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Warner has Warner’d The Dark Knight


Screen captures have appeared for Warner’s upcoming release of what is surely its flagship title for this winter, The Dark Knight, and it looks like all is not rosy in Gotham City. Not that is ever was in Christopher Nolan’s plodding, po-faced and frankly yawn-worthy “why-so-serious” bore-fest to begin with, but it shouldn’t have looked like this. You want edge enhancement? It’s there in abundance. Smeared facial textures, you say? Got those too.

It becomes even more disheartening when you look at the comparison posted at the AV Science Forum, which places one of the DVD Beaver shots head to head with a frame from the same shot as seen in one of the downloadable h.264 trailers that accompanied the film’s theatrical release. Here is pure, unadulterated proof of image quality being degraded for a high definition home video release. You might find the notion of a freely downloadable trailer looking better than an actual Blu-ray disc release laughable, but I assure you, it’s anything but.

It’s also nothing new: this has been going on for a considerable amount of time now. I believe the first time I became aware of this practice was when I noticed how much worse The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’s DVD transfer looked than that of the trailer for the same film that was hidden on the Rush Hour 2 DVD. I noticed similar problems with The Dark Knight’s predecessor, Batman Begins: the high definition Windows Media trailer I downloaded from Microsoft’s web site looked excellent, but the eventual HD DVD release looked blurry and anaemic. Unfortunately, the DRM on the Windows Media trailer meant that, after a certain date, I was no longer allowed to play it (don’t you love DRM?), preventing me from doing a proper comparison, but luckily smart people have captured the evidence of The Dark Knight’s insidious mangling for all to see. Of course, the usual crowd of “it looks fine on my telly” and “direct screen captures aren’t accurate” ninnies are poo-pooing the evidence, but that’s nothing new. There were people who claimed (and still claim) that the HD DVD of Traffic wasn’t a standard definition upconvert, for crying out loud!

My plea to the studios is this: stop it. Just stop it. Please. You can’t fool us. We’re not stupid. We know you’re doing it. Now kindly get back to delivering superb discs that take full advantage of 1920x1080 resolution instead of diluted mush like this. Whether this was done at the DI or mastering stage, find out who is doing this, rap them soundly on the knuckles and bring in technicians who know what they’re doing. Thank you.

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2008 at 5:14 PM | Comments: 26
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DRM | DVD | HD DVD | Technology | Web



You need to watch it again Whiggles. After the superb BATMAN BEGINS of course. :D

Posted by: Marcus, November 24, 2008 6:15 PM


So you watched BEGINS I take it after reading that third paragraph more carefully?

Posted by: Marcus, November 24, 2008 6:16 PM


Clearly your cinematic taste must be discredited. The Dark Shite is the best movie not just of this year, but the best movie of all time. It's beautiful and smart. You're just clearly a fruitcake who would rather see the campy Burton movies or the homoerotic Schumacher films. You hack! Watch it again, and marvel at the of art it is. There is nothing wrong with the disc either, it looks fine for me, you just need your eyes checked. The movie made me orgasm in my pants multiple times!!! I am proud to say this. I couldn't walk right after seeing it. Bland characters, overlong screen time absent of coherent plot, incongruous action, poor visuals, explosions galore, and a soundtrack made of banging pots and pans together, clearly the best. So if you don't like it, then you are not a human being. Besides, Heath Ledger's corpse deserves an Oscar for this! If he doesn't get one, I will complain on web forums!!!!

Posted by: Todd S. Gallows, November 24, 2008 7:30 PM


Sometimes I think that WB uses 27-inch CRTs for quality control. And wow, that comparison is really mind boggling. I bet they used a 16-bit "master" for the "TrueHD" track as well. For a company that decided the format war, they really aren't doing well on their next-gen products.

Posted by: Sound Designer Dan, November 24, 2008 7:55 PM


Please not that not all of us Dark Knight admirers are like the one-dimensional stereotyped charicature Todd S. Gallows just posted.

I enjoy the first two Burtons to an extent, I even adore Batman Returns as a Tim Burton film (as a Batman flick however it's pretty sad stuff) and I will say I would have had no problem with the Schumacer films if they didn't try to be serious at times.

But I will say that BEGINS and TDK are IMO the very best Batman films and that Heath Ledger's performance deserves every bit of praise he gets. Of course, the more hype a film gets the more opposition it gets. And I know how you feel because I am perfectly fine being a member of the TLOTR opposition.

Posted by: Marcus, November 24, 2008 8:48 PM


Can you dig up the LotR dvd vs trailer comparison?

Posted by: user, November 25, 2008 4:49 AM


I’ll see what I can do. I’ll have to see if my brother still has his copy of Rush Hour 2, though.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, November 25, 2008 9:20 AM


My Review

I disagree that the EE is bad in this one and that there is smearing going on.

It could be better and there should be absolutely no EE at all but it isn't as bad as is being reported.

Good movie too.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, November 25, 2008 10:28 PM


I hope you don't mind me linking to my site....I already link to yours so hopefully you won't mind a link back to mine as to copy the whole review is very long and might bore your readers.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, November 25, 2008 10:30 PM


Normally, I agree with Mike, but yeah, I think he's really exaggerating here and a lot of this might have to do with using an IMAX print and DVNRing/EEing it to even out the IMAX/35mm shots. Stupid, but a lot of those shots still look really good or fine regardless.

Digital Bits:

The movie is brilliant.

Posted by: Tyler, November 26, 2008 4:41 AM


I think we should be clear about one thing: judging by the captures, this is far from an awful-looking disc. In my estimation, it looks to be above average and would probably net a low-to-mid 7/10 on my scale. If this was a catalogue title, I suspect I’d just shrug my shoulders and say “Oh well, I didn’t expect them to put much effort into it anyway.” But it’s not a catalogue title, it’s the Dark Knight, one of Warner’s biggest and most financially successful blockbusters of all time. Regardless of what I think of the film, it should have been perfect, and it could have been perfect. The fact that the h.264 trailer does look pretty much perfect just makes this whole affair all the more absurd. In fact, worse than absurd, it’s embarrassing.

Yesterday evening, I was checking out DVD Beaver and came across their review of the BD of Fred Claus ( Same studio, infinitely superior transfer. What’s going on here? Did they entrust The Dark Knight to the work experience boy or something?

And yes, Foxy, it’s absolutely fine for you to link to your site. In fact, I’ll check it out when I get the chance and have a read of some of your reviews.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, November 26, 2008 7:17 AM


I've read a comment on a forum that the 2.40:1 35mm material was blown up to 70mm for the the IMAX version of the film with a process which would add some EE to the image. So this might be the reason for it?

Of course in that case Warner should have taken the IMAX scenes from the IMAX print and the 2.40:1 scenes from a different, 35mm print to obtain maximum image quality.

The scenes from the trailer were probably taken from some kind of early print, since the color timing looks completely different there.

Don't know if this really is the reason behind the EE though...

Posted by: BobaFett, November 26, 2008 6:21 PM


I just looked some things up about the different processes used for the IMAX and the scope scenes.

Here's an interesting link about the production of the IMAX version of "The Dark Knight":

A couple of scenes were shot with 70mm IMAX cameras. Those scenes were shown in the full 1.43:1 IMAX aspect ratio at IMAX cinemas. Not all scenes were shot in IMAX though, as that would have been cost-prohibitive and filming intimate scenes would be difficult with the big IMAX cameras. Because of that the rest of the film was filmed on 35mm material.

From the interview: "Then, to get to the 1.43:1 IMAX release, the 35mm IP was scanned at 4K resolution, and IMAX applied its DMR process and then did 5.6K and 8K filmouts onto 65mm."

I've googled the IMAX DMR process and found something at the German Wikipedia:

Here's a quick translation:
"DMR means Digital Remastering. During this process conventional 35mm movies are scanned with the highest resolution possible (usually 6K) and thereby digitalised. Ideally the camera negative is used for this, because there's a loss of quality in a copy. Then the grain of the film is removed by special software algorithms, because it would look displeasing on the IMAX screens. Afterwards the image is sharpened to conserve the details. Because the size of the processed data is extremely big (several terabytes), the render farm needs several weeks for the remastering process. At the end the movie is put on 70mm film with 8k, i.e. 8000 x 6000 pixels (48 megapixels).


The IMAX DMR process is criticized primarily by cinema owners: They argue that movies filmed on 35mm material cannot be brought to the quality level of 70mm material; thus IMAX DMR is 'false labeling'."

As we know Nolan wants to reproduce the IMAX version of the movie on Blu-ray, i.e. the IMAX scenes are included there (although not in a 1.43:1 aspect ratio, which would look odd on a standard 16:9 TV, but in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio). So this might indeed be the reason for the EE and DNR - this could be the result of the IMAX DMR process.

In this case this would not be something that has been added by Warner for the Blu-ray release, but would stem from the idea of releasing the IMAX version on Blu-ray. But even if that's the case and the EE already is on the IMAX prints, I would have preferred if they had taken the scope scenes from a 35mm print that had not been "remastered" by IMAX.

Posted by: BobaFett, November 26, 2008 7:04 PM


Yeah, it can easily be a production thing to even out the resolution balance, which is why I'm saying this might not be the fault of the encoders. But I need good stills from 35mm or IMAX prints to really know.

Posted by: Tyler, November 26, 2008 7:28 PM


Trailers should never be used to comparisons....They can give a hint of what might be but trailers usually are done before a films release and that films colour, brightness, contrast, sharpness could all change after the trailer comes out...Sometimes a trailer will have half finished backgrounds if shot against a green screen or uncompleted CGI....Nope judging against a trailer is a very bad idea.

I don't think this release is bad...Half a dozen shots totalling under a minute are bad and some scenes are average....The IMAX shot scenes are generally superb in my opinion....I awarded the film 75/100 in the review i did for it....Any high definition film released in late 2008 with EE does not deserve reference quality reviews in my opinion but lets not exaggerate and lets just say its still very watchable and some scenes look really good.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, November 26, 2008 8:09 PM


You’re right that a trailer should not be used to compare colour, brightness and contrast, as so much can change in the post production. Indeed, I don’t believe anyone is seriously saying “Look how much more blue the trailer is - the BD’s colour is obviously defective!” However, if a trailer looks so much more detailed, naturalistic and unmolested than the released Blu-ray disc, as is the case here, then very serious questions have to be asked, and number one should be “At what stage in the chain did this occur?” Number two, then, should be “How do we prevent this from happening again?”

Again, this is by no means an awful-looking disc, but there’s a limit to what I’m willing to excuse when it comes to obvious flaws in a major new release. The problems on display here are virtually identical to those exhibited in The Matrix, V for Vendetta and other Warner titles, and I strongly suspect that someone, somewhere in that studio is infecting high definition with the same odious practices that ensured standard definition DVD was, for the most part, a sea of mush.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, November 26, 2008 8:21 PM


I think we all agree that even using this monkeying in post-production is a bad idea, but that's not the fault of the people involved in the disc. You work with what you have.

Didn't Aviator have the same problems? This might be somewhat standard for major-league WB titles.

Posted by: Tyler, November 26, 2008 10:19 PM


I don't really care what's caused it; and still think it looks like a *good* disc. The fact that a trailer can show more spatial detail means that something is wrong SOMEWHERE.

>> I've read a comment on a forum that the 2.40:1 35mm material was blown up to 70mm for the the IMAX version of the film with a process which would add some EE to the image. So this might be the reason for it?

Apparently this is the reason, yes. If I were in charge here, I'd have looked into mixing and matching sources to get the best version of each shot. If it were possible, that is - do the aspect ratios differ?

Posted by: David Mackenzie, November 27, 2008 2:02 AM


I looked up some information about IMAX remastering of movies that were originally shot in 35mm (which apparently means EE and DNR) and about the production of "The Dark Knight" earlier this evening, but my comment was somehow recognized as spam and thus not posted to the blog. The aspect ratio should not be different for the 35mm scenes, they should be in 2.40:1 scope in every version. At IMAX cinemas the aspect ratio changed between 1.43:1 for the IMAX scenes and scope for the rest of the movie. On Blu-ray the aspect ratio changes between 1.78:1 for the IMAX scenes and scope for the rest of the movie.

Mixing and matching sources could have given a better result then, I believe. But if the people at IMAX Corp are of the opinion that artificially sharpening and DNR'ing movies that were originally shot in 35mm when remastering them for 70mm IMAX presentations improves the image quality (well, I don't know if that's really all that is done, I just read it at the German Wikipedia), maybe the production team of "The Dark Knight" wanted the complete IMAX print with all of the IMAX material as well as all of the "remastered" 35mm material to be used for the Blu-ray? Then Warner really wouldn't be the one to blame and the image could even be how the director wanted it to be.

Posted by: BobaFett, November 27, 2008 2:29 AM


Sorry about your comment not showing up, BobaFett. The spam catcher is reasonably reliable, but every so often it slips up. Your comment has now been posted, and it appears as #13.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, November 27, 2008 9:52 AM


In light of this fiasco, i'm now quite keen on seeing that LotR dvd vs trailer comparison myself. Any updates on that request?

Posted by: Phantom, November 27, 2008 10:00 AM



Afraid my brother no longer has the Rush Hour 2 DVD. I’m still trying to source the trailer, though, and I’ll post an update if I have any success.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, November 27, 2008 10:03 AM


As far as the Lord Of The Rings movies go this site has interesting information on them....The NTSC american editions of at least the first two movies were filtered but the PAL editions were apparently not and offer great image quality.

From the above site...

So i decided to get the PAL version as well, to see how it holds up against the NTSC. And to my surprise, the PAL version was quite a bit better! To the untrained eye, both may look 'smooth'. But the PAL version has more 'real' detail and a bit less ringing (less harsh looking overall), making it much more film-like 'smooth' and less 'blurry'.

Now, you could say "of course the PAL version has more detail, it has 576 instead of 480 lines of vertical resolution". Indeed, if only that was the explanation! But although PAL has more scanlines for 'potentially' more 'vertical' detail, there just ISN'T any more vertical detail on FOTR PAL! The difference in detail is solely in the horizontal direction, in which both PAL and NTSC have 720 samples.

[Note: Of course, this immediately reminded me of Columbia/Tristar and their Superbit lineup. If you read my SB reviews, you know that the REAL difference between SB and non-SB versions is that SB titles have more horizontal detail due to less horizontal filtering. This fact 'necessitates' a higher bitrate to keep blocking artefacts below the common perceptual threshold. Its NOT the other way around: higher bitrate, and THUS automatically more detail. A common misconception, even among people in the industry, btw.]

So, the PAL version of FOTR appears horizontally almost unfiltered like SB titles, and the NTSC version is horizontally low-pass filtered like a non-SB Col/Tri DVD. I would go as far as say its even more filtered, since i have never seen a Col/Tri non-SB title as 'blurry' as FOTR R1.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, November 27, 2008 11:57 AM


To be honest, New Line’s DVDs blow chunks, as do many of their BD releases. That article, by Bjoern Roy, is an excellent piece and the first time I’d ever come across someone else who had come to the same conclusions as me about both The Lord of the Rings and DVD video transfers in general. I don’t think the PAL edition constitutes that massive an improvement, but it’s definitely better. (Unfortunately, the PAL releases all feature annoying player-generated location type and subtitles, as opposed to the burned-in variants found on the American discs.)

That said, the HD version shown in that article really doesn’t look all that spectacular either. Obviously, it’s much better than any of the SD versions, and I’m guessing it came from a 720p broadcast source, so there’s every reason to assume that the eventual Blu-ray release will look considerably better.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, November 27, 2008 3:36 PM


This is kind of depressing. I personally adored TDK (and really enjoyed BB), but from what I'm reading here (sorry, I kinda skimmed), it sounds like the BD was transferred ENTIRELY from an IMAX print where the 35mm footage was in a sense upconverted? I suppose I can understand that for simplicity's sake, but Warner really ought to have given this movie the best treatment ever. The 35mm scenes should look damn sharp with fine grain detail. The IMAX scenes ought to look comparatively better, though I like that they did give it a slightly taller aspect ratio, though it can't match the nearly box-shape ratio when seeing it in an IMAX theater. Filtering ought not have been used for any of it.

In regards to those two screencaps, one of the BD and one of the trailer, the latter is obviously finer in detail, but another thing too, is I actually recall the colors being far closer to the trailer's image. Maybe I'm just remembering wrong, but either way, the BD screencap looks poor in every regard.

Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, November 27, 2008 5:00 PM


Wow, nice finds, BobaFett. It looks like this all extends back to IMAX. I have no idea what the point is to enhancing 35mm when they would still look fine even on IMAX screens, or at least way better than filtered versions.

Posted by: Tyler, November 27, 2008 7:34 PM

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