‘The Dark Knight’ Bestows Role of a Lifetime For Heath Ledger, Epic Proportions For Itself

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CHICAGO – With only three short words comprising the film’s enigmatic title, “The Dark Knight” also boasts three epic claims to fame: the role of a lifetime for the late Heath Ledger as the hauntingly deranged Joker, one of the best films of 2008 and one of the greatest superhero films of all time.

In a year when Hollywood has the superhero woody comparable to when westerns were the greatest thing since sliced bread, “The Dark Knight” not only fares well against blockbuster competition with films like “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” but also manages to rise above chartbuster status into a whole new league of undisputed justice.

Heath Ledger stars as the Joker in The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger stars as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros., copyright DC Comics

Though a decidedly dark and outcast Batman is the heart behind the marketing machine for “The Dark Knight” from writer and director Christopher Nolan (who also directed the film’s first iteration in 2005 entitled “Batman Begins”), Christian Bale in the seminal role as one of history’s most beloved characters has his show stolen by Ledger’s villain.

Christian Bale as Batman in The Dark Knight
Christian Bale as Batman in “The Dark Knight”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros., copyright DC Comics

While to some it may be surprising to classify Bale’s performance as “B” list and Ledger’s as “A+” list, you almost feel modesty in Bale’s screen time to honor the true man of this film’s 142 minutes.

While “The Dark Knight” completed principal photography prior to Ledger’s death, Bale delivers an intricately muted role as compared to Ledger. While entwined with the power inherent in his superhero marauding, Bale’s also humbled from working with another man who was delivering the culmination of his life’s work.

Health Ledger disappears so convincingly and completely into the Joker that you struggle to remember him in anything else.

This is a telling testament to an illustrious – albeit too short – career of an actor who memorably broke free in transformative roles in films including “Brokeback Mountain”. Nolan – who for this film was significantly influenced by the 1995 film “Heat” – says he selected Ledger for the focal Joker role based on his “fearlessness”.

Ledger’s Joker is developed to the finest of details even down to his unruly tongue action and the sounds of his excess saliva. Moreover, Nolan and co-writing brother Jonathan Nolan (David S. Goyer was also integral in the film’s story) deliver to Ledger the best profundities of any talent in the star-studded film.

Christian Bale as Batman on his Batpod in The Dark Knight
Christian Bale as Batman on his Batpod in “The Dark Knight”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros., copyright DC Comics

These include: “I use a knife because guns are too quick. Otherwise, you can’t savor all the emotions. You know who people are in their last moments [of life].” “It’s not about money. It’s about sending a message.” “I’m a dog chasing cars. I don’t have plans. I just do things. I’m not a schemer.” “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.”

Eckhart is handed a literary gem, too: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

In his beautifully deranged state of chaos and anarchy, the Joker even utters the cheesy “Jerry Maguire” line “you complete me” to Batman and follows with: “You’re just a freak – like me. You’ve been cast out like a leper.”

Michael Caine at Chicago's Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of The Dark Knight on July 16, 2008. In the film, Caine plays Alfred Pennyworth
Michael Caine at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of “The Dark Knight” on July 16, 2008. In the film, Caine plays Alfred Pennyworth.
Original photography for HollywoodChicago.com by Kris Kasperek of iKLiKphoto

We are not to forget that “The Dark Knight” won’t be the last time we see Ledger at work. Despite a threat to shut down the 2009 Terry Gilliam film “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” following Ledger’s death on Jan. 22, 2008 at the young age of 28, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell are completing with the assistance of some shrewd script rewrites.

But along with the glory of Ledger’s Joker – a performance that will remain throughout history as having trumped any iteration before him including interpretations by Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero – the power of “The Dark Knight” is in its totality. The film didn’t even need “Batman” in its title and is in fact the first Batman film not to use the iconic name.

Gary Oldman at Chicago's Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of The Dark Knight on July 16, 2008. In the film, Oldman plays Lt. James Gordon
Gary Oldman at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of “The Dark Knight” on July 16, 2008. In the film, Oldman plays Lt. James Gordon.
Original photography for HollywoodChicago.com by Kris Kasperek of iKLiKphoto

Along with the incessantly marketed roles for Bale and Ledger, Nolan in this deeply developed and brilliantly complex film redefines the concept of a supporting cast. He not only uses them in integral roles but draws high impact out of them in ways you typically only achieve from lead roles.

In addition to furnishing an Oscar-worthy role for Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker (the academy can conceivably nominate the film for six or so categories also including best picture, screenplay and art direction), Aaron Eckhart as district attorney Harvey Dent (known in the Chicago-filmed Gotham as the “white knight” in contrast to Batman as the “dark knight”) and then the villain Two-Face along with Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon also deliver personal bests with performances unmatched in their own careers.

Chin Han at Chicago's Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of The Dark Knight on July 16, 2008. In the film, Han plays Lau
Chin Han at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of “The Dark Knight” on July 16, 2008. In the film, Han plays Lau.
Original photography for HollywoodChicago.com by Kris Kasperek of iKLiKphoto

Moreover, Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne’s faithful confidant Alfred Pennyworth is as fundamental to this film as Bale’s Batsuit is to Batman. Maggie Gyllenhaal – who thankfully replaced Katie Holmes for the part of Rachel Dawes (tension exists with her dual love between Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne) and neither Rachel McAdams nor Emily Blunt (who were rumored for the part) would have fit the bill – indeed cashed a fitting check.

Director Christopher Nolan at Chicago's Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of The Dark Knight on July 16, 2008
Director Christopher Nolan at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the red-carpet premiere of “The Dark Knight” on July 16, 2008.
Original photography for HollywoodChicago.com by Kris Kasperek

Nolan honored his son, Rory, with the working title “Rory’s First Kiss” while filming extensively in Chicago. Chicagoans embraced the city with open arms during filming and become regularly involved with “The Dark Knight” viral marketing, which has been the most elaborate in the history of film.

After capturing the first set photo of the Batsuit from Chicago filming and publishing more than a year of comprehensive local coverage, those who participated in the countless viral campaigns recall sophisticated events including Harvey Dent campaigning in downtown Chicago (many thought someone was actually running for a political seat) to cell phones embedded in cakes.

Countless viral Web sites for the film popped up with aggressive regularity while printed newspapers were distributed, the bat signal beamed atop Chicago’s Sears Tower, Anthony Michael Hall’s character was revealed here and there was even the real-life explosion of Chicago’s defunct Brach Candy factory, which was purchased by the film for transformation into a Gotham hospital. The Joker hysterically does his deadly deed in a nurse’s uniform, too.

In retrospect, seeing the film is a huge payoff for viral marketing followers because a climax is revealed to everything the campaigns teased.

“Why so serious?” How’d the Joker get his scars? Why a “world without rules”? Who likes to just “watch the world burn”? Does Harvey Dent’s double-headed coin make it into the film from the comics? How does the new Batpod spawn from Batman’s Tumbler (which hilariously changes from a ruinous “loiter” mode to devastating “intimidation” mode)? Why is the Joker indeed a “man of his word”? All answers are revealed.

Christian Bale (left) stars as Batman and Heath Ledger (right) stars as the Joker in The Dark Knight
Christian Bale (left) stars as Batman and Heath Ledger (right) stars as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”.
Photo credit: Warner Bros., copyright DC Comics

While you can enjoy “The Dark Knight” in regular theaters, its epic nature is tailor made not only for the big screen but actually for the biggest screen on IMAX. Nolan made use of custom IMAX cameras to shoot several scenes, and while you won’t notice the difference at the traditional ciné, you’ll see the screen transition from widescreen to full screen for IMAX and then back to widescreen.

StarView our exclusive Chicago red-carpet slideshow.
StarView our full, high-resolution “The Dark Knight” image gallery.

StarRead our comprehensive news on “The Dark Knight”.
StarMore film reviews from critic Adam Fendelman.

Some, though, may merely dismiss this film with a fleeting “Batman isn’t for me”.

From experiencing the coming together of the film over the course of a year and being moved by all the fruits of its labor in high-impact IMAX, though, you clearly needn’t be a diehard “Batman fan” or even a Batman fan at all to enjoy “The Dark Knight”.

You even needn’t be a Chicagoan who appreciates the way “The Dark Knight” majestically shines a spotlight on the Windy City. You need only be a person who enjoys seeing a historic film so complete that it’s nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But perhaps Kevin Smith sums it up best in his early review of “The Dark Knight”: “It’s ‘The Godfather: Part II’ of comic-book films and three times more earnest than ‘Batman Begins’ (and [bleep] was that an earnest film).”

As for the lingering question beyond “The Dark Knight” about whether there will be a third film, we won’t discuss whether all loose ends are indeed tied up. Instead, we’ll leave you with this simple gem: Batman’s not just a vigilante superhero. He’s becoming something more.

“The Dark Knight,” which is directed by Christopher Nolan and features Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Colin McFarlane, Joshua Harto, Michael Jai White and William Fichtner, will open everywhere on July 18, 2008 in traditional theaters and in IMAX. The film will show in IMAX for a continuous 72 hours for its opening Chicago weekend.

StarView our exclusive, 35-image red-carpet coverage of “The Dark Knight” in Chicago on July 16, 2008.

HollywoodChicago.com editor-in-chief Adam Fendelman


Comprehensive “The Dark Knight” news stories on HollywoodChicago.com:
Star Chicago’s Navy Pier to Feature ‘72 Hours of Batman’ For ‘The Dark Knight’ IMAX Premiere
Star Chicago Filmmaker Jerry Vasilatos to Shoot Short Film ‘The Dark Knight Project’
Star New Poster Surfaces For ‘The Dark Knight’: ‘Welcome to a World Without Rules’
Star Three Months Early, First Review For ‘The Dark Knight’ Surfaces Online
Star Exclusive: Chicago Police Break Up Harvey Dent Viral Campaign For ‘The Dark Knight’
Star MTV Releases New Line of ‘The Dark Knight’ Collectible Statues, Busts, Props
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ Viral Marketing Continues With Revamped IBelieveInHarveyDent.com
Star IBelieveInHarveyDent.com Announces New Viral Campaign For ‘The Dark Knight’
Star Despite Heath Ledger’s Death, Joker’s Viral Marketing For ‘The Dark Knight’ Presses On
Star Actor Heath Ledger Found Dead in Manhattan Apartment at 28
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ Viral Marketing Rings Again From Cake-Embedded Cell Phones
Star Official Trailer For ‘The Dark Knight’ Goes Live at ATasteForTheTheatrical.com
Star For Clarity: Fan-Manipulated Two-Face Images For ‘The Dark Knight’ Are Indeed Doctored
Star Multiple New Posters Surface For ‘The Dark Knight’; Bootlegged Trailer Leaks
Star Report: ‘The Dark Knight’ Trailer Expected to Surface Online Early Next Week
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ Delivers Sensory Orgasm in IMAX Prologue Before ‘I Am Legend’
Star Warner Bros. Formally Announces ‘The Dark Knight’ Prologue Before ‘I Am Legend’ in IMAX
Star Warner Bros. Releases New Batpod Photo For ‘The Dark Knight’
Star Still Image, New Details Surface on Straight-to-Video Batman Anime
Star WeAreTheAnswer.org Dispatches New ‘The Dark Knight’ Message
Star New WhySoSerious.com Page at /steprightup Unveils Final ‘The Dark Knight’ Challenge
Star New WhySoSerious.com Page: /steprightup; ‘The Dark Knight’ Prologue Revealed
Star Six Promotional Photos Surface Featuring Batman, Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’
Star Teaser Trailers Coming For ‘The Dark Knight,’ New ‘Indiana Jones,’ New ‘Star Trek’
Star New WhySoSerious.com Page Emerges For ‘The Dark Knight’: /outoftime
Star New Joker Photo; ‘The Dark Knight’ on The Today Show; Betty’s House of Pies
Star New WhySoSerious.com Page Emerges For ‘The Dark Knight’ Viral Marketing: /mausoleum
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ Reward For ‘He is Coming’ Empire Online Campaign Leaks Early
Star Empire Online Launches ‘He is Coming’ Joker Campaign to Pump ‘The Dark Knight’
Star Slew of Sites Launch: TheGothamTimes.com, TheHaHaHaTimes.com, GothamPolice.com
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ Releases Behind-the-Scenes IMAX Featurette
Star In Next Viral Caper, ‘The Dark Knight’ to Activate TheGothamTimes.com
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ to Snail Mail Thanks to Fans From RorysDeathKiss.com
Star Following Wrap in Hong Kong, ‘The Dark Knight’ Begins Post-Production Work
Star Top 10 RorysDeathKiss.com Joker Photos For ‘The Dark Knight’ Viral Marketing
Star Spy Photos Surface From ‘The Dark Knight’ Filming in Hong Kong
Star Spoiler: Latino Review Reveals Joker Introduction in ‘The Dark Knight’
Star Rory’s Death Kiss Reveals Submission Page, Nov. 17 Deadline For ‘The Dark Knight’
Star What Do ‘The Dark Knight’ Fans Look Like as the Joker?
Star Anthony Michael Hall Scoop: ‘The Dark Knight’ Character of Anthony Michael Hall Revealed
Star Scoop: Four-Story Building to Be Imploded in ‘The Dark Knight’
Star Exclusive: Chicagoan Captures ‘The Dark Knight’ Video of Joker’s Semi Flip
Star Exclusive: Photos of Gotham Ships at Navy Pier From ‘The Dark Knight’
Star ‘The Dark Knight’ Exclusive: Chicago Cell Phone Captures ‘The Dark Knight’ Batsuit
Star On the Scene: Video of ‘The Dark Knight’ Filming in Chicago

© 2008 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com

PatrickMcD's picture

Incredible Work by Adam and HollywoodChicago.com

As a member of the HC team, I can testify to the hard work and long hours that Adam has poured into the comprehensive coverage of the biggest film event of the year. From inception to opening you’ve seen it all here at HollywoodChicago.com, because Adam stayed on the story. Enjoy it all.

I was lucky enough as well to see a pre-screening. Below is a link to my blog for my review. Have a great time seeing this spectacular film this weekend.

Night into Dark Day

The Batman has evolved into many forms over the years, but going back to the original creators (Bob Kane and Bill Finger) and their origin thesis has proved to reinvigorate both the comic and film series at crucial times.

This quote from Batman’s first appearance in a comic – “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts” – has rescued this fascinating comic book superhero from the silliness of the 1960s TV series and the sad de-evolving of the first film series and the George Clooney/rubber nippled “Batman and Robin.”

The second film of this second series, “The Dark Knight” joins the previous sophomore superhero films, “Superman II” and “Spider-Man II,” as efforts that are superior to the first films. The Batman (Christian Bale) emerges in battle against his arch enemy, The Joker (Heath Ledger), in a precise, essential and yes dark exploration of the warped criminal mind and the almost futile battle to counteract against it.

Click here to read the rest of the review.

Patrick McDonald is film critic and writer for this very web publication. And he is also in a band! www.myspace.com/thetelepaths

Anonymous's picture

Ledger does not say this

Ledger does not say this line “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Eckhart does.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture


Yes. Thank you. I have made that correction.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

'The Dark Knight' smashes box-office record so far

This just in from the AP on July 18, 2008 at 2:30 p.m.:

NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of Batman fans finally got what they were waiting for Friday as sold-out midnight showings of “The Dark Knight” kicked off a weekend of screenings across the country.

Media By Numbers, a tracking firm, said the Warner Bros. movie set a box office record for a midnight debut, bringing in $18.5 million Friday from its midnight screening in 3,040 theaters.

That bested the 2005 performance of “Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith,” which took in $16.9 million at its debut.

“The Dark Knight” figure didn’t include any of its 3 a.m. or 6 a.m. showings.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

'The Dark Knight' smashes Friday box-office record

This just in from the AP on July 19, 2008 at 11:44 a.m.:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Batman’s joust with the Joker has set another box office record. Stoked by fan fever over the manic performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, “The Dark Knight” set a one-day box office record with $66.4 million on opening day, Warner Bros. head of distribution Dan Fellman said Saturday.

The movie’s Friday haul surpassed the previous record of $59.8 million set last year by “Spider-Man 3.” “The Dark Knight” might break the opening-weekend record of $151.1 million, also held by “Spider-Man 3.”

“I think they’re in jeopardy,” Fellman said of the “Spider-Man 3” records.

“The Dark Knight” began with a record $18.5 million from midnight screenings, topping the previous high of $16.9 million for “Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith.”

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

'The Dark Knight' smashes 'Spider-Man 3' box-office record

This just in from Reuters on July 20, 2008 at 12:27 p.m. EDT:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The new Batman movie “The Dark Knight” smashed the opening-weekend record set by “Spider-Man 3” last year, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures said on Sunday.

The hotly anticipated film, co-starring late actor Heath Ledger as the anarchic Joker, sold an estimated $155.3 million worth of tickets during its first three days of release across the United States and Canada, the Time Warner Inc-owned studio said.

That’s more than the $151.1 million earned by Sony Corp’s “Spider-Man 3” during its first weekend in May 2007.

“The Dark Knight” stars Welsh actor Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, and was directed by English filmmaker Christopher Nolan.

The franchise was resurrected in 2005 with “Batman Begins,” which earned $48.7 million during its first weekend in 2005, and finished up with $205 million.

The latest film reportedly cost about $180 million to make, thanks in part to the pioneering use of Imax heavy cameras to shoot the film for giant-screen theaters. The filmmakers also blew up bits of Chicago, which doubles for the fictional Gotham City.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Sorry, New York: Gotham City based on Chicago instead

Here’s an interesting new AP article about “The Dark Knight” being based on Chicago rather than New York.

HollywoodChicago.com's picture

Warner Bros. issues statement on 'The Dark Knight' records

Warner Bros. has just issued to me the following official statement on the various records recently broken by “The Dark Knight”:

BURBANK, CA, July 21, 2008 – Making motion picture history in its opening weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ “The Dark Knight” rewrote the box office record books, beginning with its first showings and culminating with a record-shattering weekend gross of $158,411,483. The announcement was made today by Dan Fellman, President of Domestic Distribution, Warner Bros. Pictures.

Fueled by rave reviews and strong word of mouth, “The Dark Knight” toppled multiple records in its opening frame. The weekend box office total broke the previous overall industry opening weekend record by more than $7 million. Earlier in the weekend, “The Dark Knight” had broken records with its first 12:01 a.m. showings, totaling $18.5 million; its opening day total of $67,165,092; and its record-breaking Sunday gross of $43,596,151. “The Dark Knight” also enjoyed a record-breaking North American opening in IMAX theatres, earning $6.3 million in 94 locations, for a per-screen average of $67,000.

In making the announcement, Fellman said, “We knew ‘The Dark Knight’ was something remarkable and it is incredibly gratifying that critics and audiences wholeheartedly agree. Regardless of the anticipation leading up to this weekend, the fact remains that this level of success could not have been achieved if the film did not deliver. It does, on every front and with all audiences, which is a tribute to the amazing work of the filmmakers and the entire cast. We congratulate them on the start of what promises to be a great run.”

On the international front, “The Dark Knight” launched in 20 countries, including Australia, Mexico and Brazil, grossing an outstanding $41.3 million, almost tripling the opening of “Batman Begins” in the same markets. Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, President of International Distribution, Warner Bros. Pictures, said, “We are delighted with this spectacular start and look forward to a long and successful run.” The film will continue to roll out internationally over the coming weeks, including the bigger territories of Italy on July 23, Holland on July 24, the UK on July 25, Korea on August 7, Japan on August 9, Spain and France on August 13, and Germany on August 21.

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Legendary Pictures, a Syncopy Production, a Christopher Nolan film, “The Dark Knight,” starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman. Nolan directed the film from a screenplay written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer. Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan are the producers, with Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Kevin De La Noy and Thomas Tull serving as executive producers. “The Dark Knight,” is based upon characters appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. Batman was created by Bob Kane. “The Dark Knight” is distributed worldwide in theatres and IMAX by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. The film has been rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence and some menace.”

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