Film Title: Joker
Release Date: 2019
Runtime: 122 minutes
Region Coding: Region Free
Audio Format: Dolby Atmos
High Dynamic Range: HDR10 & Dolby Vision
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Version Reviewed: 4K UHD Blu-ray
Release Date: 1/7/20
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Josh Pais, Marc Maron
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“Joker” was a 2019 film based on the comic book villain to the superhero “Batman“ – created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger – published by DC Comics. The character of Joker, the arch-nemesis to Batman, was created by Jerry Robinson. This film is a standalone piece from the other films that have involved this character, Batman, or those of the “DCU” (DC Universe).
The movie was produced, co-written, and directed by Todd Phillips. Phillips comes from appropriately enough, a background of doing comedies and became rather successful at it before with such films as “Road Trip” (2000), “Old School” (2003), “The Hangover” (2009), “The Hangover Part II” (2011), “The Hangover Part III” (2013), and “War Dogs” (2016). The screenplay here was co-written by Scott Silver, best known for his writing on films such as “8 Mile” (2002) and “The Fighter” (2010).
The story here is set in Gotham City, seemingly set around the late 1970s or early 1980s time period. The main character here is a man with some mental illness issues by the name of “Arthur Fleck” (Joaquin Phoenix). Arthur works as what he calls a “party clown” for a local talent agency, where he gets gigs like spinning signs or making sick children laugh in hospitals, dressed as a clown. It’s not at all a glamorous job, nor does he seem to be all that good at it or too happy of a clown. In fact, Arthur Fleck is pretty much the definition of a sad clown.
One thing that’s very important to remember, as he will try to tell strangers with a card, is that Arthur has a condition where he has uncontrollable outbursts of laughter when he becomes nervous and cannot express himself or respond to a situation. This makes his life all the more difficult, but he still manages to get by depending on the Gotham mental health programs.
When he’s not working Arthur takes care of his elderly mother “Penny Fleck” (Frances Conroy) who seems to be suffering from some mental problems of her own. Arthur’s father is nowhere to be found and the two are left living on their own. His mother Penny is obsessed with two things: trying to send letters to “Thomas Wayne” (Brett Cullen) asking for his help and watching TV, namely a late-night talk show hosted by a guy named “Murray Franklin” (Robert De Niro). Arthur seems to love to watch the show with his mother and almost looks at Murray as a television father figure of sorts. Yet, he has no clue why his mother keeps trying to send letters to a rich man she used to work for years ago.
This film offers up one very interesting character study, not just a backstory at the origin of this soon-to-be villain we’ve all become to know all so well, but it’s also a cautionary tale of sorts. There are no politics involved in this film, as the director has said countless times, and that’s true. This is a very, very moving film and I’ll be the first to say that it may not be for everyone. Some may be uncomfortable just watching this film, for its obvious reasons, but you can’t just turn your head and ignore things that are all too real – not something just in comics. For the most part, critics and filmgoers have really enjoyed this film. That’s not to say that there aren’t some haters of the film out there, as to be expected with any time someone else plays a character as well known as this one. I’ll end things here by saying ignore the dislike or such against this film and give it a chance.
Movie Rating: 5 (out of 5)
This comes to 4K UHD Blu-ray presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, just as it was shown during its theatrical run. In its 4K UHD Blu-ray debut, “Joker” receives both HDR10 and Dolby Vision forms of High Dynamic Range.
This was primarily shot digitally in 6.5K resolution using the Arri Alexa 65, Lf, and Mini cameras. The opening title sequence was shot on 35mm and some TV show scenes were shot on video. This movie received a 4K digital intermediate (master), so it comes to 4K looking very impressive thanks to coming from a higher resolution and getting a true 4K master.
This has some absolutely breathtaking cinematography and beautiful set design, as well as choices of filming locations. There is one very iconic set of scenes involving a set of stairs that by now you’ve at least seen once. This as well as some of the facial close-ups of our protagonist through passenger windows of either cars or trains. They’re all so wonderfully put together to accomplish a visually stunning motion picture that comes with an immense amount of detail from start to finish. The stellar cinematography by Lawrence Sher (director of photography) is done total justice here visually in 4K, as are the set design and costumes.
The colors can be very vibrant at times, especially the set pieces (like cars) and wardrobe, many thanks to the HDR making the palette come across all the more realistic. The flesh tones also seem to come across more accurate here with the addition of HDR in either HDR10 or Dolby Vision flavors. Lastly, the black level is as solid as ink here and also serves as an improvement in comparison to the Blu-ray (lacking High Dynamic Range). Joker has one excellent looking 4K visual presentation well-worthy of a perfect 5 rating for video quality.
Video Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Audio here, for “Joker” on 4K UHD Blu-ray, is presented in Dolby Atmos with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core, for those without the proper equipment to decode the Atmos mix.
This film starts up with an unsettling and impending amount of bass, thanks to the original music of the score, and finally, once dialogue starts, you will notice it is always distinctively driven from the center channel. However, the sound of dialogue does occasionally get a bit of rear channel or height speaker use, for echoes and such. Sound effects get delivered in a fittingly intense manner here from all of the speakers, obviously, primarily the front left and right channels. It is enough much so to leave you feeling right there smack dab in the middle of it all, especially with a lossless object-based surround mix like this. It is a very unique piece of demo material for any sound system, many thanks to the low-end bass that comes with the original music of the film’s Score and definitely from the actionable events that transpire throughout the course of things.
One specific scene that comes to mind is at 36 minutes in when the film’s original musical score (composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir) achieves some real intensity and peaks with a whole lot of low-end bass which translates over to some excellent subwoofer action. This comes across very powerful just from the film’s original score, playing along right after a very important scene. Joker’s score continues all throughout to offer up some beautiful musical accompaniment to the occasional bits of action and intense dialogue. It’s a mix that is sure to leave a lasting impression on you, with a very much over-the-top amount of complexity to it in terms of the rear channels and height speakers being used.
That all said, this delivers the amazing Atmos sound mix that I expected and does the film absolute utter justice in terms of audio. I must say that this earns every bit of a perfect 5 rating for audio quality.
Audio Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Bonus materials physically included on this release include:
- A Digital Copy of the film via Movies Anywhere is included, which is compatible with services like Apple’s iTunes and VUDU. Here you get a paper insert inside the packaging that contains a code you put in at the URL listed. This will redeem as a 4K version of the film on services like iTunes and VUDU.
- A Blu-ray Disc of the film is included. It features a Dolby Atmos sound mix and all of the bonus materials – on the physical release – listed below.
Apple iTunes Digital Exclusive:
Director’s Audio Commentary with Todd Phillips
The Blu-ray Disc is where the bonus materials are found, which are ALL presented in HD video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. These include the following:
- “Joker: Vision & Fury” (22:25 – HD) includes interviews with Todd Phillips (writer/producer/director), Bradley Cooper (producer), and the film’s star Joaquin Phoenix (“Arthur Fleck“/”Joker”).
- “Becoming Joker“ (1:24 – HD) shows some early makeup and costume camera tests where Joaquin Phoenix was just first trying on the character so-to-speak.
- “Please Welcome… Joker!” (2:44 – HD) features an introduction by Todd Phillips (writer/producer/director) discussing how Joaquin Phoenix did so many variations on his entrance on the late-night show (as seen in the film). We learn that there we about 11 different takes and he acted differently in each, and the best bits were picked for the final cut of the film during the editing process. NOTE: The footage from the TV show is presented in a 1.33:1 (4×3) aspect ratio, with black pillar bars on the sides. You’ll get text showing you what take each clip is from. This proves to be very interesting and shows how talented and how much effort Phoenix put into this performance.
- “Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos” (3:04 – HD) plays as a slideshow with lots of beautiful still photography of scenes from the film. This is great and not your conventional featurette yet manages to capture so many of the unforgettable scenes from the film in excellent visual quality and does chronicle the chaos of the character.
Undeniably the bonus materials here for Joker are a bit too damn short but they manage to deliver just enough info into the making of the film at the very same time – short or not. The real best part of the physical extras here has to be the almost 23 minute-long featurette. It’s nice to see that the film’s writer/producer/director Todd Phillips sat down for this long to discuss the film, along with briefly Joaquin Phoenix (Arthur Fleck/Joker), and even producer Bradley Cooper. The addition of a digital code (copy) of the film [in 4K] which is compatible with Movies Anywhere – across multiple platforms – rounds out the extras here. It’s nothing too amazing in terms of supplemental material but at the very same time, it does manage to get the job done.
Lastly, but sure as hell not least, the Director’s Audio Commentary that is a digital exclusive to iTunes is totally worth giving a listen. I wish it had been included in the physical release(s) of the film, but that’s typical of how the marketing of exclusive digital extras goes these days.
Bonus Materials Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
“Joker” is a beautifully dark masterpiece of a film meant to also serve as a bit of a cautionary tale. Comedy meets tragedy in one extremely moving way. The performance given here by Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely stunning, at times painful or uncomfortable to watch, and that’s what makes it so superb. This, again, is the backstory this character has always deserved and also is a great film focusing on mental illness with what it can do to a person, and eventually perhaps do to others.
Over the years, the character the Joker has become extremely well known as the arch-nemesis to superhero Batman, in the city of Gotham, but we have never really had any true origin story to the character that wasn’t the typical bad guy just falling into acid – as seen in most of the comics and films. Here in this 2019 film, Todd Phillips was given the freedom to do a stand-alone story that in no way connects to any of the DC Universe (DCU) films.
They [Warner] made this film on reportedly just a 55 million dollar budget and, at the time of writing, this has grossed a little over a billion dollars (globally) at the box office. Talk about one hell of an investment that the folks at Warner made here, deciding to greenlight the film for that budget. The return is massive, the film is critically acclaimed, already is winning awards (Best Actor and Best Score at the Golden Globes). Plus, as of today, the film has received a very impressive 11 Academy Award nominations: including categories Best Lead Actor and Best Picture.
One thing that makes this film so unique and also great is that it is not directly connected to the comics or DC Universe of films. It is entirely a standalone piece but does include elements from the character’s life such as being set in Gotham City (in the early eighties almost type era), Thomas Wayne (father to a young Bruce Wayne) is around and such. I’ll leave it simply at that, to avoid dishing out any spoilers here. Joker gives us the backstory we always wanted to this character on a darker level perhaps than some fans of the comics might have even expected, and even some disapproved of. It can be almost painfully uncomfortable for some to watch that have known those with extreme mental illness, as this film focuses on that side of things just as much as it does the character that Arthur Fleck was born to become.
On that note, Joker is also a film that had obvious inspiration from other films. In fact, this film’s co-writer/director has admitted that it was really some of the early classic films by Martin Scorsese like “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “The King of Comedy” (1982) that influenced this the most. It is not at all a coincidence that the star of those two films, Robert De Niro, appears here in a very fitting role as a late-night talk show host. This is a film that also brings to mind the lead character from the story and film adaptation of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975). I’ll leave it at that. It’s a period piece of and it is the story of an antihero, perhaps what some people would consider a villain depending on how they were told the story.
The 4K UHD Blu-ray for “Joker” brings us both perfect video and audio quality with its presentations here. Coming from primarily a 6.5K digital source and then receiving a true 4K digital intermediate (master) made it visually look as stunning as it should, as did getting the options of both HDR10 and Dolby Vision forms of High Dynamic Range. The Dolby Atmos mix here is very powerful, filled with lots of beautifully fitting original music that also translates over to some strong low-end bass you’ll hear from the subwoofer and across all of the speakers.
Finally, the bonus materials here on the physical release are a bit too short only totaling up to roughly 31 minutes of extras. The really important extra here is the Director Audio Commentary track that comes as a digital exclusive over on the iTunes platform, which you thankfully get via the Movies Anywhere digital code (copy) of the film. This is one Very Highly Recommended release, in my personal opinion.
In terms of 4K UHD Blu-ray release, this gets:
5 (out of 5) for video quality
5 (out of 5) for audio quality
2.5 (out of 5) for bonus materials