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Questions Hang Over Ledger's Last Films

Batman' PR Push and Terry Gilliam Fantasy Impacted by Star's Death

(Jan. 24) - Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel 'The Dark Knight' has been a major selling point in the film's early marketing campaign. But just days after his sudden death, his impact on the final publicity push for the sure-summer blockbuster is very much in doubt.

Ledger's Final Roles

Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker in the upcoming Batman sequel 'The Dark Knight' has been the major selling point in the film's earlier advertising. Now, Ledger's death leaves Warner Bros. wondering how to promote the film.

Ledger's face made up in grotesque makeup has been a pivotal part of the film's teaser advertising. On the film's main poster, he draws 'Why So Serious' in what looks to be blood. Shots of Ledger in action as the supervillain were the most anticipated parts of a recent, extended 'Dark Knight' trailer. A special bonus scene focusing on Ledger's character was turned into a selling point for Warner Bros. 'I Am Legend' when it was paired with the Will Smith feature on IMAX screens in December.

'Dark Knight' will hit theaters on July 18 and Ledger's work for the film is already complete.

But just how much a part of the ad campaign Ledger will be remains a mystery. Variety reports that Warner Brothers, the studio releasing 'Knight,' had planned on using Ledger's ghoulish joker as the center of the ads through March. With a recent, unrelated restructuring of their marketing department, changes on the fly might be harder to achieve.

Warner Bros. released a statement following Ledger's death. "The studio is stunned and devastated by this tragic news. Heath was a brilliant actor and an exceptional person."

Whether they studio continues with the normal junket process in the summer will be seen. But even without a standard PR push, the movie seems a sure bet for box office success. After all, 2005's 'Batman Begins' had a domestic gross of $205 million.

Buzz around Ledger's performance -- a re-imagining of Jack Nicholson's take on Batman's nemesis from the 1989 Tim Burton film -- had already been at a fever pitch before his death. Co-star Michael Caine gushed last fall about the performance. "He's gone in a completely different direction to Jack (Nicholson). Jack was like a clown figure, benign but wicked, maybe a killer old uncle. He could be funny and make you laugh," Caine said according to the Melbourne Herald Sun. "Heath is like a really scary psychopath ... He's a lovely guy and his Joker is going to be a hell of a revelation in this picture."

While Ledger's death won't hold up the completion of 'Dark Knight,' it poses a major problem for 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,' a Terry Gilliam fantasy that was shooting in London. A manager of the film crew's union confirmed to PEOPLE that the production was shut down.

Variety lists various possible options for 'Parnassus,' including replacing Ledger in his role. The insurance company will likely determine the fate of the $30 million movie.

The New York Times reports that only 18 days of filming had been completed on the film, suggesting that about $14 million had been spent, and that Mr. Ledger had been named an 'essential element' in the film's cast insurance policy.

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