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Joker (2019)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

4K UHD Released: 1/7/2020

All Ratings out of


Video: 1/2

Audio: 1/2

Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/17/2020

I can only imagine that the bean-counters at Warner Bros. are tearing their hair out.  While Marvel cranks out hit-after-hit, the DC movies from Warner are all over the place in terms of success.  After the success of The Avengers, Justice League probably seemed like a slam-dunk, but it didn’t really make a splash.  Meanwhile, Suicide Squad cost about half of what Justice League did and it made more money.  Stand-alone projects, such as Wonder Woman and Aquaman were more successful than Batman V. Superman.  While seemingly every Marvel movie is assured to be a hit, there’s no way of knowing which DC movie will stick.  Therefore, who would have guessed that a bizarre take on one of DC’s biggest villains would break the box office.  Did anyone see Joker coming?

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives in a world of pain.  By day, he works as a clown, spinning signs in front of failing stores.  By night, he longs to be a stand-up comedian.  He lives with his mother (Frances Conroy) is a bad neighborhood of a desolate city.  Having been a patient in Arkham Hospital, he sees a counselor and is on medication, but he still feels hopeless.  To make matters worse, he suffers from a form of Pseudobulbar Affect, which causes him to laugh uncontrollably at times.  Pushed to the limit, Arthur explodes in violence.  This causes him to go into a full psychotic break, but it also unleashes the dark personality which has been dwelling inside of him.  It also pushes him to pursue his dream of appearing on Murray Franklin’s talk show, a move which will expose the world to the man who now calls himself Joker.

Joker is a film which is strange and challenging on numerous levels.  Despite the title, the story has little to do with DC Comics.  Yes, the film is set in Gotham City and yes, the Wayne family plays a role in the plot and yes, we get to see what is arguably the origin of Batman, but, those things aside, this is not a comic book movie.  And, it would be inaccurate to label this Joker as a super-villain.  He has no specific skills or abilities.  And the portrayal of the character in this entry definitely varies from previous incarnations in the sense that there is no sense of camp here.  This Joker makes Heath Ledger’s portrayal in The Dark Knight look like something from the 1960’s Batman television show.  Arthur Fleck is a new character and the distance between him and the four-color shenanigans of the “Clown Prince of Crime” is immense.

What we get instead with Joker is a character-study of a man who was already teetering on the brink of madness that is pushed far, far into the abyss.  There is nothing positive in Arthur’s life, and those things which do seem promising may simply be delusions.  The film has been compared to Taxi Driver and those comparisons are very apt.  As with Scorsese’s film, with Joker, we watch a man who has been left behind by society who finds a sense of release in violence.  As Writer/Director Todd Phillips states in the extra features included here, it’s when Arthur puts on a mask that he’s finally able to become his true self. 

There’s no doubt that Joker is an ambitious project.  Phillips has taken a well-known character and put a completely new spin on him.  However, the similarities to things like Taxi Driver are unmistakable, which somewhat diminishes the overall original feel of the project.  Having said that, it’s a rarity to see a film which focuses on the birth of a villain and it was nice to see the origin based on mental health issues and societal pressures and not some supernatural or mad-science incident.  Joaquin Phoenix deserves all of the praise which is being heaped on him for this role, as he completely throws himself into the character and his physical transformation is amazing.  Philips, best known for raunchy comedies (although The Hangover, Part 2 gets decidedly dark) shows a different side here, as he creates a depressing world which sadly mirrors some parts of our society.  Those expecting a comic-book movie may be disappointed by Joker, as will those looking for something completely original.  However, if you are prepared for a grim look at how violence can shape a person and the public at-large, Joker is a journey worth taking.

Joker nails the look of 80s New York City on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.  The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at 60 Mbps.  The image is very sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and no defects from the source materials.  The film has a somewhat muted look, but when the bright colors do appear (as with Joker’s makeup), they look great.  The image is never over dark or bright.  The depth looks great and the image’s crispness delivers a very nice level of detail.  The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The street scenes bring us an admirable amount of surround sound, as the noises of the city fill the speakers.  The score features many low tones that bring the subwoofer to life.  The scenes in the subway activate the entire surround spectrum creating a real sense of space.

All of the extra features for Joker are found on the Blu-ray Disc included in this set.  “Becoming Joker” (1 minute) plays like an artsy short, as we watch Phoenix go through the four stages of the character.  Joker: Vision & Fury” (22 minutes) has Phillips walking us through an overview of the film’s concepts and ideas.  The piece opens with comments from Production Designer Mark Friedberg describing the film’s look. From there, we move into interviews with Phoenix who talks about his approach to the character and what inspired him.  “Please Welcome…Joker” (3 minutes) shows several takes of one shot to illustrate how Phoenix approached the character in different ways.  Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos” (3 minutes) is simply a reel of still images from the film. 

Review Copyright 2020 by Mike Long