Last-ever Heath Ledger movie’s distribution woes
It’s safe to say that, after “The Dark Knight’s” ridiculous month-long run, $460 million draw, that Heath Ledger’s passing and the subsequent buzz about this amazing performance as The Joker was one of the major reasons the general public clamored over this movie so much, especially in its first record-setting weekend. Terry Gilliam, the director of such quirky films as “Brazil,” “Twelve Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” attacked Warner Brothers for taking advantage of Ledger’s death during the marketing and viral campaigns — a stance that I adamantly disagree with.
Well, distribution companies around the U.S. are trying to figure out how they can use Ledger’s involvement in Gilliam’s newest flick, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” to their advantage in much the same way that Gilliam accused “The Dark Knight” of doing. But Hollywood execs are grappling with one dilemma — no, not the moral dilemma of using Ledger’s death to their advantage. The dilemma of having Ledger’s very bankable name attached to a Gilliam film, a steadfastly un-bankable director.
Gilliam hasn’t seen any financial success since 1995, when his time traveling sci-fi adventure, “Twelve Monkeys” played well despite its odd storyline. Studio execs know this, and they are iffy about picking up a Gilliam film to distribute — especially one that comes with a $20 million production receipt — even if they have the option to use Ledger’s last performance as a viable marketing tool. This coming from The Hollywood Reporter:
“In this market, unless I have a reason to think a movie like this is going to be a slam dunk I’m not going to take a flyer on it, even with Heath Ledger,” one distribution executive said. One specialty exec added few execs at his company had been tracking it.”
Right now, several companies have yet to even see clips from the film, let alone consider distributing it. But Lionsgate, the company responsible for international distribution, is seriously considering picking it up in the U.S. as well.
Even with Gilliam at the helm and the weird plot about “parallel worlds, a theater troupe and a devil-dealing 1,000-year-old doctor,” I think this movie has a lot of marketing potential. Not only do they have Ledger’s last-ever acting performance, but in the wake of his death, three hugely popular actors, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law, stepped up to fill in the scenes he had yet to shoot after a rewrite to allow the character to shape-shift.
Someone will eventually take a chance on this off-the-wall movie, and I’d be willing to bet that that company will not regret the decision. If they market it tastefully and correctly, people will go to see Ledger and the performances of the three actors that replaced him. But, even facing these marketing opportunities, industry wizards will continue to be skeptical of Gilliam — but all it takes is one comapany to bite:
Said one longtime distribution guru: “For all the elements in this film, it is a Terry Gilliam picture, and as much as you want a movie of his to be good, you have to be careful.”