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Richard Laermer

Richard Laermer

Posted: July 13, 2008 01:19 PM

The End of the Heath Ledger Story


I don't know how Heath Ledger died, but it appears everyone else does. I have seen it described as "accidental drug overdose," "turning in the performance...cost him his life," and the wiliest of them all, "died from supreme sadness."

With that out of the way, let's talk about Batman -- er, The Dark Knight -- and how his death is being exploited in ways that are un-subtle and, in a nutshell, silly.

Like you, I feel badly about the young actor's death but it was more "Man!" than "I will never be able to rise from this..." To a lot of Hollywood types (which I'm thankfully not close to being) this was an historic marker or some kind of warning to us all about the fate of mankind. Yeah.

At the time of his sudden death last January, his last movie -- Knight -- was done and done, and the performance-of-a-lifetime hype had already begun with Heath's mad take on Jack Nicholson's most remembered part.

Like you, before he died I caught the trailer with his madness and crazy tics -- but that was hardly as entertaining as seeing Nicholson go off the rails simultaneous to the trailer release (planned?). He was mad that he didn't get the part he originally played (as if).

At that moment I thought "Oh, ok. 'Seems Dark is going to be the color this summer." And then Heath died. What a quandary for Warner Bros and its biggest franchise to date. This is the 50th Batman movie. It is the sophomore effort of Chris Nolan -- who surprised waytogosayers with his Batman Begins a few years back and introduced the first Batty (Christian Bale) that we didn't roll our eyes at since, well, Adam West.

They knew every demographic would be satisfied by the latest: Babe-watchers with Maggie G(can't spell, won't try); freakazoids with Gary Oldman; guy-crazy types with both Bale and Aaron Eckhart, and of course, the reverential film buffs with Heath. (Not sure what Morgan Freeman is doing in this, but then, he's probably not either.)

The question: How do you promote a movie with so many distinct famous last names (remember the one with Arnold and Uma and Alicia and...no you don't because no one saw it) and the first franchisee whose title doesn't contain a single Bat? You can't say it's the dark look at the life of the younger bat thing because they already did this with "Begins". It would have been fun to say "We chose not to ask Katie back," but that would be really mean. As for the new additions, well, they are all top-notch actors with their own publicity regimes (even Oldman, though he feigns otherwise). There is, in fact, no solid hook to go out with!

The easiest way to slide into "gadabout territory" - where everyone talks - is to push Ledger Death. And the way to do it is tell the masses with a straight face that "talking about Heath" was the most difficult task, and we all needed to be careful about it every step of the ... Bla, bla, bla. Sunday's NY Post slams us with a multitude of quotes from everyone on the film about what Heath was like in his last days. It reads like a series of eulogies.

Like you, I can see carefully-modulaed hype from a kilometer away. We can all read what they are doing: selling tickets to a wake. There it is. Hey, after Ledger's "slam-dunk" Oscar for "Brokeback" was ruined by upstart Philip S. Hoffman, I am certain he can handle anything, even in death.

Or especially in death. I am sure Heath Ledger performances in "Candy,"'Back Mount,"or "I'm Not There" are as good if not better than the one in Friday's big summer blocker, yet being lauded in every magazine, show and paper is nowadays reserved for the dead.

If in fact Dark Knight didn't want to make a show out of Heath Ledger's passing then it was probably not the canniest move to alert Oscar-watchers of his performance. Why not do what proud offerings like "Roger Rabbit" did in the late 80's? Don't say anything about the effort until it is out and let thrilled moviegoers speak for a new, brilliant, and memorable event!

Maybe - perhaps - could be - it's plum difficult to plan a subtle strategy wherein people find a special moment in the cinema all on their own without the keepers hyping it in expensive sideways glances. In the field of marketing, to imagine something will be discovered is unknowable to those whose jobs depend on big numbers on the first day. Speaking of which....

This Thursday at midnight, the movie will be unleashed - 12:15 p.m. Friday after hordes of commercials, to be precise. But you don't have to be there to be first. There's a showing at 3 for the insomniac crowd; one at 6 for the early worms; another at 9 for those who skip breakfast; and again at 12 p.m. for you guys with summer hours. The circus begins.

Like you, I hope it's not a record-breaking weekend at issue. Maybe the high-minded studo enacted an around the clock bonaza because it heard that people are aflutter over seeing the final performance of a new James Dean. Warners obviously holds no expectations for this movie. None whatsoever.

Heath Ledger is smiling. He doesn't care either way.

....For more likeminded material, pick up "2011: Trendspotting" or log on to the Laermer blog.

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