The Dark Knight

The Baltimore Sun

Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart Directed by Christopher Nolan. Blu-ray. Warner $35.99 *** 1/2 ( 3 1/2 STARS)


The Dark Knight, 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. What makes 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. He also has lost his girlfriend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

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. 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 Gary 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 1/2 -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 psyche of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. Also included is a digital copy for downloading.

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