chapter of a trilogy? In any case, the untimely death of Heath Ledger makes it a memorably unique cinematic experience that, regrettably, can never be reprised. But with just about everyone else on board for the following sequel--and not a trace of giant pennies or Robin in sight--I can't wait to see what Christopher Nolan has in store for us next.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thnx for all the details which you hve provided about the movie and the blue ray disc . i hope you would post your comments more often and i surely will buy the blue ray disc or the dvd as the movie is one of its kind and can't be remade . thnx and cheers!