The future is now, it appears, and the inevitable has happened. James Dean, an iconic movie star who died in 1955 at the age of 24, has been cast in a new Vietnam-era action film called Finding Jack. You read that right. It was announced today that Dean will be digitally resurrected via “full body CGI” using actual footage and photos of the actor, allowing him to play a role in the film. Essentially it’s a Deep Fake come reality.
The film is based on the novel of the same name and revolves around the abandonment of more than 10,000 military dogs at the end of the Vietnam War. Dean will play what is described as a secondary role in the film.
Digital versions of actors aren’t necessarily uncommon. What Hollywood calls “digital doubles” are often used in action movies to prevent actors/stunt people from attempting dangerous stunts or to allow for dizzying acrobatics that are humanly impossible. Pretty much every time you see Iron Man in his suit in most MCU movies, that’s a digital double. The final battle in The Avengers where characters are flying around, jumping on alien motorbikes? Digital doubles.
But using technology to resurrect a dead actor for a performance is fairly new ground. It happened in Rogue One with Grand Moff Tarkin, who was played in the original Star Wars by Peter Cushing—an actor who is now deceased. Digital technology was also used to bring young Princess Leia back at the end of Rogue One, using old footage from the original Star Wars.
David Fincher pushed the limits of a realistic digital character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button before it was commonplace, and just this year Will Smith played opposite a completely digital version of himself in Gemini Man—that wasn’t just some digital makeup that brought young Will Smith to life in that film, as Ang Lee instead wanted to create a fully digital character from the ground up.
Finding Jack is being directed by Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, who obtained the rights to use Dean’s image from his family. Ernst and Golykh will be producing through their production house Magic City Films, while Imagine Engine will be working alongside South African VFX company MOI Worldwide to bring James Dean back to life.
In a complete and total sign of not getting it, agent for the James Dean family hopes this film will spur others to bring other dead movie stars back to life via digital technology:
Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide ( www.CMGworldwide.com ), the business agent for the family of James Dean said, “With the rapidly evolving technology, we see this as a whole new frontier for many of our iconic clients. This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.”
Added Ernst: “Our partners in South Africa are very excited about this, as this technology would also be employed down the line to re-create historical icons such as Nelson Mandela to tell stories of cultural heritage significance.”
Running through my head in all of this is the iconic Jurassic Park line from Ian Malcolm: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”