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The Curious Case of The Dark Knight’s DVD Special Features

Like many of you, I was excited about The Dark Knight finally coming to Blu-ray and DVD. But as you may know by now, the release’s special features are oddly void of some things that fans might have enjoyed…
By  · Published on December 10th, 2008

It isn’t every day that a movie like The Dark Knight comes along. $530 million at the box office, universal critical and fan acclaim and a genre-defying shot at bringing home some major hardware during awards season. That is no small feat. And like many of you I was completely engulfed by the hype and part of the ensuing praise — this will stand among the best films not only of 2008, but of this decade.

That said, I’m sure you can understand the palpable excitement over this week’s release of The Dark Knight on DVD and Blu-ray. It seemed as if every day I would be hearing from readers and colleagues alike, all talking up the excitement of finally bringing this film home. Then Tuesday came and with it brought my copy of the film on Blu-ray. 3-hours of special features, the sticker proclaimed as I tore open the packaging like a kid on Christmas, how could I go wrong with that?

As it turns out, I did go wrong. Or at least, I went wrong in assuming that those three hours of special features would be enough to satisfy my insatiable need to immerse myself in Christopher Nolan’s film. What I found befuddled and frustrated me — one or two interesting features about Batman, but a surprising lack of behind the scenes features tied directly to this movie. Allow me to explain further below.

Spoiler Warning: The following article may contain spoiler for The Dark Knight.

The Elephant in the Room

During the press tour for The Dark Knight, the big elephant in the room was always the death of Heath Ledger. He was praised by his cast mates for an unnerving performance, one that could very well earn him a posthumous Oscar. Yet when we look at the special features on the DVD and Blu-ray release, there are zero featurettes that revisit Ledger’s performance or talk about his impact on the film as a whole. Not to say that there should have been some sort of memorial or anything, as this is less about the fact that he died and more about what he did when he was alive and creating one of the most iconic bad guys in decades.

As well, Christopher Nolan told press and fans at a DVD launch event last week about Ledger having directed the hand held scenes that ended up as the Gotham news clips. According to Nolan, Heath performed the second shoot with Anthony Michael Hall as the Joker’s captive without the director even being there. Ledger also did multiple takes of these scenes, all done in different and unique ways. We must ask — why aren’t those on the DVD? Why isn’t there anything that talks about Heath’s make-up process? Or does that footage exist and its just being saved for a later, more “special” release. Either way its bad form.

Harvey, Harvey, Harvey Dent

Another character whose creation and execution is largely absent from the DVD features is Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart. By now it is clear that fans know about who he becomes in the end. Anyone who doesn’t was simply not paying attention or hasn’t seen the film. Either way, the DVD should solve that problem. It would have been awesome to see some of the background behind Harvey “Two Face” — concept art, some details about how they made that other side of his face, etc. Instead even the “Creating a Scene” feature that runs along with the movie on the BD release skips over Dent’s storyline completely.

Descriptive Narration: Give Me a Break

I know that Christopher Nolan is going to be doing a live commentary with fans via BD-Live on December 18, but does that mean that they had to leave off a director’s commentary completely. The commentary that Nolan and David S. Goyer did for Batman Begins’ Blu-ray release was fantastic, why there is nothing like that on The Dark Knight’s release is beyond me. Instead we are treated to Descriptive Narration, in which a bland, automaton female voice points out the obvious for two and a half hours — she even says “DC Comics Logo” at the beginning. I’m sorry, but this is a waste of disc space — get rid of it and give me something with some meat to it.

You Can Have Your Cake, But It’s Sugar Free

There are some of you out there bemoaning the lack of deleted scenes and gag reels, but for those who understand the way Christopher Nolan directs, you’ll understand. As he explained in a recent interview, “I don’t like outtakes or gag reels. I don’t think it’s respectful to the actors, who signed on to have their performance on screen, not the takes that didn’t work out. It discourages actors from going all-out if they think every mistake is going on the disc.” Sure, I will go along with that, but the lack of otherwise interesting Dark Knight-related behind the scenes features on this release is almost criminal. And it isn’t just that lack of commentary — Iron Man didn’t have director commentary, but it did have 2-hours of behind the scenes footage in which Jon Favreau showed us the entire process of making the film. I’m not saying that we should expect that from every single blockbuster, but it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

In the end The Dark Knight is still worth buying, especially on Blu-ray. It is a fantastic film with a scale unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time. That makes it even more frustrating to be so let down by the special features, as this was a disc I was buying either way. The least they could do would be to continue the trend of surprising fans with a larger than life DVD release. Sadly, this might be the first real flaw we’ve seen in the way that Warner Bros. has handled their highest grossing movie ever. As a fan, I feel underwhelmed and disappointed.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)