Joker (Blu-ray) (2019)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 8-Jan-2020

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Drama Featurette-Becoming Joker
Featurette-Making Of-Joker: Vision & Fury
Additional Footage-Please Welcome...Joker!
Gallery-Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2019
Running Time 121:49
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Todd Phillips
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Joaquin Phoenix
Robert De Niro
Zazie Beetz
Frances Conroy
Brett Cullen
Shea Whigham
Bill Camp
Glenn Fleshler
Leigh Gill
Josh Pais
Sondra James
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $24.95 Music Hildur Guđnadóttir


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos
English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Portuguese
Spanish
Bulgarian
Cantonese
Croatian
Czech
Estonian
Greek
Hungarian
Korean
Latvian
Lithuanian
Mandarin
Polish
Romanian
Russian
Slovenian
Thai
Turkish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    With Warner Bros. and DC's master plan for an interconnected superhero universe going down in flames after the failure of 2017's Justice League, Todd Phillips' Joker signifies a daring new direction for the brand: standalone movies with modest budgets and auteur visions. Written by Phillips and Scott Silver, Joker is the antithesis of colourful, mainstream superhero cinema; it's an austere, pitch-black, R-rated masterpiece which feels more like a Martin Scorsese crime drama than a comic book flick. Phillips draws from a well of inspiration, including Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream, and Falling Down - and yet, despite this ostensible derivativeness, the concoction is breathtakingly unique. Equal parts catharsis and condemnation, Joker is an exquisite 'Dear John' written to contemporary society, disguised as an origin story for Batman's infamous clown-faced nemesis. It's one of the most pleasing film-going surprises of 2019, and one of the year's best movies.

    In a crime-ridden, early-'80s Gotham City, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a clown and aspires to be a stand-up comedian, looking up to late-night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Struggling to keep a lid on his mental health issues, including uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate times, Arthur lives in a grubby, ramshackle apartment with his elderly mother, Penny (Frances Conroy). While Penny clings to the hope that her former employer, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), will provide financial assistance, Arthur is assaulted on the job and loses access to his crucial medications when budget cuts shut down the social service programs. After being unceremoniously fired for bringing a firearm into a children's hospital, Arthur shoots dead three snobbish businessmen who violently attack him on the subway. This vigilante incident turns the clown-faced Arthur into a symbol for Gotham City's low-income citizens, who begin staging protests over the tumultuous class struggle. As the sense of unrest grows across Gotham, Arthur's life continues to descend into darkness and violence.

    Despite the media painting Joker as a right-wing political statement (and secretly hoping it will incite copycat violence, to validate their views), the movie is remarkably apolitical. After all, Arthur outright rejects the movement spurred on by his actions, and the script doesn't side with the protesters. Arthur is not political, since politics do not motivate his actions; instead, he is unhinged, and his spontaneous, ever-changing moods determine his behaviour. Even though Joker is a DC Comics feature, it is not suitable for children who are accustomed to fun, light-hearted superhero cinema. Additionally, Batman purists may also have trouble embracing this nihilistic vision, which has no firm basis in any pre-existing comic. Phillips even paints Thomas Wayne in a negative light, portraying the billionaire as unkind and even callous, gaining scores of enemies and critics as he runs for political office.

    Perhaps the smartest angle of Phillips and Silver's screenplay is the ambiguity. Over-explaining a villain's origins can erase the sense of menace (see Rob Zombie's Halloween), and Joker ran this risk by its very nature. Although the movie suggests that tragic circumstances transformed a well-meaning man into a murderous psychopath, it is also implied that Arthur's mental dark side always existed but was kept under control through pharmaceuticals, and the film's events push him over the edge. Of course, too, Arthur is an unreliable narrator, and this is his side of the story. Is Arthur making up stories to justify his criminal behaviour? Is he forcing a backstory? Or is everything factual? Phillips does not offer a definitive answer. Furthering this ambiguity, in an obvious nod to Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, the line between reality and fantasy is not distinctly drawn - in one lurid daydream sequence, Arthur envisions himself getting the spotlight on Murray's show and instantly bonding with the host. Admittedly, several of Joker's characters are stereotypes, from the Donald Trump Jr. types who confront Arthur on the subway, to Thomas Wayne as the snooty billionaire - but again, nothing can be trusted as completely real, since Arthur's day-to-day reality blends with fantasy. And besides, these aforementioned stereotypes having robust real-life antecedents reinforces the picture's societal commentary.

    Although Phillips is an odd choice for a production like this, his background in comedy renders him strangely perfect for Joker, which is not merely a one-note descent into misery. Phillips enlivens the bleakness with bursts of pitch-black humour, while De Niro also earns a few laughs through sharp repartee. Furthermore, with magnificent cinematographer by Lawrence Sher (The Hangover, War Dogs), Joker is one of the most visually striking motion pictures in recent memory. Everything - from the distinct colour palette and the lighting, to shot compositions and the invisible digital effects (primarily for backgrounds and cityscape extensions) - is state-of-the-art of the highest order, despite the modest budget. Production designer Mark Friedberg constructs an evocative Gotham City bathed in grit and urban squalor, exacerbated by an ongoing garbage strike which occurs in the background of the narrative. Deliberately resembling New York City in the 1980s, Gotham becomes a character unto itself, and you can almost feel the grime by watching it on-screen.

    Icelandic composer Hildur Guđnadóttir continues her remarkable winning streak with Joker (she also composed for Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and the miniseries Chernobyl); her award-winning score is perfection. The movie's morose central theme, played on a cello, is exceptionally moody, and immaculately complements the visuals and performances. Other music choices also augment Phillips' vision, including recurring use of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" which effectively underscores the movie's themes. Another scene sees Arthur - in full Joker make-up and costume - dancing to the tune of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2," a controversial decision considering the singer's sordid criminal history. However, the song gives the important scene an even more uncomfortable undertone, and suits the moment perfectly.

    Without the risk of hyperbole, Phoenix delivers the greatest performance ever witnessed in the history of cinema. It's a transformative performance, for which Phoenix lost unhealthy amounts of weight through an emaciating diet. As a result, it is often easy to forget that Phoenix is on-screen - he truly becomes Joker, disappearing into the character. Furthermore, Phoenix does not espouse a faux voice, instead precisely controlling the temperament and rhythm of his dialogue delivery, in addition to losing himself in the physicality of the character, which renders him utterly chilling and enthralling. Phillips lingers on Arthur's unnerving, sickly laugh when he loses control, appropriately making certain scenes and moments feel uncomfortable. In addition, Phillips maintained spontaneity during filming, giving Phoenix the freedom to change his movements and actions between takes, depending on how he felt. Fortunately, the supporting cast ably holds their own alongside Phoenix, with De Niro, in particular, making a great impression as Murray Franklin. De Niro portrayed a down-on-his-luck, small-time comedian in Scorsese's The King of Comedy, which makes it all the more interesting to see him now playing a famous talk show host whom somebody aspires to meet.

    Joker is rare, lightning-in-a-bottle cinema, in terms of both the outstanding craftsmanship and the outrage-heavy online reception, with media scrutiny ultimately helping to catapult the movie to a worldwide box office gross exceeding one billion dollars (the first R-rated film to cross that threshold). Individual mileage will vary depending on your expectations, as well as your tolerance for the type of vicious violence Joker contains. Indeed, not everybody will take to Phillips' bleak vision, but there is no denying the power of Phoenix's performance, the grim yet captivating storytelling, or the immaculate technical presentation. Joker adds complex and disconcerting layers to the titular character's legacy without diminishing his mysterious aura, and culminates with a shocking, edge-of-your-seat finale which is not easy to forget.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Nominated for 11 Academy Awards (a new record for comic book cinema), Joker arrives on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray courtesy of Roadshow Entertainment. Framed at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Joker's AVC-encoded, 1080p high definition presentation is placed on a dual-layered BD-50, though - as usual - Roadshow/Warner Bros. fails to take advantage of all the available disc space. Hence, Joker is mastered with an average video bitrate of 20.07 Mbps, which is disappointing but not exactly surprising, given Roadshow's track record with releases of this ilk. The resulting presentation is good but rarely great, with the compression as well as the format's limitations holding this one back from perfection. Nevertheless, it is eminently serviceable and watchable. Plus, non-discerning casual viewers probably won't notice any of the shortcomings.

    Joker was shot digitally using Arri Alexa cameras and completed natively at 4K resolution. It's one of the best-looking motion pictures of the year, and it would be impossible to make the movie look bad. Thus, even with the level of compression on the disc, the transfer still looks adequate for the most part, with a level of detailing and sharpness that you'd expect from a high definition Blu-ray disc. Close-ups look great, in particular, such as a close-up of Arthur in the very first scene which reveals every pore and intricacy on his skin. However, the compression robs the image of tightness, and the transfer occasionally takes on a smooth appearance devoid of pristine fine detail, especially during medium and long shots. Shadow detail is also hit and miss when lighting is less generous, such as the coverage of Gary in the corner at 88:50. The digital photography is coated in a fine layer of noise, which is a deliberate creative choice, but said noise is often lost here. At times, the image looks absolutely lovely, but on the whole, the noise should look finer and better-resolved. Of course, grain haters might prefer this, but with the noise disappearing at times, fine detail and sharpness are also diminished. Still, the movie does look sharp more often than not, which is a huge asset.

    On a more positive note, the Blu-ray transfer faithfully handles the film's distinctive colour palette. Colours are pleasing and bold, while blacks look sufficiently deep as opposed to inky. Also, I was unable to detect any evidence of black crush, as the black levels never overwhelm the image or eliminate any detail. Additionally, the encoding never falls victim to any compression artefacts; there's no macroblocking, aliasing, banding, ringing, or anything else - it's smooth sailing. However, it almost goes without saying, but highlights and specular detail are lost when harsh light sources are on-screen, such as bright windows or skies, which is par for the course due to the limitations of 1080p. On the whole, Joker looks pretty good despite some noticeable flaws, but it's a shame that Roadshow/Warner Bros. still fail to use all available disc space for the best possible Blu-ray presentation. As a result, this looks closer to a streaming version on iTunes, as opposed to a premium Blu-ray disc. But at least there's also a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray alternative, which is vastly superior.

    Subtitles are included in numerous languages. The English (for the hearing impaired) track is well-formatted and free of issues.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    In keeping with how the movie was mixed and exhibited, Joker's 1080p video presentation is accompanied by a lossless Dolby Atmos soundtrack (with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core). Let's not mince words here: Joker sounds amazing, and the Atmos mix is flawless in every conceivable way. I don't have an Atmos set-up, and therefore can't comment on the full capabilities of the track, but I was nevertheless blown away listening to the audio through my 7.1 surround sound system. Crisp, pristine, impactful and pleasingly dynamic, the Atmos track gives vivid aural life to this dark comic book vision - after all, the movie's sound mixing and sound editing earned Academy Award nominations. First things first, there are no problems with the dialogue, as it's always well-prioritised and easy to hear over Hildur Guđnadóttir's pervasive original score, the environmental ambience of each scene, and any sound effects. In addition, there are no source-related or encoding-related flaws of any kind; no hissing, popping, clicking, muffling, sync issues, or anything else. At no point does the track sound underwhelming or overly compressed; Warner's encoding team do justice to the Oscar-nominated mixing.

    Surround activity is evident in virtually every scene. When Arthur imagines himself on Murray's show, for instance, the placement of the crowd noises differs from shot to shot, to reflect where the crowd is actually sitting in relation to the camera placement. Separation and panning effects are frequently noticeable, creating an immersive soundscape. Environmental ambience comes through the rear channels, as well, from the hustle and bustle of Gotham City streets (horns honking, cars passing, chatter, etc.) to light music in the background of Arthur's workplace at the 16-minute mark, and storm/rainfall sounds at the 78-minute mark. But it's Guđnadóttir's score which makes the most impact, perpetually coming from all speakers, and sounding absolutely immaculate. The score is loud and crystal clear, while low-frequency effects augment its impact. The gunshots also pack serious impact. When Arthur shoots the last Wall Street jerk at the subway station at 33:40, for example, the gunshot sounds appear to reverberate around the surround channels, reflective of how a gunshot would echo in a large, empty station. There's so much "oomph" to this Atmos track; it puts Disney's audio team to shame.

    The Blu-ray contains several additional Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks in other languages, including Spanish, Polish, Russian and Thai. There's also a superfluous English Dolby Digital 5.1 track as an alternative to the Atmos mix, for those interested. I concentrated solely on the Atmos mix, and must again reiterate that it's spectacular.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Four video extras, only one of which is actually substantive. The main menu reflects the recent redesign for Warner Bros./Roadshow titles, with the special features permanently sitting along the right side of the screen. Guđnadóttir's music accompanies the menu.

Becoming Joker (HD; 1:23)

    A brief montage (set to Guđnadóttir's score) of costume/make-up tests, showing Phoenix in his various iterations of Arthur Fleck/Joker.

Joker: Vision & Fury (HD; 22:25)

    The only substantive extra on the disc, here we have a twenty-minute "making-of" featurette, with interviews featuring Phoenix, Phillips, producer Bradley Cooper, production designer Mark Friedberg, composer Hildur Guđnadóttir, and more. The interviewees discuss the genesis of Joker, how Phillips approached the movie, the intricacies of creating this version of Gotham City (inspired by NYC in the 1980s), using digital effects to alter/extend the cityscapes, Guđnadóttir's superb original score, Phoenix's approach to the title character, wardrobe designs, Phoenix losing weight, maintaining spontaneity, dancing choreography, editing, and so on. The production design team even devised a map of Gotham to ensure the geography added up on-screen. I wish this was a longer documentary, but it's a great extra nevertheless.

Please Welcome...Joker! (HD; 2:44)

    The previous extra discusses Phoenix's proclivity for changing his performance between takes, giving Phillips mountains of alternative material. Here we have all the alternative material for his entrance on Murray's show.

Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos (HD; 3:04)

    A series of stills which essentially runs through the entire movie, set to Guđnadóttir's music.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Extras are the same on the Warner Bros. American release. At this time, there are no additional special features on any edition worldwide. It's a draw, buy local.

Summary

    Critics were divided, but the audience response was almost unanimously positive, with Joker maintaining a high place on IMDb's Top 250. In short, Joker is outstanding - it's tragic, cathartic, transfixing, and never once redemptive. It's bottled lightning. Perfection.

    On Blu-ray, Joker looks very good, while the Dolby Atmos track is flawless. Unfortunately, the disc comes up short in terms of special features, but what's included is at least good value. If you're not 4K-compatible, this is a wise purchase. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Friday, January 17, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Languages - cztery REPLY POSTED