James Dean reborn.
James Dean resurrected.
James Dean lands a new role.
Alarming headlines for a profoundly disturbing story. Yes, cultural icon James Dean, who died in a tragic car accident in 1955 (he was 24), is coming back to the big screen – or rather, he is being forcefully dragged from his grave to the big screen through visual effects wizardry.
Filmmakers Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh have obtained the rights to Dean’s image from his family and have posthumously cast the actor in their upcoming Vietnam War action-drama Finding Jack. The performance will be a full-body CGI construction, while the voice will be provided by another actor.
“We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean,” said Ernst.
Except you can’t decide on James Dean, Mr. Ernst. James Dean is dead.
The implication that this is going to be a new performance from the beloved actor is simply grotesque. It’s insulting to the memory of James Dean and it’s insulting to countless young, talented actors who are alive and working today.
It’s also not even remotely accurate, because you are casting someone else. You’re casting someone to play the role of James Dean playing Rogan. You have to cast someone else because James Dean is dead.
Remember when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story controversially brought back the character of Grand Moff Tarkin by using CGI to capture the likeness of the late, great Peter Cushing? It sparked a heated debate about the ethical boundaries of digitally resurrecting actors.
Grand Moff Tarkin was an established character in the Star Wars universe. A fan-favorite villain who was brought back in a prequel to A New Hope, where he originally appeared. Tarkin’s digital likeness was modeled not just on Peter Cushing, but on Cushing’s performance as Tarkin. Even then, you could make a damn good case that it’s still creepy – and not just because the visual effects weren’t quite good enough to be completely convincing. It’s a very thin line between homage and poor taste.
This James Dean thing is nowhere near that line. It’s just so obviously, transparently distasteful and wrong. I recoiled as soon as I heard about it, and I’m far from the only one to react that way. It just reeks of a publicity-seeking gimmick. It’s the simplest explanation for why anyone would go through the trouble of building a Frankenstein’s monster of a performance from bits and pieces of a dead man’s life, career, and likeliness.
You do something like that because it gets people talking about your film – and here we are, talking about it. That’s why no matter how accurate or lifelike they make the CGI zombie of James Dean seem, it could never be respectful of his life and legacy.
This is that Johnnie Walker ad with the CGI Bruce Lee all over again. After all, the best spokesperson for an alcohol brand is a dead man who didn’t drink alcohol when he was alive.
I suppose someone had to do something like this. Someone had to cross the line in a big way so that we can start figuring out what the rules are in this brave new world of deepfakes, de-aging, and photorealistic CGI doubles.
I just wish there was a better way for us to learn.