There are very few acceptable reasons that I would allow for someone to NOT know that The Dark Knight is at least coming to a theater near you in the near future (July 18 to be exact; some aren't great with dates...). Those few reasons would be if someone was in a coma or they've been in the wilderness with no form of media accessable to them. Perhaps incarceration in solitary confinement. That's about it. Even those who previously didn't know about the upcoming film likely found out upon the news of the tragic death of Heath Ledger, who plays The Joker in the new film. I know all of us here at MovieWeb were shocked upon the first reports to come out about his death on January 22. Although filming had already commenced, it was still uncertain how Warner Bros. would continue with its Joker-themed viral marketing plan, which will likely go down as one of the most massive marketing campaigns in movie history. It all started, oddly enough, with a cake.

In early December of last year, MovieWeb's managing editor Brian Balchack received a strange package in a pink box which held a cake with a phone number written in frosting. As he dialed the number on this cryptic treat, the damn cake started ringing, and inside the cake was a cell phone, charger and a number of other goodies including a joker card with yet another number to call. After dialing the new number, there was a message from The Joker himself, inviting our site to preview the first six minutes of The Dark Knight at a theater in Los Angeles. He was also told to keep the phone on and charged and more messages coming soon.

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A month and a half after that cake was delivered, Heath Ledger, the new embodiment of The Joker, was found dead in his apartment in New York City. Questions swirled about this highly-inventive marketing campaign, and how they would proceed after the untimely death of this rising star - the focus of their campaign. In that short time, we received three messages from The Joker on this shiny new cell phone. Of course, they weren't from Heath Ledger himself because you can just tell by the voice. The last message we received just weeks before Ledger's death, turned out to be quite eerie, given the context of what happened in real life. These audio files had never been posted before, but we're posting them now for our readers to hear. The last one, in which the voice claims that, "this is no longer a movie," and that, "there is a real Joker," is just something else. Listen for yourselves.

The death of a movie star before their new big movie was released is nothing new in Hollywood. Back in the 50s, screen legend Bela Lugosi died shortly after filming some footage for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Director Ed Wood kept Lugosi's footage and used a double that was much taller than Lugosi and said double wore a veil over his face to disguise himself. The film is still considered to be the worst film of all time by many... even though it has a cult following now. There are other examples such as the odd circumstances behind Bruce Lee's death before Enter the Dragon made him an international star, and, years later, the tragic death of his son, Brandon Lee, while filming The Crow. These are just a few I could name, but still, they pale in comparison to the implications of Heath Ledger's death.

In this new day and age of viral marketing, we haven't seen an actor's death affect a movie as greatly as Ledger's death has affected The Dark Knight. Ledger was a bright, extremely talented young actor, coming off his recently Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain, and he was certainly poised to break into the stratosphere of the A-list with his turn as The Joker. Everything I've seen from The Dark Knight so far with him looks simply astounding.

The question still remains though: will the The Dark Knight's marketing continue to feature Ledger's Joker? According to the Associated Press, footage from the film was recently screened at ShoWest and director Christopher Nolan said in an interview at the convention that the marketing has gone on as planned and that he plans to show Ledger's performance in the film in an "undistorted form." Another indicator that we might see more Joker-themed marketing ploys comes from a story we ran at the end of January about the Joker phones from the cakes that were sent out being renewed until March 29.

However, the phone that we received here at MovieWeb has had no new messages from the Joker since Ledger's death, and the 29th is rapidly approaching. When the phone was renewed the first time, though, it was only a day before it was set to expire and perhaps they have some plans in store for the last week of March, perhaps even another extension, although that is just speculation on my part.

While Nolan maintains that the marketing has gone on as planned, they have clearly shifted their focus of the campaign from the Joker to Harvey Dent, who is played by Aaron Eckhardt. The viral site was launched at the end of February and has seen regular updates in the past few weeks, while the Joker site, has not been updated.

I personally think they should shift back to a Joker-themed campaign, to celebrate what will be Ledger's swan song: a towering performance that would've catapulted him into the Hollywood elite. While his death is incredibly tragic and untimely, this superb actor has surely left us with a marvelous showcase of his talent in his final performance, and that should be celebrated, instead of his life being mourned. It's like the Joker said himself: "Why so serious?" The time for mourning is over. I think Ledger's performance will be one of the most talked-bout turns of the year, for his performance alone, and while it's truly sad that this is his last performance, at least we know he is giving us one hell of a grand finale.

With all that being said, I now put it to you, our readers. What do YOU want to see in the coming months leading up to The Dark Knight's release? Do you want to see a full-blown Joker-themed campaign full of publicity stunts, cryptic phone messages and viral websites? Or do you want to see more of Harvey Dent or any of the other characters from the film like The Dark Knight himself? We want to know what all of our readers want to see as this unique viral marketing campaign gets closer and closer to the July 18 release date. Speak out and be heard!

Peace in. Gallagher out!