One of the more controversial artistic choices made in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ was to bring back the ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ character of Grand Moff Tarkin by digitally painting the face of original actor Peter Cushing (who died in 1994) onto a new body double. Do you find this to be an interesting use of modern technology, or an unethical desecration of a deceased person’s likeness?
Before writing this post, I debated whether the topic constituted a plot spoiler for the movie in case readers haven’t seen it yet. However, I think the information is widely enough known at this point. Personally, I haven’t gotten out to the theater, yet I’ve seen plenty of discussion of this all over my social media feed. I also don’t think that Tarkin’s presence in the film is meant to be a shocking plot twist, nor will knowledge of it alter anyone’s enjoyment of the movie. If I’m wrong about that, I apologize, but I also think you’ll get over it. Frankly, I feel certain that most rabid ‘Star Wars’ fans have already seen ‘Rogue One’ by now anyway. (Unfortunately, I stopped being a rabid ‘Star Wars’ fan on January 31st, 1997.)
Back to the original question, this is not the first time that Hollywood has digitally resurrected an old star, but it is the first time one of these characters has been given such a prominent screen role. One the one hand, I think this is certainly a more legitimate use of the technology than, say, making Audrey Hepburn’s ghost shill for chocolate in a TV commercial. On the other hand, I feel very uneasy about the fact that Peter Cushing never consented to allow his likeness to be used this way (even if those who currently control his estate have).
I’ve heard a wide range of opinions about the quality of the effect in the film, from “I didn’t even notice anything strange there” to “It’s an unholy CGI nightmare.” Until I see the movie, I can’t comment on that. Regardless of whether it’s truly convincing or not at this stage, the technology will eventually get to the point where viewers can’t tell a real actor from a computer-generated recreation of one. The question here is, even if it can be made totally seamless and realistic, should filmmakers toy with a dead actor’s image this way?
My inclination is that I’d rather they simply recast the role with a new actor. Audiences will understand. When Richard Harris passed away after the second ‘Harry Potter’ movie, Michael Gambon took over the role and that worked out fine. I doubt that anyone would have raised a fuss if a new actor with a passing resemblance to Cushing had played Tarkin in ‘Rogue One’.