Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Dark Knight on Blu-ray

The Dark Knight Goes Blu

Sorry, that was kind of a lame heading, but this movie definitely is not. If you're one of the five people who haven't seen it, I wrote a pretty detailed review when it came out so I won't go into too much detail about it here, but I will give a brief rundown of my thoughts on second viewing before I talk about the Blu-ray set specifically.

I'm convinced that The Dark Knight is my second favorite movie of all time, beat only by Kill Bill and probably followed by Pulp Fiction. By the way, I rank my movies on how much I enjoy them and enjoy watching them again and again. I may have seen better movies, but that doesn't mean they entertained me as much. Anyway, Batman is back to take on the Joker, who is equally as meticulous as Batman but for crime, and hopes to hand the reigns of Gotham City to ambitious District Attorney Harvey Dent, Gotham's white knight. While it doesn't sound like much, the story is liable to keep you on the edge of your seat once it gets going, and the acting and writing are pretty much spot-on. Despite being as long as it is and having seen it before, I had no problem staying interested for the whole thing the second time around and was actually ready to watch it again later this week. The cinematography is not to be overlooked either with gorgeous city shots and plenty of mayhem shot in both IMAX and on standard film. It's pretty hard not to love this movie when it does so much right. I know people hate the comparisons to Heat, but I think that the on screen dynamics between Batman and The Joker are even better than between Pacino and DeNiro. Anyway, enough about the movie itself: it's superb.

Does it look every bit as good on Blu-ray as it did on the big screen? For the most part, yes. I think that when you watch a movie with as dark as palette as this one the scenes with a lot of black don't look as good as you may remember on the big screen. The IMAX scenes are pretty much breathtaking. I was a little disappointed with how they enforced the IMAX aspect ratio: the IMAX shots will take up your whole screen whereas the rest of the movie will have black bars at the top and bottom. Since my other Blu-ray movies don't do that, it makes me feel a little cheated. Still, they're fairly thin bars and the quality is pretty amazing for the rest of the movie also. The only flaws you're really going to find in the other scenes in the movie are just noise in the backgrounds occasionally, but you pretty much have to walk right up to your TV (which I hope is HD if you buy this on Blu-ray) to notice this noise. The edges are razor sharp all around and I can't recall seeing any artifacts. I think it doesn't look as good as Wall-E simply because the colors in the movie itself aren't as vivid, but they're definitely crystal clear and ensure that you won't miss a single detail in a single frame. So don't buy too much into what some critics are saying, I still think it's worth your money video quality-wise (I can't speak for the DVD version though because I haven't seen it). The sound is even better though. Even on my simulated surround sound, it never comes close to disappointing. It gives you that true movie theater experience with explosions you can almost smell and gunfire that's almost too realistic. The score shines pretty well also.

Now for the weakest part of this set, if you can even call it that: the extras. I didn't try out the digital copy, but I did try out BD Live and perused the other extras on both discs. The BD Live content is nothing particularly exciting. You can create and watch video commentary, which I think is kind of a gimmicky. You can also do live chats, and there's actually a live video chat with Christopher Nolan this Thursday that I'm going to see if I can join. The other main feature is the ability to watch movie trailers and other video content that should've been on the disc but wasn't because it wasn't good enough. There were a couple of videos that I was kind of peeved didn't make it on the Blu-ray because they were actually interesting, but the others were animated shorts that added audio to frames of a comic book that was created for the movies. I only watched a couple, and they were terrible. The artwork was just fine, but the dialogue did not sound like Batman at all (I mean the writing, not the voice acting). What's worse about this stuff is that the video size is only a quarter of your screen, are lacking in quality, and buffer terribly. It's best to start playing one, pause it immediately, and then go make yourself hot cocoa while it buffers the video so that you can actually watch it continuously. My cable Internet isn't the bad, but I can stream videos just fine on my laptop. I would've liked to have seen a trivia game or something else on BD Live.

The other features are pretty good though. There's no commentary track, which I didn't mind because I rarely listen to those, but you can trigger featurettes at various parts of the movie when you see the appropriate icon, or watch them all entirely outside of the movie. There's about 90 minutes worth of that stuff, and they're pretty fascinating overall. I had never seen an IMAX camera before watching the featurette on it, and it's incredible to imagine how they filmed any action on that thing. On disc 2 you'll find a couple of documentaries that no one has seemed to point out originally aired on the History Channel in the weeks leading up to the release of The Dark Knight: Batman Tech and Batman Unmasked. So when you read reviewers talk about how strange it was that neither of these documentaries include non-trailer scenes from The Dark Knight and only scenes from Batman Begins, you can be a smartass and correct them. I thought that they were pretty well-done and great ways to lend another level of realism to this character and world on top of what the movie has to blot out the abominations of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. I especially liked the Unmasked one, a psychological analysis of Batman, because part of what I always liked about him was how dark and gritty and real he would always feel and that he was even thrown into Arkham himself once. There are also some episodes of a Gotham news program that were movie cheesy, but still useful addition in that they help ground the film in what feels like reality. They're almost like deleted scenes, in a way. The other features you have is a smattering of photographs and concept art, and all the trailers and TV spots, which I always love to have to watch long after a movie was released and I'm always bothered when DVDs don't include them. The concept art is pretty awesome, and I really wish that had taken the initiative to let you view them picture-in-picture with the film as an optional layer.

Overall, this is definitely something worth buying. Even though it's not a monstrous amalgamation of special features, it's a pretty healthy amount that will take even longer than the movie itself to go through, and the quality of everything (besides the BD Live content) was excellent.

The Security Scoop

Was there always this much security news? I don't know why they've been appearing so much lately. Anyhow, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (which is a really ambiguous name for a center, in my opinion) is proposing that Obama appoint a special office for a czar of cybersecurity. Rather than be a part of Homeland Security, which is already ripe with bureaucracy, they feel that cybersecurity is critical enough to warrant a direct line to the president. While I would agree with them, I think that this office should lie underneath the CTO he's already going to appoint, who would have the direct line to the president to talk about issues like Internet penetration and security. I think that having a Chief Cyber Security Officer would be too long of an acronym and be overkill. Still, it's a good debate to have. We are entering a world where technology can be as much a weapon as guns or nuclear physics or biology or chemistry. Except for guns, all of those have genuinely good purposes, but we have to be vigilant of when they're in the wrong hands. I'm not dissing guns, but I don't think you can use guns to cure cancer or power a city.

A random security firm called Bit9 has released a list of what it believes are the top applications with the most vulnerabilities, which I believe are ranked by popularity and number of security holes in unpatched and patched versions. The fact that Firefox and Adobe Flash top the list may be a little scary, but that's because of how many new versions they have. The lesson here is not to use a whitelist, it's to keep your systems patched and use a firewall.

One of the most creative viruses I have seen in a long while is probably one that you've now heard about: Koobface. Yeah, it's a pretty dumb name for a virus (shouldn't it be koobecaf?). Anyway, infected users post comments and send users messages that are super convincing that they're in some random video, and since you generally are interested in what your friends send you and don't think it's spam since you haven't gotten spam on Facebook, you gladly click through. It takes you to a Yuotube video that requires you to upgrade your Flash player, and this is exactly why you should always go straight to vendors' websites to get new versions of their software. Anyhow, if you agree then congratulations: you just got screwed. Your prize is a flurry of click fraud (to generate false ad revenue), phishing attacks (trying to steal your personal information), and search results will take you to shady sites. Best of all, it's the gift that keeps on giving, so you have a good shot of infecting one of your friends, as well. As much as I think these guys are pricks, I have to give props for taking social engineering to a scary and innovative new level. That being said, this is terrible. Experts would always tell people to never open e-mail from people they didn't know, but they didn't warn about opening social networking messages from your real friends with convincing text. Of course, when you click through it should be fairly obvious that the site isn't legitimate, and you shouldn't be installing random software on the Internet anyhow. How do you protect yourself? Well, Facebook has added pages that will warn you before you click a link going to an external site showing you the URL, so make sure the URL makes sense. Google the domain name if you're concerned and do a whois on the domain. More importantly, install NoScript and SpyBot, which would prevent something like this from getting very far unless you're naive enough to ignore all the warnings they give you. If something looks shady, it probably is. Just stay alert. By the way, this has also been sighted on other social networking sites.

This last one is not all that interesting, but still noteworthy. Microsoft has uncovered what almost sounds like a buffer overflow vulnerability via function pointer that allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code when you close any version of Internet Explorer. Given that they don't have a fix out yet, you may want to keep with Firefox if you're an avid IE user, at least for a while (who know, you might even stick around).

Software as a Service

Before I get into the article, I should define this terribly worded term. Software as a service refers to software that provides a service to you remotely as opposed to living on your computer. In a general sense, you could consider the Internet itself as software as a service since you send URLs to your ISP (I'm abstracting a lot out here) and they provide you the service of streaming you what's on that page. More specifically though, it refers to sites like Gmail and Twitter that live in the clouds rather than your machine and provide some sort of service to you: like e-mail service or microblogging or word processing. Generally, they're "freemium" services (I know, really stupid term), so they're free unless you pay extra for the premium version, which often doesn't work out too well unless you really have a killer application or you provide ads on the free version of your site.

Anyway, there are obvious pros and cons to this. Not having to maintain the application locally means that you can use it from where ever and you can wipe your hard drive without losing it. The biggest con is the lack of control: the idea that one day the site could disappear and you'd lose everything on it. The article argues that this makes it terrible for businesses, but I have to disagree. Sorry to pimp Amazon Web Services, but I think it's a great example of well-established software to help you run your websites without having to buy and maintain your own hardware. If the price is right and the company is reputable, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. If it's like a photo sharing site though, then there's obviously no telling what will happen, but something like Google Docs isn't going anywhere anytime soon, and they're not likely to pack up without an easy way for you to get your stuff back. It's better to use software as a service rather than reinvent the wheel, you just have to be smart about it.

Frostwire Promotes Artist

Frostwire is the spiritual successor to Limewire as a P2P application that's surprisingly still around and working well, and it's trying to take a stab at proving its legitimacy by promoting artists with free downloads of their music. I'm glad that someone is finally trying this out because I really want to find out how it turns out. I personally have high hopes for it. It may seem like a shot in the dark, but I think it's always a leap of faith to buy an album without hearing all of it so this is a venue that would be excellent for independent artists.

The iPhone Comes to Wal-mart

I never talked about this when it was a rumor, but it's a real story now: the iPhone is coming to Wal-mart as early as this week for $199 and $299 (8GB and 16GB, respectively), probably with an AT&T contract. I'm pretty shocked by this and wrote off the rumors as rubbish since Apple is so protective of its brand. I don't get the logic behind this. They're already selling ridiculous numbers of this thing online and through AT&T and Apple stores, so they're going to cheapen the brand by offering it at a retailer like Wal-mart? I'm not opposed to cheap Apple products, but why not sell a cheaper laptop then? Do they want the iPhone to be an everyman kind of product?

Google News Galore

I'm not sure why there was so much Google news last week, but let's see how fast I can run through it all. They've decided to start selling $400 developer G1 phones, which are unlocked and make testing easier, but man is that expensive. Still, it's a nice option to offer to those who can afford it. Also in G1 news: they've started AdWords for Android and the iPhone, which basically means that when you advertise with them you're more likely to be properly viewed on those platforms. Isn't that kind of a small subsection of the overall market? Yahoo really needs to strike in mobile ads.

You may start seeing AdWords serve up advertisements for alcohol. I guess that Google figures the best way for you to go through a recession is wasted? I wonder how we'll they'll fine tune serving these ads because it would suck if a kid searching for barbie was treated to an ad selling the Jack Daniels brand.

In case you care: their zeitgeist with the top terms of 2008 is up.

I think it's pretty cool that you can now send SMS messages straight from Google Talk in Gmail. Just enabled it in Google Labs. Just be sensitive to your friends' text messaging plans.

Google Chrome is no longer in beta, but is anyone really still using it? Other than bug fixes and supposed stability improvements, it doesn't look like there's much else separating it from the beta. I'm not saying it's a bad browser, but I'm still not convinced that it's better than Firefox.

Lastly, Google Book Search now includes magazines. I know you've been on that for a long time, so try to contain your excitement.

The Rest

I'm sick and tired, time to sum up the rest of the news in a lightning round.

Rather than release mobile applications to help you read books on your phone (albeit, in big text) or engage in book groups online, book publishers have decided to release an iPhone application to inundate you with marketing. Awesome. Why don't they just hand over more market share to Audible on a silver platter?

If you want to develop Internet applications in Java that feel like Flash or Silverlight without the cruddy aftertaste of Java applets, you may want to invest some time investigating JavaFX. It sounds like a cool framework I wish I could go into more deeply, but it's aiming to really be an integral part of not only your online experience via computer, but also via embedded platforms (like your cell phone).

Sandia has determined that 16 cores (2 to the power of 4 is where that comes from, by the way; think binary: 10000) is the maximum to which you're going to see performance improvements. Past that point, these cores on your processor die don't have the memory bandwidth to give you much of a gain, which is like having the world's strongest man help you carry your groceries rather than lift a car for someone who was in an accident. The solution: stack your chips. Didn't Texas already think of this?

You're running out of time for holiday shopping! Amazon free super saver shipping ends in a couple of days, but you can still get two-day shipping from Amazon and many other sites to suit your shopping needs. You really only need Amazon though ;)

Lastly, Gizmodo has an awesome article explaining everything you ever wanted to know about hard drives and how they work. If you were ever curious about how terrible they are, you should really ready this and watch the fun videos. The lesson to be learned from it is to backup your data constantly. You should count yourself lucky if your hard drive hasn't crashed yet, but keep in mind that it's like a ticking time bomb: there's a 99% chance that it will eventually.

Time for some TheraFlu and sack time. Seattle really knows how to bring the cold, and I'll try to snap some shots of the snow to share next week, but here's a couple of shots to remember the fall by:

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