The resurrection of James Dean
In 2013, Oscar nominated animator Ari Folman’s little-seen but ambitious film, The Congress, told the story of an ageing actress whose likeness was bought by a studio exec so they could continue to use her image in anyway they pleased after she was dead. Robin Wright was the actress in question convinced by the Weinstein-esque exec (played by Danny Huston) that being digitally recreated would set her up financially for life and create a long-lasting legacy. At least she had the option to say no.
It’s worth recalling Folman’s film on a day when it was announced that James Dean is set to return to our screens - in CGI form. As iconic as they were, Dean only starred in three films before dying in a car crash at the age of 24 in 1955. Almost 65 years later and Dean’s family are allowing production house Magic City Films to use his image in an upcoming Vietnam drama directed by Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh.
The aim is to recreate a “realistic version” of Dean in this adaptation of Gareth Crocker’s war novel Finding Jack. Apparently Ernst “searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean.” In an age where there are probably more working actors than ever before, that’s quite a statement to make.
As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, Ernst went on: “We feel very honored that his family supports us and 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."
Finding Jack will be a live action drama, although this isn’t the first time a famous actor has been digitally recreated, with a young Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing unconvincingly used in Star Wars spin-off Rogue One a few years ago. Of course, the technology has continued to evolve since then, with use of de-ageing software appearing in numerous Marvel films as well as Scorsese’s soon-to-be-released The Irishman. Those with longer memories may also recall the use of Laurence Olivier in the 2004 film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. When taking all this into consideration it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the natural next step, as unsettling and unethical as it may appear to be.
CMG Worldwide represents Dean’s family as well as the likes of Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Ingrid Bergman, Neil Armstrong, Bette Davis and Jack Lemmon - who are amongst 1,700 historical celebrities and personalities also on their books. CEO Mark Roesler said “This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.”
If this proves to be a success, it could be looked back upon as the moment that changed film as we know it. Production on Finding Jack starts on November 17 of this year, with a planned release date of November 11, 2020.