James Dean has been dead for over 64 years, but in early November, it was publicized that he had just been cast in a new Vietnam War movie, Finding Jack. The filmmakers are planning to recreate his likeness using computer-generated imagery (CGI) of the deceased actor who died in a car accident at the age of 24 in September of 1955.
Dean’s acting career was tragically cut short by his death, and he only ever acted in three movies. News of him co-starring in a new film has sparked a backlash from the public. Many people have expressed their disapproval of the decision to “resurrect” the legendary actor, including actors such as Chris Evans.
The filmmakers and production company, Magic City Films, have acquired the rights to Dean’s likeness through CMG Worldwide. The company represents Dean’s estate, along with the intellectual property rights associated with many other deceased actors and performers.
It makes sense that Dean’s estate would allow this CGI re-creation; they would make money from the revenue this movie produces. It’s likely that Dean’s estate, mainly composed of lawyers that didn’t even know Dean himself, are making this decision out of greed.
This might make more sense if Dean’s computer-generated self was playing himself in the movie, but he’s not, he’s playing a part.
The filmmakers justified using his likeness by saying that they searched for an actor for a long time that would fit the role, but couldn’t find one and somehow decided that James Dean would be perfect for the part. But the thing is, it’s not James Dean, it’s a different actor with sensors on them, computer-generated to look like the late icon. The filmmakers have likely never even met Dean, seeing as he died in 1955, so how would they know if he’s right for the part? Moreover, how do they know he would want the part?
Choosing a specific script is an entirely personal decision that an actor makes. There’s no way for us to know whether or not Dean would have chosen this script, no matter the speculation from his estate that he might have. This not only dishonors his memory but turns his art and famously “rebel of Hollywood” personality into something that is curated and controlled, completely stripping Dean of his charm and voice. It’s a gross misinterpretation of the artistry that goes into a film.
There is also a danger in opening up the option of CGI acting because it has the potential to put real actors out of work. If they can computer generate more famous actors, why would production companies bother trying to scout new talent or hire less popular ones? This could threaten the entire career of acting because it makes it seem as though it’s okay to use technology to recreate performances, putting the concept of ownership into question.
Consequently, this betrays the art of filmmaking, the audience, and show business as a whole. By “resurrecting” the late James Dean, we open up a much too controversial and problematic discussion about technology’s involvement in cinema.
There are far too many talented actors, discovered or not, to fill these roles. It is just irresponsible to use a CGI James Dean. We do not need computers to play parts for us.