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. Continue reading