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Did Heath Ledger finish vocals on 'Dark Knight'?

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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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