There’s something fishy-smelling about a just-announced plan to cast a CG-simulated James Dean in Finding Jack, a forthcoming film based on Gareth Crocker’s same-titled novel.
For one thing, the novel — about a Vietnam vet determined to reconnect with a combat-assistance dog named Jack in the aftermath of the Vietnam War — is said to be mediocre. A Publisher’s Weekly review called it “sappy and unbelievable.” So right off the bat there’s concern.
Two, people have been talking about reanimating dead actors in newly-made films for many years, but it hasn’t really happened outside of Oliver Reed‘s post-mortem performance in Gladiator, Peter Cushing in Rogue One and in a couple of TV commercials. You’d think that the first semi-noteworthy appearance of a mythical dead actor playing a supporting role would be in a classier, more formidable-sounding vehicle than Finding Jack. Man-dog love stories are about as cloying as it gets in the game of second-tier, sentimental-appeal programmers.
Three, Finding Jack is being co-directed by two guys, Magic City Films’ Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, and that in itself is sometimes a red flag, especially when one of the guys is named Tati Golykh.
Four, Ernst has been quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying the following: “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.”
Excuse me…what? They didn’t search for “the perfect character” but the perfect actor. The character of Rogan is a human being and therefore a “who” and not a “which.” And the way to describe Rogan’s arc is “extremely complex,” not “extreme complex.” And to claim that “after months of research” he and Golykh decided that only a CG imitation of James Dean could play a supporting character in their film? What kind of bullshit is that? They’re using the dead Dean because it will stir marginal commercial interest in their film, period. And so they’ve paid money to Dean’s family for the rights.
And five, I could see re-animating Frank Sinatra for a biopic — that would be exciting! — or bringing back the young Marlon Brando for a modern-day love story, but the Dean legend is not eternal. He died 64 years ago. New generations grow up, things change. Who other than boomers and older GenXers will care all that much about seeing the star of Rebel Without A Cause come back to life?
“Bring Back The Dead,” posted on 10.15.06:
“Sometime in ’92, I wrote a piece for Empire magazine called “Reanimator,” about how emerging digital technologies will one day be able to bring back actors from the grave and put them in new movies in a highly believable fashion. One computer graphics guy I spoke to said this could be a reality within 15 or 20 years. And I remember how Army Archerd wrote something in his Variety column not long after that seemed to comment on the piece, and how he faintly pooh-poohed the possibilities.
“Well, here we are 14 years later [in 2006] and a Santa Monica-based company called Image Metrics, according to a fairly thrilling article by N.Y. Times reporter Sharon Waxman, has just about gotten there.
“The cyber duplications of human faces that Image Metrics has lately been composing ‘seem to possess something more subtle, more ineffable, something that seems to go beneath the skin,’ writes Waxman. ‘And it’s more than a little bit creepy. And if you look at the video on the Times website that accompanies Waxman’s piece (which includes footage of Waxman herself being turned into Shrek), you’ll probably agree.
“Image Metrics chairman Andy Wood says he likes to call the process ‘soul transference,’ the key process being that ‘we can have one human being drive another human character…we can directly mimic the performance of a human being on a model.’
“You look and you wonder: Is it the eyes? Is it the wrinkles around the eyes? Or is it the tiny movements around the mouth?” Waxman asks. “Something. Whatever it is, it could usher in radical change in the making of entertainment. A tool to reinvigorate the movies. Or the path to a Franken-movie monster.”
“At the very least, this technology will probably one day lead to a situation in which producers and studios will have a certain advantage over difficult or problematic actors, although I’m sure attorneys for actors worldwide are going to be scrambling henceforth to make sure their clients’ organic value will not be challenged or diminished in any way.
“Refinements and improvements will inevitably kick in over the coming years, but Image Metrics is pretty much able right now to reconstitute any dead actor and recast him/her in a new movie opposite live actors. There are many other applications for Image Metrics technology besides bringing back the dead, but this has always held a special fascination for yours truly. Imagine a 33 year-old Cary Grant (i.e., the one who starred in The Awful Truth) starring opposite Rachel McAdams in a new comedy. Or James Dean back from the dead in a new drama directed by Chris Nolan.
“We could put Marilyn Monroe alongside Jack Nicholson, or Jack Black, or Jack White,” Wood reiterates. “If we want John Wayne to act alongside Angelina Jolie, we can do that.”