Hammer Films horror icon and Christopher Lee foil Peter Cushing died in 1994 from prostate cancer. That couldn’t stop the makers of the latest “Star Wars” movie from bringing his image back from the grave. The gaunt-faced British actor—an early “Doctor Who”!—played Grand Moff Tarkin in the original “Star Wars,” a bad guy, Cushing’s specialty. Since “Rogue One,” the current addition to the series, is a prequel, Tarkin is alive again (he went down with the Death Star in Episode IV). Instead of recasting the part, the producers decided to recreate Tarkin/Cushing using CGI technology. Lucasfilm-owned digital effects house Industrial Light & Magic reanimated Cushing’s likeness so that a recognizable Tarkin could make a convincing appearance in “Rogue One.” The results are not perfect, but it is still one step closer to allowing future movies to cast avatars of long dead stars to interact seamlessly with live performers.
We have recently seen actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jeff Bridges and Anthony Hopkins digitally youthened, but forcing a dead actor’s image to perform is a different matter entirely. The use of computer animated images of dead performers to do the bidding of their director masters evokes memories of “Looker,” a science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton of “Jurassic Park” and “Westworld” fame. In that 1981 movie, a corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use the new cyber-models to do and say anything more effectively and attractively than the models themselves in television ads. Then the company had the models killed—less residuals that way.
The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images. No porn films, for example. No uses of an actor in a role he would have never agreed to playing while alive. Don’t make John Wayne shoot someone in the back. Don’t show Fred Astaire as clumsy on his feet; don’t make Jimmy Cagney a weenie.
Allowing another actor to use a dead one’s face and body, like Andy Serkis wore his cyber King King suit, is a closer call. If it is clear that the dead actor isn’t the one doing the acting, and that digital technology is being used as the equivalent of make-up, maybe that practice is just icky rather than unethical, provided the credits are clear.To make Cushing’s Tarkin live again on screen, “Rogue One’s “film-makers hired Guy Henry, a 56-year-old British actor who resembles Cushing. Henry played the part of Tarkin on the set, then the tech wizards transformed him into a Cushing clone.
“It was a massive thing for him, it was very gracious of him, because essentially he’s doing this big performance and getting zero credit for it,” “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards told the media. “He was going to be totally replaced, and then had to keep it all secret. So, um, that was a big ask.”
So, um, it was also unethical. That wasn’t really Cushing, and since he can’t protect himself or control his performance, the audience should be led to think it is Cushing. The credits should read: “Guy Henry as Grand Moff Tarkin as originally portrayed by the late Peter Cushing.“
After all, there are going to be idiots like writer Rob Taylor watching. He wrote,
Some fans may debate the quality of recreating Cushing through the use of CGI, the animators nailed the performance. It is quite simply as good as Cushing’s work in the first installment or any film he made before it. Older fans will be thrilled that not only is Tarkin back, but he is as ruthless and evil as they remember and it’s the Peter Cushing they remember as well…For the first time in history, it could be argued that a deceased actor should be able to be considered for an Academy Award decades after his death, or at least certainly forwards the idea of a “Best Animated Actor” nomination.
If you thought Andy Serkis deserved one for his work on the Apes franchise, then Cushing really deserves one for Rogue One.
No, Rob. You see, Andy Sirkus is alive, and actually performed in the “Planet of the Apes” movies, as he did in the “Lord of the Rings ” trilogy and “King Kong.” Peter Cushing had nothing to so with the performance of Tarkin in “Rogue One.” He was dead. It was the CGI animators, or actor Henry, but not Cushing. And if we can decide that this kind of post-death performance is a credit to a dead man, we can also blame the dead man when his cyber masters make him look like a hack.
This is, ultimately, a simple Golden Rule exercise. Would you, without your consent, want a computer-generated clone bearing your name being used in mass entertainment, with no limits on what it might be made to say or do—forever?
Not Audrey Hepburn
And, I bet, not even Peter Cushing.
Pointer: Tim Maher