[9 December 2008]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
“The Dark Knight” (Warner, 2008, $35.99), the best Batman movie ever made and easily one of the top films of the year, leads the list of this week’s Blu-ray releases.
The high-definition DVD format with its flawless picture and dynamic sound makes for a memorable viewing experience on any home theater system. Making it even more special is that the film shifts back and forth between regular letterbox to full widescreen IMAX images. Rather than being a distraction, the merging of the two formats greatly enhances the presentation.
Christian Bale is back for his second outing as Batman/Bruce Wayne and is even better than the first time around. He’s still fighting crime but his deeds have spawned copycats who think they are helping the masked crusader. But mainly they are getting themselves killed. At the same time, many of Gotham’s citizens have dubbed Batman a ruthless vigilante. He also has lost his girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).
Such things cause Wayne to brood about his so-called superhero status. He longs for the day when Gotham will no longer need his services, which doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.
The most riveting performance comes from the late Heath Ledger as the villainous Joker. Whereas Jack Nicholson’s earlier portrayal in the 1989 “Batman” was both frightening and humorous, Ledger’s Joker is downright scary and disturbing. He seems to derive sadistic pleasure out of killing people - even those who work for him. The Joker’s biggest goal is to bring down Batman, unmask him in front of the world and then destroy him.
Rounding out a stellar cast are Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, in charge of Wayne’s underground headquarters; Michael Caine as Wayne’s ever faithful and wise butler Alfred and Gray Oldman as Commissioner Gordon.
Credit director Christopher Nolan and a thoughtful screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan for delivering such a terrific film. The special effects are outstanding but never overshadow the human dramas that unfold. The fast pace and excitement generated make the film seem much shorter than its 2 ½-hour running time. It takes comic book adaptations to another, higher level.
Among the extras on the two-disc special edition are “Batman Tech,” a look at the special gadgets used in the film, and “Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of The Dark Knight,” which explores the pysche of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Bruce Wayne. Also included is a digital copy for downloading. Highly recommended.
Some other Blu-ray releases this week:
“I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (Warner, 2008, $59.98): Will Smith plays Robert Neville, who appears to be the last person alive in New York City after a virus has seemingly wiped out the entire population. With his dog Samantha for company, Neville roams the city looking for signs of life. The scenes of a deserted Manhattan are unforgettable and depressing. Meanwhile, Neville attempts to find out why he is immune to the virus and also tries to discover a cure for it. As usual, Smith is a pleasure to watch. The wide-box set includes 12 deleted scenes, four animated comics, a 44-page book and much more. The film, based on a novel by Richard Matheson, was previously made as “The Last Man on Earth” (1964) with Vincent Price and “The Omega Man” (1971) with Charlton Heston. Recommended.
“Dodgeball” (20th Century Fox, 2004, $34.98): This is a comedy with plenty of laughs and some heart, too. Ben Stiller plays White Goodman, a physical fitness nut and egomaniac, who leads his Purple Cobras team into a dodgeball match against the Average Joes led by Peter LeFluer (Vince Vaughn). It’s winner-take-all and on the line is LeFluer’s gym. This is an unrated version.
“Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears a Who” (20th Century Fox, 2008, $39.99): Horton is an elephant who discovers a tiny, tiny town of people living on a speck of dust. When no one believes him, Horton becomes their protector. As Horton says, “After all, a person is a person no matter how small.” Kids (and some grownups, too) will love this one.
“The Mask” (New Line, 1994, $28.99): Jim Carrey plays a bank clerk who finds a mysterious green mask. He discovers that when he puts it on, he become a superhero who can do some really crazy things. Not everybody marvels at his abilities. One crime boss wants to see him knocked off. This marvelously goofy film is hard to resist.
“Fearless” (Universal, 2006, $29.98): Jet Li stars as Huo Yuanjia, a legendary Chinese martial arts master who lived from 1869-1910. The film tells the story of his life and how he overcame disgrace and family tragedies to become one of the most celebrated men in China.
“Dumb and Dumber” (Warner, 1994, $28.99): Jim Carrey (again) and Jeff Daniels play a pair of incredibly stupid guys who ride cross-country to Aspen, Colo., where they plan to return a suitcase full of money to a woman. Along the way they have all kind of silly “adventures.” Some humor here but it could have been funnier.
“Super Troopers” (20th Century Fox, 2001, $34.98): Five Vermont state troopers enthusiastically patrol the highways looking for excitement. Their “dedication” has motorists on edge, wondering when one of the fab five will pull them over. John Chandrasekhar and Kevin Hefferman lead the cast of this low-brow comedy.
All prices listed are the suggested retail price and can be purchased cheaper for those who shop around or go to www.amazon.com.