If you have been conscious at all this week, you already know the news. And it's incredibly sad and untimely, but there's nothing more to say that a hundred news sites, blogs, and entertainment shows haven't already said before.
Yes, Heath Ledger died, but what's to become of The Dark Knight? No one was more thrilled than me (except, perhaps, my sister) to watch this film come to fruition. Every photo seen, every little snippet of film kept me in anticipation for July.
It seemed like they have been going in a different direction this time, in the way of marketing. Instead of dark, heroic silhouettes of the protagonist, we've been fed colorfully disturbing shots of the Joker. Even the film's tagline, Why So Serious? is a direct quote from our villain. No other Batman film, at least in my limited memory, so heavily promoted a bad guy.
But this was all before the tragic loss of a halfway decent actor (I would insert a "Couldn't it have been ____?" joke here, but I'm afraid of karmic retribution). Some friends will absolutely crucify me for drawing such a comparison, but at the time of James Dean's death, Giant wasn't exactly poised to be the blockbuster hit of that summer. This takes us into an entirely different realm of promotion v. media sensitivity (an oxymoron if i've ever heard one). Can they still promote the movie as they have been, without offending the memory of Ledger? Honestly I think it would be more offensive to his memory to change anything about their marketing plan. With or without his death, the film has always been about the Joker.
And what will become of our perceptions of the movie? We obviously cannot watch it unbiased anymore- in the back of our mind we'll always know that the release was posthumous, and that the role is the absolute last in his career (Unless they somehow proceed with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but I doubt it will even have the popularity of The Dark Knight). How many people will watch and wonder how his performance will conclude his career?
It could go several ways. If his performance is mediocre, it could tarnish his entire legacy. Or worse, it could be glorified by a still-mourning public. Either way, this is something we really haven't seen in our time. River Phoenix, another lost child of Hollywood, only had two minor releases posthumously. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, is this summer's Spiderman.
I suppose it's just a matter of time before we find out how the public reacts. Not to sound crass, but I doubt it will hurt the box office numbers. I will, however, be curious to know how the final chapter of Heath's career is played out.