Performances from the Uncanny Valley.
If you saw Rogue One last weekend, you glimpsed what may be the future of posthumous performances. Despite the fact that Grand Moff Tarkin’s portrayer, Peter Cushing, died 22 years ago, the character appears in several scenes, resurrected by the visual effects wizards at Industrial Light and Magic. This is not an instance of archival footage being repurposed. An actor’s likeness has been used to build a new performance with his face and an imitation of his voice.
The effect is not entirely convincing, not with Tarkin and not with a CGI Princess Leia face that also appears at the end of the film. Similar efforts in Tron: Legacy and Furious 7 also fell into the same uncanny valley – looking almost human, but off by just enough to be unsettling. The motivations in those other cases was different than in Rogue One. Furious 7’s CGI resurrection was born of the necessity of completing the film following the tragic death of Paul Walker. It also allowed his character to be retired with dignity as a tribute to Walker. Tron: Legacy’s VFX were done to de-age Jeff Bridges, but he still was giving the performance that informed that computer work.
With regard to Rogue One, the film could have easily reduced Tarkin’s on-screen role without much impact to the story being told. Instead, a conscious choice was made that this was the way to go. Let’s put aside the legal issues, because in this case, Lucasfilm involved the Cushing estate and got their approval. It might be fascinating to debate the ethical issues, specifically in terms of how actors may wish to protect themselves and their likenesses from being revived even with the consent of their estate. Robin Williams was just one forward-thinking actor who mandated that his image and outtakes not be used in service of a new performance for 25 years after his death.
But what fun is all that? Let someone else wring their hands over the ethics and let’s talk about some of the great films that could be headlined by ILM’s resurrected players.
A new Christopher Reeve Superman movie – Let’s get down to brass tacks. Christopher Reeve isn’t just the gold standard for Superman, he’s the only actor to appear in two GREAT Superman films. (If we count both cuts of Superman II, we can bump that up to three.) I loved Brandon Routh in Superman Returns, and Henry Cavill is a pretty good Superman who wasn’t well-served by his most recent film. So why not bring back the original film Superman for the swansong his incarnation of the character truly deserves? Picture if you will, some version of Kingdom Come with Reeve heading up the cast as an aged, disillusioned Superman. Or perhaps we could indulge in some sort of Crisis on Infinite Earths film that brings together the Reeve, Routh and Cavill incarnations. I’m sure any ethical qualms could be pushed out of your mind once you see Reeve soar once more to the strains of John Williams.
Ocean’s 22 – The hook: Danny Ocean and friends find their plan to rob five casinos in one night complicated by a second group of hoods attempting the same scheme… with this bunch being made up of the original Rat Pack. Frank, Dean, Sammy, and I guess Joey Bishop, all sharing screentime with Clooney and his buds. If they make this fast enough, Billy Crystal can provide the performance reference for Sammy Davis, Jr.
John Wayne, Clayton Moore, DeForest Kelley and Marilyn Monroe in Another Quentin Tarantino Western — Tarantino’s proven himself a career-necromancer for the likes of John Travolta and Robert Forester. There’s little challenge left for him in reviving a dead career. So let’s see him pull that off with a pack of dead actors. His most recent films expose a love of westerns, so the most iconic Western actor, John Wayne, must be a part of the cast. With no limits on his pop culture inspired quirky casting, former Lone Ranger Clayton Moore and Western-heavy-before-he-was-Dr-McCoy DeForest Kelley seem like natural additions. And in the role of his latest badass female leads – Marilyn Monroe as a saloon girl who’s as savvy with a shotgun as the rest of the gang.
Robert Shaw in The USS Indianapolis – The only way a Jaws prequel would be worth telling – with the original Quint living through the events that make up the spellbinding story he tells over drinks on the eve of his death. “Eleven hundred men went into the water, 316 men come out. Sharks took the rest. June the 29th, 1945.”
Audrey Hepburn as Mrs. Seth Rogen – I’m picturing a Seth Rogen movie along the lines of Neighbors. Maybe Rogen is playing a college professor who’s just started teaching at his old school. He’s convinced his wife, Hepburn, that he’s the cultured, straight-laced guy she met in grad school, but the inner party animal starts coming out once he’s back on his own stomping grounds. Hepburn originally presents as the killjoy, but is soon revealed to have her own repressed wildside in this comedy about growing up without getting mature.
Mickey Rooney and Corey Haim – Two of the most infamous child stars of all time come together in the buddy comedy Bad Boyz, about two delinquent urchins sent off to a school for troubled boys. There, they terrorize an idealistic professor (Anthony Perkins) who just wants to inspire students to think for themselves and find themselves the target of a vampire cult whose leader is played by Bela Lugosi.
Star Trek vs Star Trek – Okay, this is a cheat because four members of The Original Series cast are still alive, but visually the set dressing disappearing bite by bite as sixties-era William Shatner’s Kirk shared the screen with Chris Pine’s Kirk. Thrill to a strapping young George Takei in a fencing duel with John Cho! See Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura challenge Zoe Saldana’s incarnation to a fan dance! (Okay, maybe not that last one.) I can feel you rolling your eyes at this one, but make peace with it because of all the possibilities on this list, this feels like the one we’re going to eventually get.
Have more dream projects? Sound off in the comments!