'The Dark Knight Rises' Blu-ray Review: Did the Epic Conclusion Get an Epic Disc?

'The Dark Knight Rises' Blu-ray Review: Did the Epic Conclusion Get an Epic Disc?

Dec 04, 2012

How's the movie?

Love or hate the film, there's no denying that The Dark Knight Rises is bold and big and will be sending ripples through the movie industry for years to come.

For me, though, it has problems. It's perhaps the weakest of Christopher Nolan's landmark Batman trilogy, but that's not to say it's an outright terrible film. It's still an absolute marvel of filmmaking; a marriage of new and old-school Hollywood spectacle the scale of which is simply unrivaled these days. Yes, it has some script and pacing issues, but it's still a mighty impressive feat for all involved. It might stumble a bit leading up to the finale, but it's a helluva send-off for the highly influential series.

But don't just listen to one nerd's opinion. What do the numbers say?

IMDB: 8.8, #31 on the Top 250
Rotten Tomatoes: 87% Fresh with critics, 92% liked by audiences
Box Office: $447.9 million domestically, another $632.9 million overseas


What are the vitals on the disc?

Studio: Warner Bros.
Release Date: December 04, 2012
Edition: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack
Number of Discs: 3 (2 x BDs, 1 x DVD)
Digital Copy: Yes, UltraViolet

Runtime: 165 minutes
Video: 1080p MPEG-4 AVC, 2.40:1 and 1.78:1 Aspect Ratios
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Portuguesse DD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese


How does it look and sound?

Great. That's the simple answer. Really, it doesn't get much more complicated than that because, by design, The Dark Knight Rises actually has the most neutral color palette of the franchise. It's intentionally very earthy and organic, lots of blacks and browns set against high contrast lighting and blasts of white. It's not filled with the flourishes of color that the Joker and his related chaos gave The Dark Knight, and that means it's a much easier transfer here.

For the most part it's crystal clear. There are a few moments of low-light scenes that might send a more anal videophile, such as myself, tweaking their contrast settings to balance out some crushed black levels on people's cheeks and foreheads. But those few moments (Catwoman's bar fight, for one) are in no way a deal breaker. The rest of it is all so sharp and clean. No noise of any kind. No obnoxious edge enhancement or heavy blurring to cover digital compositing. It's got realistic and fairly consistent color tones throughout (the techno-blue accents, in particular, really stand out).

The frame size changes between IMAX and 35mm are notably more frequent here thanks to the big bump in number of IMAX shots, but the change, even if it's momentary, is never jarring. It's just a clean, smooth, pristine image presentation. A damned good looking movie and Blu-ray, period. 

Even better than the image transfer, however, is the sound department. It may only have a 5.1 sound mix, but it is an uncompromising beast. The first thing you'll notice are the charging, deep LFE levels. This is a perfect example of how to balance bass for an at home experience and make it rival the thumping one might be used to in theaters. It doesn't rattle, it doesn't pop, the action is just packed with a heart-pounding rumble that adds so much to everything. And then, of course, there's Hans Zimmer's score. That's an inspired piece of composition in and of itself, but its incorporation here will give you a new appreciation for how he plays around with the actual vocal chant and the orchestra's mimicry of it and how the two so often echo one another. 

There is one curious aspect of the mix, though. Bane's voice was a big talking point leading up to the film's release, and it sounds curiously more distinct at home-- but only in his early scenes. During the initial aerial hijacking, his unique, quizzical voice is almost comically distinct; it comes through the entire front three speakers (as opposed to just the center for most other dialogue), rising above all other sounds. As the movie progresses, however, the clarity of his speech is more decentralized. It's a noticeable difference, and while it might very well be a creative one (at first Bane's voice commands like a cult-like presence, by the time it ends he's just like everyone else), it certainly stands out on a technical level.


What about special features?

The special features on the standard Blu-ray set are all confined to their own disc and are broken into sections,each with its own subsection (some with nearly a dozen focus points therein). Unfortunately there is no "play all" option, so if you want to watch all three-plus hours of extras, you're going to have to keep the remote ready.

The Batmobile (58 minutes, HD) - A very thorough look at the evolution of Batman's iconic set of wheels over the years, from the comics to the TV show to every single movie. It occasionally gets very sentimental, talking heavily about the symbol that is the Batmobile and how much it's meant to generation after generation of superhero fans. Once it gets to focusing on the construction of the vehicles themselves, though, it's full of really interesting material and factoids. You'll get anecdotes from mostly everyone involved with the cars over the years, though Adam West is the only Batman beside Christian Bale to weigh in (and his story about trick-or-treating in it one night is a hoot), and a cool look at the guts and science that made each of them a big (or small) screen reality.

For example, did you know that the Tumbler ended up being capable of going over 100 mph during the chase scenes in Batman Begins, so for The Dark Night they had to turbo charge the camera vehicle just to keep up? Or have you seen the Batmobile that H.R. Giger designed that was never used?

Production (68 minutes, HD) - This contains the biggest set of featurettes of the three main categories, and it breaks down every major set piece from the film and how it was made. Some are more detailed than others, but they're all worth watching. Of particular note is the segment on the High-Altitude Hijacking, which shows how the crew did most of it practically. Apparently Scotland is so vast you can drop actual planes from the sky and no one cares. Another major highlight is the sequence exploring the construction and execution of the Bat, which utilized some pretty damned impressive techniques to bring the impossible to life.

Characters (28 minutes, HD) - Batman, Bane and Catwoman each get their own dedicated videos. They're a mixture of perspective from the actors and various crew members, and they all end up coming back around to how they felt the character fit into the world Christopher Nolan spent nine years constructing. The various pieces of concept art are very cool, though there aren't any crazy, left-field insights here, but Bane's is worth watching just to see Tom Hardy explain how he geeked out the first time he went up against Christian Bale in the Batsuit.

Inexplicably absent from the entire shebang is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who goes without his own character profile, and not only never appears in any of the special features anywhere on the disc, but is never even mentioned.

Reflections (15 minutes, HD) - The highlight here is cinematographer Wally Pfister explaining his approach to the film's visuals. It might as well be a paid advertisement for the benefits of IMAX, but his work is so self-evident that it doesn't matter. It's followed by a brief praise fest for the entire franchise and what it meant to everyone involved.

Marketing Materials (HD) - There are four theatrical trailers included, as well as a gallery of the film's "print campaign," which is actually compromised of a lot of banners and posters that were online only (though Mondo's TDKR posters aren't included).


Final thoughts?

We already know that Warner Bros. is planning an ultimate collector's edition for the entire Dark Knight trilogy for this time next year, but if you like The Dark Knight Rises enough to own it, there's no reason you should wait that long. This is a nice, worthwhile Blu-ray set. It'd be extra nice if the special features had a "play all" button, but there's plenty of worthwhile material there to make all three hours of it worth watching. And then there's the movie itself, which looks pretty great (though it fails to top Prometheus as the best-looking Blu-ray transfer of the year) and sounds truly incredible (it may actually take that crown). Sure, Warner Bros. may have an even more feature-packed set down the line, but you'll still get your money's worth here, that's for sure.

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