Video Verdict: New DVDs for Dec. 9

Heath Ledger stars as The Joker in "The Dark Knight."

Heath Ledger stars as The Joker in "The Dark Knight."

We might as well call this the week of the bat because “The Dark Knight” is sure to outsell all other DVD releases. Still, there are options for folks who don’t like their movie stars dressed in a cape and a cowl.

 
The Dark Knight
4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace
Warner Brothers
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” is the quintessential superhero movie, and this follow-up is as good a sequel as I’ve seen.

“The Dark Knight” is set after the events in “Batman Begins” with Batman (Christian Bale) making the transition from fledgling crime fighter to full-fledged superhero. His vigilante efforts in Gotham City have lowered criminal activity, but they have also inspired copycats and drawn real nuts into the open.

The most noteworthy of the latter group is a makeup wearing psychopath known as The Joker (Heath Ledger). This version of the Joker is calculating, cruel and in business simply to torment his victims … and Batman. Ledger’s performance is so uncanny that he should receive a posthumous Oscar nomination, and Bale’s take on Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is also quite good.

While most of “Dark Knight” focuses on Batman’s battle with The Joker, there’s a fascinating subplot involving Gotham district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Every cast member is ideal, and Nolan has given the picture the same dark, moody realism as “Batman Begins.”

Because that movie was so good, “Dark Knight” can’t surpass it, but it comes awfully close.

The movie is available in multiple DVD editions, including a two-disc release that includes a downloadable digital copy. Extra features vary.

 
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!
2 1/2 stars
Rated G
20th Century Fox
Available Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray

Try as filmmakers may they can’t translate the wonderful literary works of Dr. Seuss to the screen. The main reason is that Seuss — real name Theodor Seuss Geisel — wrote mostly short picture books, and he wrote with precision. So, anyone attempting to take his works to feature-length must expand considerably on the stories.

Directors Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino did a better job than most with their animated take on “Horton Hears a Who!” But the movie still contains lengthy sequences that seem added simply for padding.

Fortunately, the basic “Horton” story is so strong that kids should stay interested even when the plotting strays. It focuses on the title character, an elephant who discovers a world known as Whoville on a tiny speck of dust.

Because Horton has tremendous ears, he is the only one who can hear the tiny residents, but other jungle creatures think he’s insane and begin to tease him and threaten to destroy his dust speck.

The animation in “Horton” is colorful and top-notch, and the movie’s excellent voice cast includes Jim Carrey , Steve Carrell and Carol Burnett.

If “Horton” were just a tad shorter it would have been the first truly successful feature-length Seuss work. As is, it’s a passable-but-flawed children’s entertainment.

The movie is available in multiple DVD versions, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 
Make it Happen
1 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sensuality
The Weinstein Company
Available Tuesday on DVD

Movies don’t get much duller or more predictable than this poorly conceived effort about an Indiana girl named Lauryn (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

For years, Lauryn has put her ambitions on hold in an effort to help her brother, Joel (John Reardon), run his auto shop. Finally she takes off for Chicago with dreams of making it into a prestigious dance school. But, after failing miserably in her audition, she instead winds up sleeping on the couch of another dancer named Dana (Tessa Thompson).

One thing leads to another and Lauryn eventually gets the chance to work as a dancer at a nightclub, honing her hoofing skills and simultaneously developing a relationship with the D.J. (Riley Smith). None of this is surprising, and the actors fail to establish a believable emotional relationship with one another.

The plotting in “Make it Happen” is so dull that director Darren Grant would have had a complete failure on his hands if he hadn’t peppered it with entertaining dance sequences. Those are worth watching, but they’re buried in a story with two left feet.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

 
Man on Wire
3 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, nudity and drug use
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Available Tuesday on DVD

When Philippe Petit performed a death-defying high-wire act between New York’s World Trade Center towers in 1974 it was awe inspiring. Almost as amazing as Petit’s actual feat is the preparation that went into staging the illegal event.

Because Petit did not have permission to wire walk between the towers, he and a small crew of accomplices had to sneak to the roof, avoid security and set everything up in the dead of night. “Man on the Wire” documents every step using archival footage and photographs, as well as recent interviews with the major players.

Director James Marsh does a fine job putting Petit’s daredevil act into perspective, and the movie is fascinating in every respect.

DVD extras include an interview with Petit and the short film “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.”

 
ALSO OUT TUESDAY

“The Wire” — The Complete Series: All 60 episodes of the acclaimed HBO drama that examines different aspects of life in a fictional version of Baltimore, MD. Each of the show’s five seasons has a separate focus, and themes include the drug trade, city government and the media.

“Deadwood” — The Complete Series: Clearly, HBO is hoping to sell some boxed sets for Christmas because this collection and the previously mentioned “Wire” compilation are awfully tempting. “Deadwood” is a western drama that ran three seasons on the cable network and considers the people and growth of a South Dakota settlement.

“Lost” — The Complete Fourth Season: More adventures with the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. This season, which focuses on the arrival of would-be rescuers, was cut short due to the Writer’s Guild of America strike, so it includes only 14 episodes. The DVD set tries to make up for the missing shows with bonus features including bloopers, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, making-of shorts and more.

“Swingtown” — The First Season: It doesn’t look like there will be a second season of “Swingtown,” so fans of the relationship drama had better nab this collection. Set during the sexual revolution of the 1970s, it focuses on couples engaging in open relationships and swinger’s parties. Grant Show, Molly Parker, Jack Davenport and Lana Parrilla star.

“Europa”: Director Lars von Trier’s 1991 feature about an American living in Germany who gets caught up in a terrorist conspiracy. The Criterion Collection release features not only the movie, but an extra disc devoted entirely to special features.

Great Directors — Volume 1: This collection includes five films made by directors of international note. Included is Akira Kurosawa’s “Dersu Uzala,” Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror,” Claude Chabrol’s “Les Bonnes Femmes,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Il Grido” and Volker Schlondorff’s “Circle of Deceit.”

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