The takeover of de-aging in film

Freya Gilbert discusses the merits and problems with the use of de-aging in film.

Freya Gilbert
23rd October 2019
The Irishman (2019) IMBD
In the advent of feel good throwback films in Hollywood, de-aging seems to be a natural step in current cinema trends. But just because we have the technology to create these visual effects, does it mean that we should?

There are currently two films due for theatrical release which are utilizing this far reaching technology. Gemini Man, with frontman Will Smith, has already hit theatres and The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, is due to come out on the 8th November. By far the most ambitious undertakings into de-aging technology to date, The Irishman and Gemini Man hope to demonstrate the truly astonishing effects that de-aging can achieve.

De-aged Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel (2019)

With the sci-fi action film Gemini Man and high drama crime film The Irishman stemming from two very different genres, it’s easy to see the wider opportunities that the technology presents. The current criticism? That the technology is visually very impressive in stills but doesn’t keep up with the live movement of the actors. This can render the aesthetic of the de-aged actor as ‘cartoony’, a term De Niro himself used to describe some of the sci-fi genre’s ventures into the technology.

"Although utilising new talent in a five-minute scene is hardly enough exposure to launch a new career, it is in these moments of exposure that aspiring actors can build their reputations."

Marvel Studios made their first sustained foray into the de-aging realm with Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. Jackson looks remarkable throughout, the technology seems to agree with him, but is this due to the fact that he doesn’t look too dissimilar at age 50 to age 70? Marvel’s first attempt of the technology in 2006 for X-Men: The Last Stand had screen legends Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart de-aged for a flashback scene. Since then, the studios have been perfecting the technology using it extensively in flashback scenes across the Marvel Universe. The short flashback scenes that the technology is used for allows the viewer to marvel at beloved actors new, dramatically younger appearance. The effect? Impressive, yes. But is

Gemini Man (2019) IMDB

it convincing? Can the appearance of a younger perhaps more plastic looking Robert Downey Jr. on screen create a jarring effect on audiences? On the one hand, it allows a seamless transition from scene to scene instead of employing Robert Downey Jr. or Ian McKellan lookalikes. Alternatively, the process stumps the opportunity for blockbusters to feature new up-and-coming talent. Although utilising new talent in a five-minute scene is hardly enough exposure to launch a new career, it is in these moments of exposure that aspiring actors can build their reputations.

Flashback scenes only offer short spurts of screen time for new actors portraying a character’s younger self, but sustained performances in The Irishman offer a far more exciting opportunity. De Niro, unquestionably a silver screen legend, portrays hitman Frank Sheeran as he rises the ranks of a Pennsylvanian crime family. Although this is a great challenge to an aging De Niro, and if the critics are to be believed, a challenge he excels at, the feature could have been an exciting opportunity for new talent to take up the charge. More established names undoubtedly give a film gravitas, boosting box office sales and notoriety. So, it would make sense that having on screen legends star in the entire film as a character ages would be an intriguing and exciting prospect. Unfortunately, this theory has not come to fruition with Will Smith’s Gemini Man garnering average reviews and disappointing box office sales. It doesn’t appear that this thrilling technology is translating into critical and commercial success.

De-aging in film could fast become a sci-fi gimmick, denying new talent exposure and creating box office flops if it does not seamlessly translate into other genres. It is on the shoulders of The Irishman and De Niro to prove that the technology is not purely a device to rehash old talent for nostalgia’s sake.

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