The resurrection of James Dean

Amy Brown discusses the CGI reincarnation of James Dean in Finding Jack .

Amy K Brown
25th November 2019
James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause' Image: IMDB
We know Hollywood is always trying to push things further, do the impossible and break boundaries. With the technological advancements that have come about in recent years, CGI is easier and better than ever.

Yeah, it can look a little questionable sometimes but it creates the opportunity to do amazing things in cinema. We’ve seen characters being aged down and aged up (see Gemini Man) and movies relying almost entirely on CGI like Avatar. As a concept and artistic choice, it can be incredible. But this next big thing might just be taking it too far.  Have you ever thought wow, I’d love to see this long dead actor star in a new movie via computer-generated imagery? Yeah, me either. It all sounds a little too Black Mirror. 

It sounds like a role he wouldn’t have taken in a million years, but he doesn’t exactly have the choice now

James Dean, iconic American actor, died over half a century ago in a car crash at the age of 24. But thanks to CGI, he’s starring in a new movie. Magic City Films obtained the rights from his family to digitally create James Dean and announced he would be having a significant role in Finding Jack. The film, based on the novel by Gareth Crocker, focuses on the Vietnam War, a war that happened after Dean’s death. Not to mention that Dean was fairly outspoken on being anti-war when he was alive. It sounds like a role he wouldn’t have taken in a million years, but he doesn’t exactly have the choice now. They are bringing him to life using archival footage and photos, with another actor providing the voice. Hopefully, this voice actor gets receives due credit and isn’t completely overshadowed by the CGI actor. Of course it’s a shame that Dean’s career was so short lived in the first place, but what he did achieve during his time was excellent. So it brings into question whether we could just let his work exist in the past and honour him in a different way. 

It’s all kinds of strange. As with anything, there have been a number of differing opinions. Is this a good idea? Is it a marketing strategy? Does it tamper with Dean’s legacy? To me, it all feels a little dystopian. I’ve heard the term ‘digital necromancy’ being thrown around online and that’s something I never thought I’d hear. Hollywood is constantly under scrutiny and for good reason. Are they really running out of ideas so badly that they need to resurrect dead actors? We have mass amounts of talented people in Hollywood and now they’re losing roles to actors who aren’t even alive to audition. There is a fine line between celebrating an artist’s legacy and exploiting it. While the people making these decisions have assured the public that they had positive intentions, it still comes across as wrong. The amount of undiscovered and rising talent we have in the acting world is growing constantly; the next great generation of actors are waiting in line. Guess they’re going to be waiting a little bit longer.

This ultimately opens up doors for this to become normal. It was revealed that the people behind this have formed a company to bring more dead icons back to life in cinema. They have acquired the rights to people such as Bettie Page, Malcolm X and artist Maya Angelou. So is this going to become a trend? Having the legacies of great artists live on is one thing; but how far can it really go? The movie is set to release worldwide on Veteran’s Day 2020. So we’ll have to wait and see how all of this turns out.

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AUTHOR: Amy K Brown
Head of Culture. @akathrynbrwn on Twitter.

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