For months, we've been hearing about the Oscar potential of The Dark Knight, whether it's Heath Ledger's stunning turn in the role of the Joker or Christopher Nolan's dazzling direction, but now we discover that Academy members will get the best chance possible to judge the movie on second viewing, thanks to Warners offering to mail each member a Blu-Ray disc that offers a brand new vision of the movie - one engineered by Nolan himself.

(Updated with DVD/Blu-Ray release date and details at end of story.)The Hollywood Reporter explained that the Academy member screener disc offers a preview of what the rest of the world will be able to see when the movie makes it to homes towards the end of the year:

"We really tried to do a lot with the film technically to give audiences a real reason to go see the film in theaters," including shooting sequences in large-format Imax, the "Dark Knight" director said in an interview. But for Academy members who haven't seen it in theaters, or simply want to view it again, he said, "the Blu-ray version is vastly superior to DVD. You can actually see the things we did in Imax, and it will give Academy members the best possible chance to see what we did technically." ...For "Knight's" Blu-ray incarnation, the director said he was able to approximate the changing aspect ratios of the film's Imax edition. The sections shot in 35mm will play in a letterboxed format, and for the Imax sequences, the image will expand to fill the entire widescreen. While that doesn't capture the complete Imax image, "it still gives us more of the way it was projected in Imax," Nolan said.

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Shifting from letterbox format to fullscreen for special sequences? I can't tell if that'll be distracting or awesome, but you can't really fault Nolan - who's already mastered the Blu-Ray edition of the movie - for his ambition. You know that he'd include Christian Bale jumping out of your television, looking around with his Batcellphone vision and then huskily whispering "If anyone asked, I killed Harvey Dent," before leaving the room through a window if only it were possible. Update: MTV's Splash Page blog is reporting that the Blu-Ray and DVD release date has been confirmed for December 9th, and will offer more than three hours of special features split across two discs, including six episodes of fake news show Gotham Tonight, a documentary into the psychology of Batman, and behind-the-scenes features. They also offered the following images of the packaging:

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Awards screeners feeling Blu [Hollywood Reporter]