- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Warner Bros., the studio that gave us “The Dark Knight,” thought it had survived the worst marketing crisis a movie could have - the tragic death of one of the movie’s young cast members, Heath Ledger.

Now, the studio may have to deal with a new disaster - assault accusations against Batman himself, Christian Bale. The 34-year-old actor was arrested in London yesterday on accusations he assaulted his mother and sister at his suite in London’s Dorchester Hotel Sunday night. He was questioned for more than four hours before being released, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Mr. Bale denied the accusations Tuesday through a spokesman. The statement also said no charges had been filed against him, according to MTV.com.

This incident could become the film’s second PR conundrum.

The studio and the film’s cast members paid homage to the late Mr. Ledger in the months leading up to “Knight’s” July 18 release, tiptoeing around his passing while talking up their project.

By the time “Knight” opened, the biggest buzz surrounding it involved a posthumous Oscar nod for Mr. Ledger’s turn as the Joker.

The film received triumphant reviews and broke the box office record for most money earned over an opening weekend - $158.4 million.

Then, the first sign of Batman backlash appeared.

Parents started complaining about how inappropriate the hit film was for their children. The movie may feature Batman, a superhero known for his ultra-cool gadgets, but the story’s adult themes and unflinching depiction of sadistic violence make it a tough one for children to process.

Not all PG-13 films are created equal.

Now, Warner Bros. must figure out precisely what went down between Mr. Bale and his family members, and how it might impact how it markets the film both in the U.S. and overseas. “The Dark Knight” has yet to open in England, Spain, France and Germany.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office tracking company Media By Numbers, says Mr. Bale’s personal life up until now has been seemingly free of tabloid complications.

“People characterize him as a really intense, really great actor, and that’s the end of it,” Mr. Dergarabedian says.

No matter how his situation plays out, Mr. Dergarabedian doesn’t expect the news will impact “Knight’s” box office clout.

“It broke all these records for a reason,” he says.

Brandon Gray, president and publisher of boxofficemojo.com, says once a film like “The Dark Knight” gets momentum, it’s all but impossible to stop.

“The picture already is an established juggernaut,” Mr. Gray says, adding that the movie’s star-studded cast will cushion it against public fallout.

“[Bale] isn’t the star, capital ‘S,’ of the movie. This is effectively an ensemble film. If anyone’s the star, it’s Heath Ledger,” he says. “He has the show-stopping role.”

The public’s collective memory can be short, and however Mr. Bale’s situation plays out it likely won’t affect his next big film, the newest installment of the “Terminator” series.

“People will have forgotten about it by the time of his next movie,” Mr. Gray predicts.

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