Warner Bros. Left With A Major 'Dark Knight' Marketing Problem

And so, with two days to let the devastating news sink in, Variety now asks the inevitable question of what's to be done with Heath Ledger's final projects—the wrapped The Dark Knight, and Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Morbidly running through the history of productions faced with surprise cast deaths during shooting (apparently CGI has now taken over for stunt doubles and very low lighting as the re-animating technique of choice), the report then addresses the issue of how such misfortune might cast marketing campaigns in an unpleasant new light. As we pointed out on Tuesday, The Dark Knight's focuses squarely and gruesomely on Ledger's chillingly effective performance as The Joker, providing an unwelcome creative predicament for WB's marketing czar:

[WB marketing head Sue] Kroll will likely have to move quickly to rejigger the studio's current phase of the marketing campaign for "Dark Knight," focusing on Ledger's Joker character. This phase of the campaign had been set to run until March.

Knight isn't the first superhero blockbuster marketing campaign to suffer from unanticipated tragedy: Besides The Crow, we're reminded of that circa 9-11 Spider-Man teaser in which goalpost Twin Towers trapped a getaway chopper in the web-slung net suspended between them. But that was a standalone spot, easily pulled from theaters and the final cut without affecting the rest of the movie. Excising Ledger from the campaign, already aggressively positioned by the studio as the showy villain centerpiece of the Batman Begins sequel, would be a far dicier proposition. We can only hope director Christopher Nolan doesn't, in a moment of grief-induced panic, cave to the studio's suggestions that he write in an 11th hour Robin, then roll out a far less ominous second-phase campaign built entirely around re-shoots featuring Zac Efron in the iconic red, green, and yellow costume.