Like the great white star of Jaws, a theme announces his arrival . . . a noisy, steadily ascending blare, not unlike an air raid siren or an airplane free-falling to earth. When he's on screen, he dominates The Dark Knight. Batman's greatest villian has truly come to life.
Hannibal Lector. Norman Bates. Colonel Kurtz. Darth Vader. The Joker has joined them in the pantheon of Hollywood's all-time greatest villians.
I'll admit when the name Heath Ledger first crossed the newswires as the latest actor to play the Clown Prince of Crime, I was seriously concerned. Who? That was summer 2006, and he was best known for Brokeback Mountain. Cruel "Jokeback Mountain" jokes ensued. But we Batman Begins fans kept the faith, buoyed by director Chris Nolan and star Christian Bale, who'd brought us back from the bat-nippled abyss of Batman and Robin.
Then the first teaser photos appeared, followed by snippets of dialogue, and finally the Dark Knight trailers in all their glory. The critics were silenced, and July 18, 2008 was circled on the calendar.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen . . . we are tonight's entertainment."
The breathless news media want you to believe that Knight's box office records are the result of morbid curiosity for a young actor who left us too soon, but it couldn't be farther from the truth. Of course, Heath Ledger's death tinges the film with sadness (especially during his final scenes with Bale), but we've been waiting for this performance long before the bad news broke. Heath's Joker is a character for the ages . . . it's a tour de force of twisted fun. Plus he does a mean disappearing pen trick.
All that's left is to buy the soundtrack, a thrilling piece of work by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard (starting with the Joker's theme, with its single-note structure twisted and transformed like it was pressed through a Nine Inch Nails filter). Next we need a roadtrip to San Francisco and catch an IMAX show . . . six action scenes were filmed with the giant cameras, including a jaw-dropping chase scene that involves a SWAT truck, a semi, and Batman's Tumbler.
Mainly, I just need to see it again.
Jack who? (WB pic)