Hordes of screaming New Yorkers overflowed the 68th St. sidewalk during rush hour on Monday, spilling over onto Broadway with their cell phones and digital cameras held aloft in hopes of catching a glimpse of the cast of “The Dark Knight” over each other’s heads as the actors and director Christopher Nolan walked the red carpet. At the end of the carpet, the ornamental Batmobile wasn’t the only car sitting still – police officers and the occasional earpiece-wearing security guard tried vainly to wave traffic around the throng, which showed no signs of dissapating as the 7PM showtime approached.
Gotham may not exactly be New York, and Batman and his director may both be British this time around, but the film has one unfortunate, indelible New York connection: its most celebrated member died here on January 22. Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker, didn’t darken the door of the Lincoln Square Loews, but he cast a long shadow nevertheless.
In the huge Imax theater, the actor’s scarified grin stretched yards across the screen as he chewed through his lines – a painful reminder not only of Ledger’s frightening vitality and energy, but of a prodigious acting talent now lost to the world and a young man lost to his family.
Rather than assign some poor soul the task of a curtain speech, Warners instead opted for a wordless introduciton: Flanked by French horn players in the aisles, an orchestra opened the screening with highlights from Hans Zimmer’s score, playing keyboards, a bass, and a huge drum against a Bat-cave-like backdrop of twinkling sound equipment and colored lighting to illustrate the music.
After the screening, the cast, crew, and guests retreated out the back of the theater to an audience that had decreased only slightly and was still determined to get autographs, photos, or maybe just a wave. Security personnel herded the talent onto yellow school buses (the Joker’s transportation of choice during the film’s opening heist scene) and ferried the audience down to the Mandarin Oriental nine blocks south, where the Bat Signal played across the building’s facade (and more starchasers, possibly the other half that seemed to have given up at the theater, waited outside).
Inside, actors and execs chowed down on Asian cuisine eaten off tables defaced with slogans from the film written in Joker-y red acrylic paint – “Why So Serious?” and “Everything Burns” were two of the more memorable one-liners, and of course, the ever-present “HA.” A huge silver Bat-symbol hung over the bar as execs, actors, and well-wishers like Bat-vet Danny DeVito paid their respects to director Christopher Nolan and his cast and crew.
Warners prexy Alan Horn said he was more than proud of the film, and that the event itself was “somewhat bittersweet, because Heath Ledger is amazing as the Joker. I don’t want to weigh it down with that, though,” Horn continued. “It’s about the job that Chris Nolan and Christian Bale did. There’s an odd alchemy to this proces – it’s very difficult to get this sort of crescendo of quality, and we have that here.”