Poll: Should Hollywood Digitally Resurrect Deceased Actors?

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’.

How Do You Feel About Hollywood Digitally Resurrecting Deceased Actors?

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  1. cardpetree

    I voted “I say go for it” but think there should be like a “Meh, I don’t really care if they do or don’t option”. Doesn’t bother me either way. I thought both CGI characters were fine but I wouldn’t have gone crazy if they used a real life look alike actor for Tarkin.

  2. HuskerGuy

    I went with Making an old actor look young again (like Michael Douglas in ‘Ant-Man’) is OK, but bringing a dead one back crosses a line.

    If the actor themselves is alive and consents to it then whatever. When an actor is dead though, that shit should be off limits, regardless of what their heirs might say or consent to. Only exception would be if the actor allowed certain roles in their will or something.

  3. hammerhorror

    Cushing’s estate gave their permission so I can’t see any moral dilemma in this case. Take it on a case by case basis.

  4. Bolo

    I wonder if people would feel different about it if it were physical makeup? Like if you put facial prosthetics on another actor’s face to make them look like the other guy, would it still be an ethical concern?

    As an artistic choice, I can justify it in cases like the last ‘Fast & Furious’ movie where Paul Walker died with his work on the film half complete. Otherwise, I think recasting is part of what keeps characters fresh. Letting new actors bring their own spin to characters feels more natural than having them do an impression of another guy.

    • Josh Zyber

      That’s a weird gray area. Everyone seems to be OK with it when an actor wears heavy makeup or prosthetics to play a famous person (even another actor) in a bio-pic. I think the difference is that we know who’s really giving the performance there, whereas in a case like this we’re supposed to believe that Peter Cushing himself is doing the acting.

      • I don’t think they were actually trying to fool people into thinking it was Cushing himself. But that’s such an iconic role, and it’s not like the Star Trek reboot where you have a whole cast playing the same characters in major roles across multiple movies.

      • DarkMonk

        If they don’t have permission to use that person’s likeness, it is clearly out of bounds.
        Crispin Glover sued and won over Zemeckis and Co. using his likeness without his consent in the Back To The Future sequels that he opted out of.

    • Pedram

      Isn’t that what they did to make Tarkin appear in Episode III? People didn’t seem to complain about that. But then again, we wasn’t made up to look exactly like Cushing.

  5. charles contreras

    It’s bad enough when Hollywood can’t come up with original ideas for movies by doing remakes, but bringing back the dead for one more performance? Someone needs to take a stand!

  6. Csm101

    I went with case by case basis. In theory, it doesn’t sound or seem creepy or unethical, but I haven’t seen the movie yet and maybe I’d feel differently if I saw it. I look at it as an exercise in pushing the limits of new or improved technology. Kind of like the added scenes in E.T. and the added scenes in Star Wars. Just because they could, they did, but when they got it out of their system,( at least Spielberg did) it’ll lose its novelty and it won’t be so overused. For now it seems kind of neat.

  7. William Henley

    I am going for the “case by case” basis. I think it depends on how it is being used. If an actor dies in the middle of filming, then that should be fine if you have a few scenes to finish or do reshoots on. If you are making a reference (like the characters are watching old archival footage) from a previous story in the series, and they need new shots or angles, that should be fine. Using it to make an old actor look young (like Terminator Genesys) should be fine. If you are going back into a previous timeline (Back to the Future 2, Rogue One, Doctor Who, etc), that should be fine. However, I think it becomes an issue when you are doing something completely new. If you wanted to shoot a whole new family comedy, and wanted a six year old Shirley Temple in the main role, that wouldn’t be cool.

    What is a scary thought is what will happen when the porn industry get’s their hands on this technology, or when it becomes cheap and easy enough to use at home. Look at what happened when Photo Editing software became easy enough for home users to use it.

    Random thought – if someone DID give their consent, what would you think about digitally changing an actor who was a child actor or someone else into them? For example, Drew Berrymore again at 4 years old in an ET sequel, Kurt Russel as a teenager, Dakota Fanning in The Cat In The Hat Returns or Charlotte’s Web 2, another Olsen Twins movie where they are 8 years old again, Brooke Shields as a teenager again, a Saved By The Bell movie with the original casts, but they are all in middle school or high school again?

  8. Case by case… The Tarkin recreation was solid except a few scenes came off a little too Polar Express for me and the first scene his nose was really weird. My big problem was the one I can’t comment on because spoiler alert. I think that one could have been handled by not even showing the character. It was so short and the animation so awful that just shooting from a different angle and using a voice to let people know who it was would have worked.

  9. Definitely case by case for me. For example, using a CGI Paul Walker to complete his role in FF7? I’m fine with. Using doubles & CGI Walker to have him in FF8? No. Nor would I have been ok with them using a CGI Richard Harris to continue on as Dumbledore for all of the Harry Potter movies after the real Richard Harris died. It would’ve been too much. “Resurrecting” Jack Lord for that scene in the latest season premiere of Hawaii Five-0? That was fitting, and a nice tribute to both the actor and the character he played. But if a filmmaker comes along and decides he wants Casablanca-era Peter Lorre playing a significant role in his new movie? Nope, sorry. Find yourself a guy who can do a good Peter Lorre impression, Lord knows there are plenty of them out there.

  10. EM

    I didn’t have a problem with it when Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow resurrected Laurence Olivier for a cameo. But then, Olivier’s “role” was as a low-fi archival recording…it wasn’t meant to look like a living, breathing character.

    I once called The Adventures of Tintin “the most terrifying film of 2011” because of the implications of its CGI wonders. Ethical questions anent recasting dead actors pale in comparison to the uses to which this technology will be used by governments, by terrorists, by criminals of many stripes—the implications are staggering.

  11. Plissken99

    I’m really torn on this.. because Tarkin turned out really well. I agree it’d have to be a case by case basis.

    Just imagine new Bruce Lee movies! On the other hand it wouldn’t be him, just a computers facsimile.

  12. Thulsadoom

    I’m going to go with a case by case basis. If it’s just done without consideration, then we could end up with a whole load of films starring dead actors who would never have wanted to do a particular role.

    In the case of Rogue One, however, it felt to me like here’s a story where the absence of the Tarkin would be wrong, given his distinctive and memorable character, as portrayed by Cushing. However, simply having a lookalike or having him off screen would not do him justice.

    It’s basically saying: “He needs to be in this, but he’s too iconic to merely replace or relegate to off-screen status, so we just did the best we could.” As such, it could be considered quite a tribute. He’s just to great to replace or ignore. 🙂

  13. DarkMonk

    I know that I will forever be disgusted by the use of CGI assisted Fred Astaire to sell vacuum cleaners.
    That was straight- up disgusting disrespect.

  14. Haha, darn, I had avoided all ‘Rogue One’ spoilers, news articles and even trailers in order to be completely surprised, so this post was still a major spoiler/shock for me 🙂 I’m still a rabid ‘Star Wars’ fan, but I haven’t seen ‘Rogue One’. It’s a tradition since ‘Episode I’ to see Star Wars movies with a few friends, but it’s hard to find a moment where everyone has the time to go to the cinema.

  15. agentalbert

    The Cushing scenes in Rogue One looked too much like video game cut-scenes to me. It was well done, but not well enough. I’d have rather they just re-cat the actor. Same with Princess Leia’s brief appearance at the end.

  16. I didn’t think that the CGI work on Peter Cushing’s role was bad, so it didn’t distract me in that way. I’m fine with the digital facelift for living actors in limited scenes as the one later in the movie (and others). I’m still not sure I liked having a complete digital rendering of a long-deceased actor with so much screen time, though. It’s kind of creepy.

    Another thing that makes it so odd for this movie, too, is that you have Caroline Blakiston’s Mon Mothma that was recast and it worked just fine. Why was it so important to have a CGI Tarkin in there? That disconnect kind of drives me nuts.

    • Out of curiosity I decided to look up who played and voiced this digital Cushing/Tarkin, which was Guy Henry for those who were also unaware. I’m left further bewildered by why Henry couldn’t just play the role outright as a recast. He looks great for the role and obviously had no problem with voice and mannerisms. Seems such an odd and unnecessary choice.

  17. Charles M

    They did recast eh role. It wasn’t all digital. They hired a real actor and digitally remade him. Ir’s basically digital makeup. Personally, I don’t see the problem as it’s no different than hiring a lookalike making him up more like the actor.

    And it’s not like they had Cushing doing anything all that different. They didn’t put him in a completely different movie that’s R rated or something. They simply reused the character. The character does not belong to actors,

      • Al

        They’ll have to either kill her off, in VIII, or have her be 100% digital, in IX. My understanding is that she was supposed to be a part of the entire trilogy.

        • They need to re-think about killing Luke off now. He was almost certain to die in the final chapter of the new trilogy – but I can’t imagine them taking away all three of our heroes at this point.

          It’s always possible they’ll do some re-shoots on VIII to close out her character’s story. It’s equally possible they’ll keep her alive in the movies and just have a couple of digital shots in IX and refer to her primarily off-screen. But it seems more of an honor to Carrie to have the characters deal with Leia’s death – I never liked what the Fast and Furious franchise did with Paul Walker’s character.

      • Chapz Kilud

        Yeah, I was referring to episode 9 because they didn’t kill her character off in finished episode 8. Most likely she will be need even if for a small role in episode 9.

        I do agree with Shannon that at this point killing off Luke would not be crowd pleasing, more so than killing Han Solo which I still believe was stupid and served nothing but copying Vader killing Obi-Wan. I don’t know what they will do with Kylo Ren. Assuming Kylo Ren will be dead in the end, the death of Luke will end the Skywalker bloodline, and possibly the jedi.

        It’s tough. If they didn’t do such a shabby work on episode 7 then they’d have more options right now. Killing Han Solo was a bigger mistake with Carrie Fisher’s death.

  18. Jon

    I voted for case by case but I think the technology for a truly photorealistic recreation isn’t there yet. Even if someone didn’t know who Peter Cushing was (or the fact that he’s dead) I still think they’d notice that something just wasn’t quite right about Tarkin in Rogue One. It had dead eyes and odd lip movements, plus a slightly jerky motion whenever he moved quickly. It was just enough to throw him to the very bottom of the Uncanny Valley. The cameo at the end was even more glaringly fake. I get why they keep experimenting with these CGI recreations (it’s uncharted territory, so why not) but I just wish at some point someone would look at the progress and make a judgement call on whether it’s working or not. In the case of Tarkin it clearly wasn’t working.

    On a side note I get why Tarkin the character was in the movie, but the cameo at the end was wasted. Why such an important character was in that location without so much as a mention prior to their sudden appearance in the last fifteen seconds was pretty lame.

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