In a surprising piece of news, a movie starring James Dean–who died 65 years ago–was announced earlier this week. The Vietnam War-era movie, Finding Jack, is to feature Dean in a leading role, with his performance supplied through digital recreation. The movie generated a lot of debate and discussion after its announcement, with leading actors and other people from Hollywood speaking out to slam the idea of bringing Dean back from the dead in this way.
The directors of the movie, Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, have now responded to the controversy. Ernst told The Hollywood Reporter that he was “saddened” and “confused” by the backlash, adding that he and Golykh want to make a movie that is respectful to Dean’s life.
“We never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick,” Ernst said.
The avatar of Dean will play the character Rogan, who is a second lead character opposite an American soldier, Fletcher. The story, which is adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name, is about the bond between man and dog, with the Vietnam War serving as the anchor of the story. Thousands of military dogs were either euthanized or left behind at the end of the Vietnam War. The main character, Fletcher, travels into Vietnam to save some of them.
Ernst and Golykh held auditions for the character Rogan, but they decided Dean was a better fit than anyone they tested.
The movie is the first from Magic City Films; the company secured the rights to digitally recreate Dean from his living family. Ernst said Dean’s estate has been “supportive” of plans for the movie. The estate already approved the usage of Dean’s name and likenesses for ad campaigns for Dolce & Gabana, H&M, and Jose Cuervo.
“We will take every precaution to ensure that his legacy as one of the most epic film stars to date is kept firmly intact,” Ernst said.
Dean’s likeness will be recreated digitally using “full body” CGI based on old footage and photos; another actor will voice him.
Dean is best known for the movies Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden. He was one of the biggest movie stars of the early ’50s, but was killed in September 1955 when he crashed his car while travelling to a racing event in California.
Captain America actor Chris Evans said the new movie is in poor taste. “This is awful,” he said on Twitter after the film was announced. “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.”
Singer and actress Bette Midler sounded off on the news as well, saying, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you things have gotten more difficult for white guys in Hollywood. Even dead ones can still get a job.”
Zelda Williams, the daughter of the late Robin Williams, said in her own tweet that making a movie with a digital version of James Dean is like “puppeterring the dead for their ‘clout’ alone and it sets such an awful precedent for the future of performance.”
The company CMG Worldwide represents Dean’s estate, as well as the estates of other deceased actors and celebrities. The company’s CEO, Mark Roesler, said in a news release that the new movie “opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.”
The CMG Worldwide website lists a number of famous deceased people as clients, including Chuck Berry, Jackie Robinson, Christopher Reeve, Burt Reynolds, Andre the Giant, Amelia Earhart, and Aaliyah.
Finding Jack is scheduled to hit theatres on November 11, 2020, which is Veterans’ Day in America. The script was written by Mari Sova, and Oscar-nominated musician Diane Warren wrote a new song for the movie.
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