4AM is usually a pretty quiet time of night in any city, even one that never sleeps like New York. But last night, appropriately under a shroud of darkness, hundreds upon hundreds of people (myself and Latina's entertainment editor Angie Romero included) lined up at theaters across America, coffee or Red Bull in hand, to be one of the first to see this summer's most anticipated movie, The Dark Knight. Most bought tickets weeks in advance. Many had spent upwards of four hours waiting in line in the middle of the night. Dozens even came dressed up as the Joker—smeared make-up, green hair and all.
So what is it about The Dark Knight that makes grown men and women stay up all night and shirk the responsibilities of work and family (the number of people calling in sick must be at an all-time high today), just to be amongst the first of their peers to have seen the movie?
In a word (or two): Heath Ledger. When the 28-year-old actor died tragically and unexpectedly a few months ago, the mystique surrounding The Dark Knight increased exponentially. When news broke that Ledger's performance was show-stealing, icon-making and Oscar-worthy, The Dark Knight catapulted to the most anticipated movie of the year. And the buzz around his performance is no exaggeration. So fantastic, so terrifying, and so utterly creepy is Ledger's performance that to say that it is celebrated only because Ledger himself is dead (as many in line at the theatre this morning cynically claimed, only to take it back as they exited the theater three hours later, with jaws still dropped) is to gravely under-credit one of the most important actors—and characters—of our generation. There's never been a doubt that the Australian actor is one of the most talented amongst his peers, especially after his Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain, but nobody could have anticipated that he was capable of making history with some smeared make-up and a few memorable lines of dialogue.
There are, of course, other great things about The Dark Knight: richly layered characters, beautiful cinematography, a haunting musical score and a script that almost perfectly balances action, drama, psychological thrills and humor. The film is satisfying on every level, to all it's intended audiences (from teenage comic book fans to adults seeking the substance of a crime saga).
The Dark Knight will certainly break records this weekend, and likely be championed as the best superhero movie ever—and deservedly so. Trust us, don't wait for the DVD on this one.