“The Dark Knight” arrives on DVD shelves riding a wave of hype as the second-highest grossing film of all time, but the two-disc special edition DVD leaves much to be desired in terms of extras. Director Christopher Nolan raised the bar for comicbook movies with his second take on the Caped Crusader’s evolving story but his epic crime saga deserves a better homevid release.Despite having made the equivalent of the gross national product of a third world country on the film’s initial theatrical release, Warner Bros. has decided to deprive fans with an underwhelming DVD. Sorry, but the Joker playing cards, Two-Face coins and Batman masks (available exclusively at various retail outlets) don’t make up for the disappointment. The most intriguing special feature is six episodes of “Gotham Tonight,” a series of special news reports featuring Mike Engel (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lydia Filangeri (Lauren Sanchez) that serves as a helpful bridge between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” Each installment focuses on a different character or theme, and although these segments run a little long and hammer a lot of the same points, they’re great fun and do a surprisingly strong job of fleshing out the world of Gotham City. The Bruce Wayne episode provides illuminating exposition on his childhood and private life, including his parents’ murder and his relationships with caretaker Alfred and longtime love interest Rachel Dawes. Another episode about crime and justice covers plenty of territory. Talking heads debate District Attorney Harvey Dent’s prosecutorial misdeeds and his alleged witch hunt inside the police department, corruption amongst city officials as well as Batman’s impact on Gotham; one so-called expert argues that he could inspire the whole city to take the law into their own hands. “Gotham Tonight” saves the best for last — an interview with newly elected Dent, who fields live calls and fancies himself an advocate for the city while defending himself from accusations of being a publicity hound. The last episode is interrupted by breaking news of the Joker’s bank heist that opens “The Dark Knight,” one of six scenes available to be viewed in its original IMAX framing as intended. There’s also “Gotham Uncovered,” which boasts fascinating footage of the Batpod’s early test-runs and reveals secrets of the sound team as well as the crew’s concern that Batman’s cape could get caught in the wheel. Meanwhile, “The Sound of Anarchy” explores the sound of the Joker, which is described as “the key musical element to the film.” Composer Hans Zimmer talks about how he “didn’t want to write a summer blockbuster — a happy, indulgent score.” He wanted something “truly provocative, that people could truly hate,” and with some prodding from Nolan, he made the conscious decision to “step out on the edge.” The feature allows fans to witness the entire process from the Oscar-winning composer. The Joker’s theme reflects the story’s mounting tension and the punk influence that Ledger brought to the villain. Zimmer utilized the fragmented results of razorblade and piano wire experiments and tapped a cellist to help create the edgy tone. The result, as he describes it, is a minimal sound featuring two notes that clash beautifully, like a taut string that gets tighter and tighter but never breaks, drawing you in with a whisper, rather than a scream. The DVD also features some truly inspired poster art, a healthy number of production stills, several trailers, as a digital copy of the film. As for the missing elements, where is the audio commentary? Maybe Nolan wasn’t available, but surely an actor or producer could have offered their insight. If one appears on a future DVD, the omission here — while the film is still relatively fresh on viewers’ minds — will seem like a way to gouge fans. There’s also nary a deleted scene or tribute to Heath Ledger, who tragically died before the movie was released. Both would seem worthy as an extra. The relatively brief behind-the-scenes features provide a real sense of how absolutely integral Nolan is to this franchise’s success. As one production staffer puts it, the crew ”becomes a part of Nolan’s vision and he inspires them.” For those who missed the theatrical release of “The Dark Knight,” better to wait for the Jan. 23 re-release. The diehards, however, will want to own this box office behemoth right away, even if the next edition promises to satisfy more than this one.
($20.99: Release date, Dec. 9, 2008) Studio: Warner Bros. Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman