In less than two weeks, The Dark Knight will finally be in theaters. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, probably since that final scene in Batman Begins, where Christian Bale’s Batman first lays eyes on the calling card of Gotham City’s latest psychotic criminal, a calling card that happens to be a playing card. I left the theater grinning as wide as the Joker himself, not only because a genius filmmaker and my favorite actor had more than done justice to my favorite superhero, but also because there was going to be more.
Obviously, a lot has happened since (my possible distant cousin) Christopher Nolan teased us with that playing card. Late in 2007, photos were released of an unrecognizable Heath Ledger in a green suit with unruly hair and smudged clown makeup on his face -- and excitement began to build for a sequel that just might be better than its already awesome predecessor. Then, on January 22, Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose. And The Dark Knight went from being the most highly anticipated geek film of the summer to being the final completed film of a beloved, gifted young actor who’d left us way before his time. People couldn’t stop talking about The Dark Knight. But instead of gushing with geeky excitement, many people were suddenly talking about it with a sense of morbid curiosity.
There’s already been a lot of talk in the media over whether the tragedy of Ledger’s death, paired with his disturbingly dark take on the Joker will scare audiences away, or draw even bigger crowds. Given the amount of praise Ledger’s performance has already received from the rest of the cast (most noticeably from Bale, who’s typically as elusive to the press as Batman himself), and the fact that journalists who haven’t seen the film yet are already clambering to honor him with a posthumous Oscar, I’m guessing the crowds will turn out on July 18. But I know I’m not the only one who’d wanted to see this movie before it got caught up in the sick media frenzy surrounding Ledger’s death. And I know I’m probably not the only one wondering how to enjoy it as a pure film experience amidst all the hoopla.
It may not ever be possible to separate The Dark Knight from the tragedy surrounding its release. But as moviegoers, we owe it to the artists behind the film, including Ledger, to try our best to appreciate it as a film and not a tabloid event. Here are the best suggestions I can come up with on how to turn The Dark Knight back into the movie we were supposed to see:
1.) Watch the trailers.
Right here at Film.com we have three for your viewing pleasure that will whet your appetite without spoiling any major plot points.
2.) Re-watch Batman Begins.
Another look at Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise will remind you why the sequel was so highly anticipated in the first place.
3.) Watch your favorite Heath Ledger movie.
Whether you loved him for his goofy charm in A Knight’s Tale or admired his quiet intensity in Brokeback Mountain, it may be difficult for Ledger’s fans to go into The Dark Knight knowing it’s one of our last chances to see him on screen. I watched A Knight’s Tale, one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure films, a few months ago, and despite the sad distraction, I still laughed at all of my favorite scenes. It reminded me that it’s a goal of every great artist and entertainer to create things that will live on in the public consciousness a lot longer than they do. Coming to that realization before seeing The Dark Knight might make it easier to get back to thinking of Ledger as an actor instead of a tragic figure.
Some of us have been waiting a long time to see this movie. Despite everything that’s happened during that wait, let’s make sure we remember to enjoy it.