Did Heath Ledger finish vocals on 'Dark Knight'?

While the late Heath Ledger’s family and friends tend to the sad
details of his burial this weekend, a debate is ripping through Internet fan sites about what will stand as Ledger’s last completed
film, the Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight (due to open on July 17th). The burning
question is, how complete was Ledger’s post-production work on the
maniacal character of the Joker?

On Jan. 25th, E! Online gossip columnist Ted Casablanca posted an item quoting a "studio insider" saying that Ledger had done "zero"
post-production looping on the movie. (Typically, an actor re-records
many lines for a film long after principal photography wraps, in a
process called "automated dialogue replacement," or ADR. It’s an
especially extensive process when many shots have been filmed on
location, since all kinds of incidental noise can interfere with the
dialogue’s clarity and can require  up to three-quarters of the lines
to be re-performed on a dubbing stage, with the actor looking up at the
film images and matching his or her own mouth movements.) But Ledger’s vocals are
perfectly clear in the bits of footage so far released—trailers and a
prologue bank-robbery sequence shown with IMAX prints of I Am Legend.
Fan websites like Ain’t-It-Cool-News, Superherohype.com and
Batman-on-Film.com are full of assertions contrary to the Casablanca
report, saying that in fact Ledger was done with all significant looping. Ledger himself, while promoting the
Todd Haynes film I’m Not There last fall, had said he was finished with
his work on Dark Knight.

Still, given the way post-production schedules usually run on
mega-budget superhero films, it’s not out of the realm of possibility
that director Chris Nolan might have wanted to call on Ledger for
limited additional sessions with more than six months to go before
opening weekend. Directors often decide to insert new bits of dialogue
in post-production for the sake of clarity and economy. Doing anything
like that now with Ledger’s Dark Knight role would require hiring
another voice actor to emulate his speaking voice, or creating a
complicated mash-up from Ledger’s existing dialogue tracks. (Both of
these alternate approaches have been taken in similar past situations,
as when Oliver Reed passed away before the completion of Gladiator and
James Dean died before the release of Giant.)

Dark Knight director Chris Nolan and execs at Warner Bros., the studio
releasing the film, were not available for comment, and have not issued
any public statements about the status of the movie. EW placed a call to Oscar-winning sound
designer and sound editor Richard King, who’s handling the Dark Knight
audio work, but he declined to comment. According to several other
sound-mixing experts who also declined to speak on the record, there’s
no way to tell what the situation is with Dark Knight from the outside,
since the amount of ADR required, and the timetable for doing it,
varies wildly between films. (In plenty of instances, looping is not
completed until very close to the final release date, perhaps as little
as a month or two out.) Ledger had been working in London on Terry
Gilliam’s film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which meant he was
close to Dark Knight director Chris Nolan’s home turf and might well
have been available if needed.

Warner Bros. has temporarily pulled back on some of the promotional
material centered on Ledger’s creepy whiteface makup as the Joker,
keyed to the tagline "Why So Serious"? It remains to be confirmed
whether the film’s technical wrapup will require a new game plan as
well. —Steve Daly

Still, given the way post-production schedules usually run onmega-budget superhero films, it’s not out of the realm of possibilitythat director Chris Nolan might have wanted to call on Ledger forlimited additional sessions with more than six months to go beforeopening weekend. Directors often decide to insert new bits of dialoguein post-production for the sake of clarity and economy. Doing anythinglike that now with Ledger’s Dark Knight role would require hiringanother voice actor to emulate his speaking voice, or creating acomplicated mash-up from Ledger’s existing dialogue tracks. (Both ofthese alternate approaches have been taken in similar past situations,as when Oliver Reed passed away before the completion of Gladiator andJames Dean died before the release of Giant.)

Dark Knight director Chris Nolan and execs at Warner Bros., the studioreleasing the film, were not available for comment, and have not issuedany public statements about the status of the movie. EW placed a call to Oscar-winning sounddesigner and sound editor Richard King, who’s handling the Dark Knightaudio work, but he declined to comment. According to several othersound-mixing experts who also declined to speak on the record, there’sno way to tell what the situation is with Dark Knight from the outside,since the amount of ADR required, and the timetable for doing it,varies wildly between films. (In plenty of instances, looping is notcompleted until very close to the final release date, perhaps as littleas a month or two out.) Ledger had been working in London on TerryGilliam’s film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which meant he wasclose to Dark Knight director Chris Nolan’s home turf and might wellhave been available if needed.

Warner Bros. has temporarily pulled back on some of the promotionalmaterial centered on Ledger’s creepy whiteface makup as the Joker,keyed to the tagline "Why So Serious"? It remains to be confirmedwhether the film’s technical wrapup will require a new game plan aswell. —Steve Daly


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Comments (225 total) Add your comment
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  • Mike

    It’s sad to think this is still important in retrospect, but clearly it is.

  • Tim

    I hope the amount of work Ledger put into this role will be apparent once released.

    http://framespersec.blogspot.com/

  • Caroline Budgell

    I agree, it is very sad to think that this is still important but I completely understand why it is. For those of us who didn’t get the pleasure of knowing him on a personal level, it is still a significant loss as we have grown with him over the years through watching his movies and interviews and being allowed a peak into his personal life now and then, although not a personal relationship, still a significant loss as he was in our homes in some way or another.
    Although Heath was an actor by trade, I think we all need a little more time to grieve the man behind “Joker” such as the father, son, brother, and friend to so many.
    -Caroline
    (R.I.P. Heath, may you find some comfort in being a guardian angel to your sweet baby girl Matilda for all eternity)

  • D

    I think it is completely inappropriate to address these concerns when his family hasn’t even had his funeral yet!

  • Jen

    I was at a movie theater today and the “why so serious” poster was on display. Although it is terribly sad thsi happened, I think their original plan should go on because well, the show must go on.

  • Kevin

    The lyrics of the Cat Power song, The Greatest, have hung over me this week has I reflected on Heath’s passing:
    Once I wanted to be the greatest
    No wind or waterfall could stall me
    And then came the rush of the flood
    Stars of night turned deep to dust
    Melt me down
    Into big black armour
    Leave no trace of grace
    Just in your honor
    Lower me down
    To culprit south
    Make ‘em wash
    The space in town
    For the lead and the dregs
    Of my bed i’ve been sleepin’
    Lower me down
    Pin me in
    Secure the grounds
    For the later parade
    Once I wanted to be the greatest
    Two fists of solid rock
    With brains that could explain
    Any feeling
    Lower me down
    Pin me in
    Secure the grounds
    For the lead and the dregs of my bed
    I was sleepin’
    For the later parade
    Once I wanted to be the greatest
    No wind or waterfall could stall me
    And then came the rush of the flood
    Stars of night turned deep to dust

  • Paul J. G.

    I think this sort of thing should not be discussed around Mr. Ledger’s family and loved ones at the moment.
    They have plenty of things to be upset about and they dont need to hear the complaints and wining of the coldhearted, money hungry, heartless movie production company talking crap about Mr. Heath Ledger and what he DID NOT do to promote or finish the movie before he passed away.
    This movie company needs to grow a heart and show a little compassion and sympathy and stop thinking of themselves for a moment!
    Because of this show of selfishness that this movie company is presenting, I am boycotting this movie in loving memory of Mr. Heath Ledger. I know this is his last works of art but I also know that this movie caused him alot of stress and could possibly be the main cause of Mr. Ledger’s untimely death. I refuse to support something that caused a persons demise.
    But those money hungry people are going to do everything in their power to get their share.

  • Betty Gigi

    Hollywood is full of a bunch of greedy, ignorant pigs! It is completely inappropriate to address these concerns when his family hasn’t even had his funeral yet!

  • TheRaven

    How is it inappropriate? I hate to say it, but death is a part of life and the world can’t stop spinning because of this. While it is very sad and tragic, it still needs to be figured out.

  • ks

    It’s not as if it’s strange that he didn’t do post-production work at this point… in fact it’s quite normal. For those that say they are boycotting the movie, bummer for you because it’s going to be a great movie and ledger will be amazing in it. I don’t think the studio was discrediting his hard work, in fact all I’ve heard is how dedicated of an actor he had been (not only in the dark knight). Life must go on, and to completely stop the movie and not going to it is more of an insult to him than boycotting it because you think you know the whole story based on a gossip column.

  • David

    Paul, Betty, did either of you even read this article? Nobody connected with the film is “talking crap” or even commenting.
    “Dark Knight director Chris Nolan and execs at Warner Bros., the studio releasing the film, were not available for comment, and have not issued any public statements about the status of the movie. EW placed a call to Oscar-winning sound designer and sound editor Richard King, who’s handling the Dark Knight audio work, but he declined to comment.”
    You two need serious work on reading comprehension.

  • Jakeem

    This is a legitimate question that immediately crossed my mind when I learned of Heath Ledger’s death.
    It’s also an important issue when you consider what happened when Natalie Wood drowned during Thanksgiving weekend in 1981. She hadn’t completed all of her work on “Brainstorm,” and the film that resulted was negatively affected because of her loss.

  • ben

    I know for a fact that Heath’s performance as the Joker is gonna be the greatest performance I have seen. Where one actor completely just immerses themselves into the role and blows everyone away.
    I cannot wait.

  • Jill

    Um, Paul, it clearly says in the article that Warner Bros and Mr. Nolan have not commented on what work may have remained to be done on the movie, nor have they been “talking crap” about Heath Ledger.
    I don’t think it is disrespectful to Heath’s memory to talk about the work he was doing; what’s disrespectful is the media speculation on why he died.
    Rest in peace, Heath, you’re already sorely missed.

  • Casey75

    Aha, Jakeem….you make a good point about Natalie Wood. But think about Brandon Lee’s untimely death during production of “The Crow”….what resulted was one hell of a movie, a fine piece of work that served as a great eulogy to a rising young actor that also died far before his time.

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