by Jack Stacey
Actors are considerably the most significant part of modern cinema. A correctly cast actor can represent the nuances and personality of a character in ways that would otherwise eclipse mere words on a page. However, our collective investment in Hollywood’s actors may have to adapt around the recent technological representation of deceased actors, placing them in previous roles through intensive Computer-Generated Imagery.
In recent cinematic history, the character of Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by the legendary actor Peter Cushing in Star Wars Episodes IV and V, was ‘resurrected’ via means of computer imagery in 2016’s Star Wars Rogue One; sparking major outrage by fans of the franchise. Although Lucasfilm received no formal permission for the recreation of the character from Cushing, his character was placed in the film as a prominent villain. John Knoll, the visual effects supervisor for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, commented on the choice in an interview with Yahoo Movies, he noted that “We weren’t doing anything that I think Peter Cushing would’ve objected to. I think this work was done with a great deal of affection and care”. Other notable examples are the revival of Paul Newman as the prestigious race car Doc Hudson, in Disney’s Cars 3, Paul Walker in Furious 7, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. With all of these examples of CGI remakes of actors, it is important to discuss the moral dilemmas of this new practise.
The CGI revival of James Dean’s character in the upcoming Vietnam War action-drama ‘Finding Jack’ has been heralded by Travis Cloyd, CEO of Worldwide XR, as “James Dean 2.0”, noting that “There is a lot more to come for James Dean”, despite the fact that he has been deceased for 64 years following a fatal car accident. In opposition to this move, actor Chris Evans raised the satirical point that “Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes. The complete lack of understanding here is shameful”. Perhaps the significance of this moral dilemma and its backlash over social media by cinemagoers demonstrates that this practise is immoral and should be avoided entirely.
However, the multi-faceted and creatively diverse nature of modern media production proclaims that this is not merely a one-sided choice with aims of generating revenue.
It is equally understandable why producers intend to revive these iconic actors on the silver screen, attempting to retain the narrative continuity of expanded franchises and/or introduce beloved actors to modern audiences. This debate, not dissimilarly from modern media production, is a matter of personal choice. World-renowned actors and actresses are now incorporating certain stipulations into their contracts, clearly presenting their acceptance or disapproval of the recreation of their likeness via Computer-Generated Imagery after they have passed. This concrete proof, as stated in the legally binding contract between production company and actor, is to be consulted before attempting any facet of digital reconstruction, respecting the personal choice of the actor and preventing this indirect exploitation.
While, acting on behalf of deceased actors, attempting to somehow interpret whether or not they would accept the use of their likeness, could be perceived as immoral; on the other hand, it is a matter of personal choice so freedoms shouldn’t be compromised.