Entertainment Movies James Dean’s reanimation opens the door for other legendary screen returns
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James Dean’s reanimation opens the door for other legendary screen returns

Elizabeth Taylor James Dean
James Dean with Elizabeth Taylor, his co-star in 1956's Giant, completed after his death. Photo: Warner Bros
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The showbiz industry has predictably reacted with horror at the prospect of James Dean, who died in 1955, being magically reanimated via CGI for the Vietnam War movie Finding Jack.

I say, bring it on.

The main issue appears to be that Dean, or any other dead celebrity, would be having their image manipulated for ‘creative’ purposes to fuel a process over which they have no input and certainly have provided no consent.

But the fact that we have arrived at this crossroads shouldn’t surprise.

Reanimating dead politicians for entertainment purposes has been industry practice since as far back as 1983’s Zelig, when Woody Allen used footage of an annoyed looking Adolf Hitler distracted by Leonard Zelig’s attempts to signal Mia Farrow during a Nazi rally.

In 1994, Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump chatting with LBJ and telling JFK “I gotta pee” was a whimsical way to extract a sense of awe and wonder from advances in film technology.

At least these examples were fashioned in a way more or less respectful of the historical legacy of the real people involved, Hitler aside.

Things have ramped up recently with the digital exhumation of Peter Cushing to resume his role of Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, the late Carrie Fisher’s continued appearance in the final Star Wars trilogy and the de-aging of Robert De Niro for The Irishman.

So here we are now with one of the great screen icons being considered for a role alongside a military dog.

The critical difference from Forrest Gump or Star Wars is Dean’s image won’t be linked to a previous role or existing footage. It will not be a case of Rebel Without a Cause’s Jim Stark screaming into a radio during the siege of Khe Sanh, ‘You’re tearing me apaaart!’

I read about plans for Dean’s fourth film with more curiosity than fury. Here was an opportunity to contextualize celebrities from another time with what we now know about them.

Doris Day Rock Hudson
Matinee idol Rock Hudson with Doris Day in 1959’s PIllow Talk. Photo: Universal PIctures

Think of someone like Rock Hudson, who took role after leading he-man role while hiding his gay lifestyle before succumbing to AIDS in 1985.

What if his image from 1959’s Pillow Talk could be repurposed as George, alongside Margot Robbie in a continuation of My Best Friend’s Wedding?

Or as Armand in a remake of The Birdcage opposite Billy Eichner’s Albert and William Hurt’s Senator Keeley?

Wouldn’t that go some way toward addressing one of Hollywood’s ongoing historical wrongs, insisting gay actors stay in the closet to protect their careers?

Maybe, but for every liberation of a Rock Hudson there would be conservative political advertising using a reanimated John Wayne drawling, ‘Make America great again, pilgrim!’

John Wayne
Imagine John Wayne (in 1969’s True Grit) saddling up again. Photo: Paramount Pictures

It’s an undeniable risk, but I would be first in line to see a Die Hard origin story with the Duke as John McClane senior verbally sparring with a digitally de-aged Bruce Willis.

Tell me you wouldn’t be intrigued to see a squadron of stars cut down in their prime get a second chance to tread the boards through a digital upgrade.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, what if 9 to 5 were remade with Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood and Whitney Houston turning the tables on their chauvinist pig boss John Belushi?

Dare to dream, although I doubt we’ll see Quentin Tarantino cast Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Hunting the Golden State Killer any time soon.

The debate may all be moot anyway.

I suspect the film serving as a lightning rod for this angst will almost certainly never get made, as Finding Jack’s producers appear to be the kind of outfit who operate out of the back of an abandoned Video Ezy outlet.

Nothing captures Hollywood better than Oscar Wilde’s quote ‘we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.’

Isn’t the legend that light travels such vast distances the stars we see now are already dead? Perhaps that’s not true, but with digital advances it soon might be.

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