A couple days ago, we reported that James Dean, who died in a car crash in 1955 at the age of 24, would be “resurrected” via CGI for Anton Ernst’s movie Finding Jack. Per THR, “Magic City Films obtained the rights to use Dean’s image from his living relatives, represented by CMG Worldwide. Dean’s name and likeness has been used in several advertising and merchandise campaigns over the years, including those of Dolce & Gabbana, Allure Eyewear, H&M and Jose Cuervo.” Ernst said they searched for an actor to play a supporting role in Finding Jack, but “after months of research” decided on Dean.
Naturally, there was a huge backlash to this. Chris Evans said the decision was “shameful” and Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin Williams, said “”It sets such an awful precedent for the future of performance.”
Ernst was apparently caught off guard by this response. He told THR, “We don’t really understand it. We never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick.”
So let’s take Ernst at his word and that bringing attention to his movie via an outlandish and impossible choice was simply because Dean was the best guy for the role. If that’s truly the case, Ernst doesn’t understand acting and shouldn’t be a director. Being an actor isn’t simply an appearance. There are plenty of actors who bear a resemblance to Dean, and would probably bear an even great resemblance with the proper makeup. But what made Dean a unique figure were his choices. That’s what acting is—it’s making choices. You react to your co-stars and you make decisions based on the script. A CGI creation that looks like James Dean will never have that. It will be the result of what animators think, not James Dean because Dean is dead.
But Ernst is undeterred. He tells THR, “We will take every precaution to ensure that his legacy as one of the most epic film stars to date is kept firmly intact. The family views this as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make. We do not intend to let his fans down.” Again, you can’t let them down because that’s not James Dean. If I put on a James Dean mask and walk around and tell people, “I’m James Dean” that doesn’t make me James Dean.
There’s an interesting argument to be made about actor’s likeness and de-aging and the intersection of performance and technology, but this is not it. This is a marketing gimmick whether Ernst intended it or not. Slapping James Dean’s face onto a mo-cap actor doesn’t make James Dean alive again. There was only one James Dean and he’s not in Ernst’s movie, no matter what the director or Dean’s estate may claim.