I have had a change of heart, and I’ve been compelled to write here because of it.
I grew up with three versions of Batman. At my youngest, I watched the 1960’s television show (Julie Newmar as Catwoman?? So much!), as cheesy as it was. As I grew a little older and more discerning, I became a religious viewer of Batman: The Animated Series, a show that I still herald as one of the best cartoons made. The third version of Batman is the movie version – Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. By the time Joel Schumacher took over the movie series, I was older and my ideas on Batman were more solidified, so I don’t count those. I am not a fan of comic books, either, so my knowledge of Batman and his world came mostly from the animated series. Somehow, though, just by osmosis it seems (actually, years of research online), I came to know of The Joker – a character who has the potential to be my favorite villain of all time.
What about Darth Vader? Yes…he has a wonderful tragic story, and becomes a very bad guy – but he is not a true villain. That’s right, I said it. By the end of Return of the Jedi, Vader is shown to be more of a tragic hero. The Joker, however, is just mad and evil – for no apparent reason. There have been back stories written for The Joker, but nothing has ever been concrete, and that’s because The Joker can have no back story. As Christopher Nolan, the director of the upcoming movie, The Dark Knight, has said, The Joker is “an absolute.” Why do I love The Joker so much? I don’t fully know. In one comic story, therapist is talking to Batman about the Joker, explaining how he may be so intelligent and aware of the world around him that he can’t help but find it all as one giant joke – going with the flow because his mind can’t compute everything. I like this idea, myself. The Joker will kill, he will maim, and he will do horrible things – all because he sees the ludicrousness of the world around him. But that’s just one explanation, and the fascinating thing about the character is that there IS no true explanation. He’s a hysterical, calculating, murderer – and he does it with a smile.
When the movie Batman Begins first came out, I wasn’t too interested in it. The Batmobile was now some sort of military transport? I was waiting for a true comic version of Batman to be made, and I still am. Tim Burton made HIS version, and now Christopher Nolan was making HIS “realistic” version of Batman – but nobody had yet done a straight-from-the-comics movie interpretation. That’s ok, though. I’m not a huge Batman nut or anything 😉 On my first viewing of Batman Begins, I was less than charmed. After realizing that his wasn’t a definitive version, rather another over-personal interpretation, though, I warmed to it a little more. What got me, though…what ALWAYS got me, was the ending. Seeing a playing card with a joker on it in a policeman’s evidence bag made me eyes grow wide. The Joker was coming.
The bastion of internet nerd-land was constantly a-twitter over who was going to be cast as The Joker. People praised Batman Begins as comic book hero perfection, and to them The Joker was going to be awesome! To me, beyond being the character role of a lifetime for an actor, it was going to be a chance to finally see The Joker in the flesh. Cesar Romero in the 60’s version?
Jack Nicholson in Burton’s movie?
Too Jack Nicholson.
Mark Hamill’s voice in the animated series?
Brilliant, but it was too close to being a kid’s show for the Joker to be TOO evil.
So now, in this realistic, weighted world that Christopher Nolan had created, I was finally going to see the evil madman as he should be. Out of the names that were commonly mentioned, I was personally pulling for Crispin Glover to play The Joker. He has the look, and I thought he could pull it off wonderfully, but really, I was just excited to finally see the potential madness of The Joker. Then the announcement was made. Heath Ledger was going to be The Joker. What the freaking hell??
I never worried about Ledger’s acting, he’d be fine I’m sure – but every single physical feature of his was the opposite of tall, thin, and lanky….he looked nothing like The Joker. That was my first turn off. Time went by and then, the viral marketing began. There was a fun little hullabaloo on a website, and the end result was a grainy picture of Heath Ledger in Joker make-up.
That one image broke my heart. I sent an email to a friend, recalling how upon seeing it I said out loud to myself, “They did it. They killed it.” I still held out a scrap of hope, however small it was, that the footage would prove me wrong, and this was going to be The Joker in all shape and form. Then I heard his voice.
Following the message boards during another marketing stunt, I was able to see the bootlegged version of the teaser trailer for The Dark Knight on YouTube. I listened, and listened….and I heard a strange, strange voice – but I couldn’t believe it was The Joker. There was no movie footage in the teaser, so I was hoping it was a fake. After it was officially released, though…I was proven wrong. Why did The Joker sound like Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice? I was completely angry and disappointed, yet I couldn’t stop playing the trailer. I hated it, but something made me want to keep hearing his voice. Maybe I’m a closet masochist and I don’t know it. This was the last straw for me, though – I knew that Nolan was not properly creating The Joker in his next movie, and that made me very sad. For months I felt this way, especially after clearer images of Heath Ledger in the movie were released. When the first regular trailer appeared, though (again, by first viewing it on a YouTube bootleg), something different happened inside of me.
Movie trailers can be an art form unto themselves, building up music and images into a wonderfully enticing concoction. However, as bitter as I was about The Joker being ruined, I felt compelled to follow the viral campaigns and see this new trailer. What I didn’t expect, though, was for it to excite me. The first time I watched it, after it was done, I paused and blinked, wondering what I had just seen. And then I watched it again. And again. I watched that trailer I don’t know how many times, and I proclaimed to my friend that night through an email, “I think…. somehow…. they got me.” I was in shock. This movie that had put such a bitter taste in my mouth by its treatment of one of my favorite characters of all time…had made me want to see it. Yet, even though I was interested, I still didn’t see The Joker, so what was going on? Heath Ledger.
For the first time since I heard the voice in the teaser trailer, I was able to put it together with the face. But that wasn’t the great part. Watching Heath Ledger give such amazing life to this lunatic character before me, I was enthralled. This was my kind of character – a character I would LOVE to play – the kind of character that after watching the movie makes me foam at the mouth and want to go act. Seeing Heath lean out of the police car, closing his eyes in the ecstasy of his own insanity, was a wonderful thing to see. I went on to eventually see the bootlegged version of a 6 minute clip from the movie, but since I saw that first trailer, I was hooked. After seeing yet another bootleg copy of the newest trailer a few days ago, I finally saw the official release of this third trailer this morning, and that is what inspired me to write. I was sitting there in my room, watching a clear version of this trailer (bootlegs are never very clear), and I was excited all over again. Seeing even more elements of Heath Ledger’s character this time around, I knew I had to finally say something.
For me, it was a change of heart, but not a change of mind. When I watch this footage, I don’t see The Joker. Heath Ledger embodies certain characteristics, but he is not The Joker as the world knows him. What Heath is going to be in this movie, however, is a heck of a lot of fun. There are moments with Heath in these two trailers that absolutely give me shivers of glee, both as an actor and as a movie-goer. So yes, I can’t wait to see this movie. Sure, the idea of the tragedy of Harvey Dent is great, and this could actually be a solidly good movie, but there is only one guaranteed reason my butt will be in the theater for the first showing of The Dark Knight on opening night. I will be there to see the performance of a lifetime, by an actor who somehow managed to win me over in spite of my hesitations of principle. I’m still waiting to see The Joker in his true form eventually, but those are details that can wait for another day. For now I can’t wait to see the version that Heath Ledger has concocted. Because, really, WHY be SO SERIOUS?