By Carlie Vassos, December 4 2019—
A new movie is set to hit theatres Nov. 11, 2020. Finding Jack, adapted from Gareth Crockers 2008 book, follows the story of an American soldier named Fletcher, who after losing his wife, goes off to the war in Vietnam. Who is one of the stars set to play a lead role, you ask? Well, the role has been given to the late James Dean. While it would be impossible for the actual James Dean to appear in this film, having died in 1955, with the help of CGI technology, director-producers Anton Ernst, Tati Golykh and Donald A. Barton have “resurrected” the East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause actor to take on this role. The directors explained that they “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… decided on James Dean.” Ernst encourages the recent decision with support from Dean’s family, stating “I think they would have wanted their family member’s legacy to live on. That’s what we’ve done here as well. We’ve brought a whole new generation of filmgoers to be aware of James Dean.”
While there will be a whole new generation of filmgoers that will become aware of James Dean, the truth of the matter is is that the CGI recreation will not be James Dean, but simply an illusion.
The director-producer’s plan is to recreate a Dean with motion capture technology. In
using this technology, it will allow the movie producers to create an almost seamless image of
Dean, whose lines will be recorded by another actor. Motion capture has the ability to be successful in its portrayal of deceased actors, because it directly records and re-creates the way real people move, smile or furrow their brow, giving the final product all the qualities of authentic human movement. However, there is something about CGI technology that just doesn’t feel very genuine.
In Rogue One: A Stars Wars Story, this CGI technology was used on an actress who portrayed a young princess Leia, which digitally recreated the character. Although, many were astounded by the nearly identical likeness of Carrie Fisher, the digital recreation lacked a certain human authenticity. However, the fault found with CGI recreation may be more than just the digital representation feeling off.
“Find in yourself those human things which are universal,” says a famous quote by American actor Sanford Meisner. With this quote in mind, I argue that the most human thing about an actor’s performance is the emotion portrayed. Although CGI may create a nearly perfect replica of a person and their expressions, there is always going to be a need for the emotion an actor brings to the screen. Emotion breeds a sense of connection. For even for the digitally created humans, there will still need to be a human drive to those acting performances.
When it was reported in 2018 that a hologram of the music legend Prince, who died in 2016,
would be joining Justin Timberlake on stage at the Superbowl, people flew into a rage. The idea of a digital image performing instead of the actual singer was disrespectful to Prince’s legacy.
In an interview in 1998, the singer himself stated that he would never want to be part of a digital technology collaboration and strongly disagreed with the idea of his image being made into a hologram.
“Everything is as it is, and it should be,” Prince stated. “If I was meant to jam with Duke Ellington, we would have lived in the same age.”
Although James Dean may have died quite young, only acting in a handful of films, his legacy lives on because of what he created during his life, not recreations made during his afterlife.
Technology allows us to transform the ways in which movies are made, and preserve the legacy of our favourite entertainers. However, digital recreations are simply a fake copy of the real thing. The problem with digitally created James Dean is not that CGI has recreated his likeness.
The problem is that the person who was James Dean and the image which is being used is not the same thing, yet technology is blurring the distinction between the two. In 2019, this developing technology is now a reality, when in 1955 it would not even be a daydream.
The controversial point is that using CGI technology this way may put us one step further towards our image, so connected to individual identity, being used in ways completely out of our control.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.