According to CBS News, Magic City Films have secured the rights and permissions from the family of the late actor James Dean to use his likeness to star in an upcoming Vietnam War drama called “Finding Jack”. Using the mystical powers of computers, Dean will apparently be playing the role of a man named “Rogan” and will serve as the 2nd lead who undergoes “extreme character arcs”. Dean’s family says they will consider this James’s 4th official film, after “East of Eden”, “Rebel Without a Cause”, and “Giant”.
If you read that and thought “Wow… that seems kind of screwed up!” then you and I are on the same wavelength. We have come to the point where we have the ability to recreate deceased human beings and forcibly use their likeness to create statements and expressions that they have never made. What gives anybody the right to impose themselves and their opinions like that on a person who is no longer with us, and then claim it as if it were their own works? Ethically, this is outrageous. What if, after you had passed, your great-niece and great-nephew sold off your likeness to a cigarette company for a series of advertisements? I bet you would at least have SOMETHING to say about that, but unfortunately, other people decided that you will do that.
I am the last person in the world to get spiritual, but I thought we were supposed to be at rest when we died. Death has always been a definitive finish line to life. When your time is up, your book closes. Maybe there is a epilogue about the legacy you leave behind, but everything that you do in the physical is over at that point. The permanence and silence is really what makes death so impactful to the people around you. It feels borderline insane to recreate a dead person and pretend they are still alive, but also incredibly disrespectful to the person who is supposedly at rest.
James Dean died at age 24 in 1955, a full decade before the actual start of the Vietnam War. I am not saying he would have a political stance towards the war, or that he would even have any issue portraying a character who is in the war, but he left this world not knowing of anything that he is representing. The film could end up being beautiful and a performance that Dean might have been proud of if he were alive, but unfortunately, there is no possible way to ever know that. Essentially, this CGI version of James Dean is a puppet being operate by people he has never met to talk about issues and events he had no knowledge of, and then the work will be attributed to James as if he consented and made those expressions himself, which he has not.
There are two comparable examples of CGI recreations of actors that I can recall that I should address. In “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin were recreated using motion-capture CGI techniques. At the time, both of the recreated actors had passed (although Carrie Fisher was alive during production) so it is reasonable to associate that instance with this one. But there is a key difference: Both of those actors already played characters in ‘Star Wars’ when they were alive and it was those characters that were recreated, not the actors themselves. And, both of those performances were credited to the actors doing the motion-capture, not the people that were being recreated. This means no one even attempted to pretend that these roles in the movie are attributed to the original actors, only inspired by them.
And aside from the profound moral issues of dragging the corpse of a dead person out of the ground to perform for our amusement, you’re trying to tell me that there were NO actors alive who could do this role? The article says that they did an immense search for months for someone before agreeing to give the role to the late-Dean. My guess is they must have not looked very hard if the ONLY acceptable performer you found is the recreation of a dead man from 64 years ago in a computer. That sounds incredibly unrealistic. If I had to guess, this is a publicity stunt to get us talking about a film that otherwise could have flown under the radar (Good job. I took the bait), or maybe you always wanted James Dean in your movie and this half-assed story is the only way you could justify it to the public. Either way, I do not feel anybody is being honest.
Everything about this story makes me feel uneasy. We have the ability to do so many things no one ever thought possible at one point, but we must ask ourselves if it is really worth it. If we cross this line, we may never go back again. I am not one to romanticize “the way things are” but this particular path is not one we should go down. Change is inevitable and our morals will shift with the times, I just hope this is not where we are a headed.
What do you think about this situation? I know I just laid out a total rebuke of the whole thing, but maybe someone disagrees with me. I am very curious how someone might defend this, but I would love to hear from people who have any thoughts about this because it is important to engage about topics like this.