DVD Event of the Week: Is it Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian? Or perhaps Universal's Wanted, starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie? Or for heaven's sakes, could we be really talking about Sony's Step Brothers, yet another slapstick farce from the Judd Appatow Eternal Adolescence factory?
All worthy, to be sure, for my money it's got to be Warner Home Video's gorgeous two-disc special edition of Christopher Nolan's masterful superhero sequel The Dark Knight.
I should add I say that as somebody who thought Nolan's earlier Batman Begins was close to a travesty -- a steroidal adolescent action film that, although it featured characters from the Batman universe, had next to nothing to do with the stylish Deco landscape and spooky ethos of the creature of the night Bob Kane created for Depression Era audiences and which had found its all but perfect cinematic apotheosis in a couple of seasons of the 90s animated TV series. Batman taking ninja training? Katie Holmes doing anything? You had to be kidding. For a Batman afficianado, this was the triumph of Frank Miller over Marshall Rogers, which is to say deliberately ugly visuals and nihilistic vigilantism over RKO Moderne and humanism, and I figured the hell with it.
This new one, however, is something else altogether.
Actually, Nolan does just about everything right here, and the most amazing thing is that he's crafted a startlingly grown-up film; a tautly plotted, twisty neo-noir thriller, albeit with cool gadgets, that just happens to feature a larger than life mystery man as its villain and a guy in a bat suit going after him. The late Heath Ledger's astounding performance as The Joker hasn't a whiff of camp about it, and yet it's as flamboyant and theatrical, but as grounded and scary, as you could want or imagine; as Ledger plays him, The Joker is a sociopath with principles and a flair for showbiz, which is to say in the context of a genre film a fully realized character. But it's the visual touches Nolan manages that ultimately make this lapsed fan go yes -- THAT's the Batman of my dreams! The action sequences have real Gotham City After Dark poetry at last; even the chase scene with the oversized motorcycle works, and I defy you not to gasp with pleasure as Christian Bale's Caped Crusader swoops between between the skyscrapers as if he was born to the night air. Heck, Nolan even figured out a plausible way to give Batman's cowl those little opaque eye-slits that have provided the visual template for every non-live action version of the character since day one, and when they appear the effect is so startling and right it almost feels chemical.
If the film has a flaw, and it does, it's that it's too long by about twenty minutes, which is to say its very satisfying third act leads into a fourth act for no plausible dramatic reason whatsoever; said fourth act would have made a very nice opener for the inevitable sequel, but here it just feels like padding and it's a real drag. Still, what Nolan has achieved here is as close to a masterpiece as is probably possible given the exigencies of blockbuster studio filmmaking/marketing and it looks (and sounds -- it will really give your Surround system a workout) absolutely smashing in Warner's transfer. Bonuses on the set's second disc include a couple of backstage making-of docs (the one with composer Hans Zimmer is probably the most interesting), some amusing episodes of a Gotham City cable news show, and the usual stills and production design galleries. Warner has also issued the film on a single disc DVD and Blu-Ray, but if you're thinking Christmas gift, I'd say the two disc version is the way to go.
Bottom line: This is a fantastic ride; you can -- and most definitely should -- order it here.
Okay, that said, since things will likely be quiet around here until Monday, here's a hopefully amusing, and obviously relevant, little project for us all:
Most Memorable Screen Performance That Should Have Won an Oscar But Didn't!!!
And my totally top of my head Top Five is:
5. Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 198 )
Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists on a downward spiral into madness and death. Irons should have gotten two Oscars, actually.
4. Outside Providence (Michael Corrente,1999)
Years before 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin blew my mind at least with his sad and funny turn as the blue collar dad in this overlooked Ferrelly Brothers 70s period piece.
3. The Comic (Carl Reiner,1969)
Dick Van Dyke as a silent movie clown/SOB (an amalgam of Chaplin and Keaton) and absolutely brilliant in the role. One of the real overlooked masterpieces of its decade.
2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicolas Meyer, 1982)
Yeah, I know -- "KHANNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!". Regardless, for most of this William Shatner is absolutely wonderful; the early scene with McCoy and the antique eyeglasses alone should put him in anybody's pantheon of great screen acting.
And the performance that most definitely deserved one of those Academy statuettes, there isn't even a plausible argument otherwise so just don't give me any crap, obviously is
1. Demetrius and the Gladiators (Delmer Daves, 1954)
The great Jay Robinson as Caligula, talking to a towel. "Rise! Rise!" Nuff said.
Awrighty, then -- what would your choices be?