Joker (4K Blu-ray) (2019)

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Released 8-Jan-2020

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Drama None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2019
Running Time 121:49
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 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 $34.95 Music Hildur Guđnadóttir


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos
English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Atmos
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1
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
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Portuguese
Spanish
Arabic
Bulgarian
Danish
Dutch
Greek
Hungarian
Norwegian
Romanian
Swedish
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.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Holy moly. The Oscar-nominated Joker was filmed with Arri Alexa cameras at 6.5K resolution by cinematographer Lawrence Sher, and was completed with a 4K digital intermediate. It's therefore perfect fodder for a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release, and the resulting 2160p presentation is easily one of the best I've ever seen on this format - up there with the likes of Blade Runner 2049 and Ready Player One. Joker is placed on a dual-layered BD-66 as opposed to a BD-100, which might dismay some, but the two-hour movie has the entire disc to itself, and it isn't sharing the disc with a hundred other audio tracks competing for space. Hence, this facilitates a perfectly adequate average video bitrate above 50 Mbps, which is still quite good for the format, and kicks the ever-loving crap out of the 1080p Blu-ray. In addition, the HEVC/H.265-encoded transfer is enhanced with Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range, though it will play in regular old HDR10 if your equipment is not DV-compatible. From top to bottom, and from start to finish, Joker is absolutely breathtaking in 4K - textures are tight, it's sharp as a tack, colours are gorgeous, shadow detail is immaculate, blacks are inky, and contrast is improved compared to the 1080p Blu-ray. Videophiles will drool over this one from the first frame.

    It's worth pointing out that, like many of Roadshow's releases, the 4K disc was authored by Warner Bros. overseas, and Roadshow was not involved in the encoding process. Warner thankfully retains the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as opposed to their usual practice of opening up the frame to 1.78:1 for home video. Whereas some movies have visual problems inherent to the source, no such shortcomings exist with Joker - instead, Sher's Oscar-nominated cinematography is pristine and gorgeously refined all the way through. Yes, segments of Murray Franklin's show, as well as the various news reports, are deliberately treated to look like '80s-era video, but aside from that, there are no inadvertently soft-looking shots, or shots with blocky video noise or source-related artefacts - it's smooth sailing across the board. Even shots containing digital effects don't see any drop in sharpness, nor does the disc make the CGI look obvious - instead, the CGI remains invisible. This is a state-of-the-art movie from a technical perspective, exhibiting more polish than some movies that cost two or three times as much.

    To further emulate the films of yesteryear that influenced it, a light layer of grain/noise coats Joker, and its intensity differs from scene to scene. Thankfully, the 2160p encoding and generous video bitrate ensure the noise looks pristine and refined, accentuating the textures and never appearing blocky. The noise often disappears on the 1080p Blu-ray due to the level of compression, but this 4K disc handles it far better. Additionally, thanks to the native 4K finish, the textures are noticeably improved. Just see a close-up of Arthur right at the beginning, at 00:55 - the transfer brings out every last pore on the side of his face, and the image looks tighter and more pleasing than the Blu-ray. The amount of fine detail on display here is staggering, thanks to the 6.5K oversampling and the 4K finish. No matter the lighting conditions, each shot looks sharp and richly detailed - even wide shots maintain a level of fine detail that the standard Blu-ray cannot even hope to match. Whereas the Blu-ray occasionally looked too smooth, no such instances are evident in 4K. Every intricacy on skin, fabrics and sets is brought out with confidence, allowing you to better appreciate the meticulous production design.

    Instead of a full enhancement layer, the Dolby Vision HDR is a minimal enhancement layer, meaning the DV just offers a bit of additional dynamic metadata to further augment highlights and contrast. I conducted some cursory comparisons, and there isn't much of a difference, though the DV looks more measured and balanced, and is, therefore, my preferred edition. HDR further boosts the video, with colours looking bolder and more vibrant, while blacks are deeper as well - the 4K disc looks even better than the theatrical presentation I saw in cinemas back in October. There's more depth to cityscape shots, while the deliberate colour palette looks truer without resorting to garish oversaturation. Indeed, HDR allows for a varied and accurate colour scheme, and the transfer is full of moments that look jaw-droppingly vivid. Additionally, HDR restores specular detail to shots with harsh lighting. Even in the very first shot of the movie, which tracks in behind Arthur, there's more detail through the windows. When Arthur has a breakdown in an alley at 19:08, the sky behind him features better highlights than the Blu-ray, which looks blown out in comparison. A subsequent shot of Arthur going up the stairs looks more balanced with HDR, revealing more detail in the street lamps. This continues throughout the presentation; it would take a long time to list all of the specific moments which look improved. At times, the lighting is deliberately blown out, and this creative decision remains in the 4K transfer, but HDR does give these moments more balance than the Blu-ray, rather than completely obliterating fine detail. Once again, Joker demonstrates that HDR and wide colour gamut is the biggest draw of this new format, offering tremendous improvements to shadow detail and vibrancy that Standard Dynamic Range simply cannot match.

    I was on the lookout for any encoding flaws or anomalies while watching this disc (more than once), but none crossed my field of view - the transfer is thankfully not spoiled by any macroblocking, crush, aliasing, banding, or anything else. Blacks are heightened at times, but no crush ever eliminates fine detail, as the transfer retains ample shadow detail. Could Joker have looked any better if Warner Bros. used a BD-100 and maxed out the video bitrate? Possibly. It'd be interesting to see. But in this current iteration, it's difficult to imagine the movie looking any better on home video.

    English subtitles (for the hearing impaired) are available. It's the same problem-free subtitle track from the regular Blu-ray.

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

    No extras are included on the 4K disc. However, there are special features on the accompanying 1080p Blu-ray.

R4 vs R1

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

    Aside from differing language options, the 4K disc is the same 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.

    Unsurprisingly, the best way to experience Joker on home video is on 4K Blu-ray. The 2160p video transfer is outstanding, one of the best I've ever seen, and the Dolby Atmos track is likewise free of issues. The accompanying 1080p Blu-ray, unfortunately, doesn't contain much in the way of extras - maybe we'll see a more extras-laden double-dip further down the line, given the movie's $1 billion worldwide box office result. Nevertheless, this one comes highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Monday, January 20, 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)
Great review Callum! - cztery