It’s fair to say that actors are used to sought-after roles going to famous movie stars, but it’s probably a surprise to hear about a desirable part going to an iconic star who’s been deceased for over six decades. Talk about competition! But such is the case with the upcoming film Finding Jack—an action drama which is set to co-star none other than the Rebel Without a Cause actor James Dean. 

Computer-generated images of 1950’s actor will be created by projecting a combination of old footage and photos of the star onto stand-ins while another actor will lend his voice to the CGI Dean. Finding Jack is an adaptation of Gareth Crocker’s novel of the same name, based on accounts of the abandonment of over 10,000 canine units when the Vietnam War ended. The story explores a US soldier who nurses a wounded yellow labrador back to health while serving in the war. The CGI Dean will play a secondary character named Rogan.

The filmmakers and the production company Magic City Films acquired the rights to Dean’s image from his family. Mark Roesler, chairman of CMG Worldwide which represents Dean’s family, said, “James Dean was known as Hollywood’s ‘rebel’ and he famously said, ‘If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live after he’s died, then maybe he was a great man. Immortality is the only true success.”

Casting the legendary actor was not a last-minute decision for the filmmakers. Indeed, co-director Anton Ernst said, “We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan. After months of research, we decided on James Dean.” He tried to assure James Dean fans, saying he intends to keep Dean’s “legacy firmly intact.” “We feel very honoured that his family supports us. The family views this as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make. We do not intend to let his fans down,” he said.

But the news of Dean being “resurrected” for the Finding Jack role sparked an online outcry. The Captain America actor Chris Evans tweeted: “This is awful. Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes. The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.”

Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood simply tweeted, “NOPE” upon hearing the news. 

And Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late actor and comedian Robin Williams, insisted the producers were “puppeteering the dead.” After losing her dad five years ago, she had a lot to say on the topic. “It sets such an awful precedent for the future of performance. We should let the great performers of the past rest, ” she tweeted, and then adding: “It’s unfair to newcomers, it’s unfair to audiences hoping to emotionally connect to performances, it’s unfair to established actors, and to makeup artists capable of amazing transformations.” 

With Hollywood’s many advancements in digital technology, living actors are now faced with the option of signing away their likeness after death. Certainly, the use of computer-generated images of actors who’ve died is occurring more and more often. Hollywood used CGI with Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing when creating Star Wars movies; their images were digitally manipulated after their death to supplement the work they’d already started while alive. Another use for CGI is to erase decades from older actors. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, for example, appeared as younger versions of themselves in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman thanks to the new technology. 

James Dean died at the age of 24 after a car crash. He’s the only actor to have received two posthumous Oscar nominations (both for Best Actor)—one for his performance in the 1955 film East of Eden and the other for Giant the subsequent year. Finding Jack is being described as his fourth film. It’s scheduled for release on Veteran’s Day 2020.

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