Movies & TV / Columns

Thoughts on The James Dean/CGI Actor Controversy 

November 11, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
James Dean Rebel Without a Cause

With so much news, rumors, reboots, relaunches, and sequel news coming out daily, news tidbits can fly under the radar. Like the casting of James Dean in the upcoming Vietnam-era drama Finding Jack.

You might think this sort of thing would be impossible since Dean died nearly seven decades ago in a car crash at the age of 24 but this is Hollywood and technology is opening doors that were once unimaginable. Canadian VFX banner Imagine Engine will be working alongside South African VFX company MOI Worldwide to re-create Dean and he will be constructed via “full body” CGI using archival footage and photos, while another actor will voice him.

Director Anton Ernst, who along with co-director Tati Golykh announced last week that Finding Jack will feature the late actor, not in a cameo role, but as a prominent character. The movie follows American soldier, Fletcher, who, after losing his wife, travels to Vietnam and befriends a war dog that saves his life. Dean will play a secondary lead in the film named Rogan. 

Understandably the reaction has been largely negative. “We don’t really understand it. We never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick,” Ernst told The Hollywood Reporter in response to the backlash. 

While looking to cast an actor to play Rogan, Ernst said he and his co-director auditioned live actors but decided Dean was the right fit for the role, as Rogan is a “very brilliant, complex character” which is “pretty much how James Dean was perceived.” “We 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,” Ernst told THR. 

I find it hard to believe they couldn’t find anyone else that would be able to bring justice to the role but that’s besides the point.

They obtained the rights to use Dean’s image from his living relatives, saying that Dean’s estate, which is run by two cousins on the late actor’s father’s side, has been “supportive” of the film and believes they would not have expected such a backlash to occur. “I think they would have wanted their family member’s legacy to live on. That’s what we’ve done here as well. We’ve brought a whole new generation of filmgoers to be aware of James Dean,” said Ernst.  

Actor Chris Evans criticized the decision as “shameful” and Zelda Williams, whose late father Robin Williams wisely placed a restriction on exploiting his image for 25 years following his death, expressed her disdain over the choice. “It sets such an awful precedent for the future of performance,” she wrote on Twitter. 

Dylan Sprouse tweeted, “Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide says in addition to other famous, deceased personalities; the film “opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.” TO BE READ AS: “Found a new way to rob  graves of dead icons and milk the masses for less!””

This should be filed under: Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should. While it might seem grand that we’re able to bring back actors no longer alive, it’s an affront to the acting profession. You can tell people that’s James Dean on the screen but it’s nothing more than a computer generated copy, with no spirit of soul to convey emotion. Once the door is open, it can’t be closed and will be only a matter of time before damage is done to reputations and respecting an actors “living work”. 

What are your thoughts on the casting of James Dean?