Should stars of the past stay in the past?
Recent news told us that tapes of Orson Welles telling a children's story have been unearthed and are being used to make a new animated film, narrated by the great talent himself, who died in 1985. While that's only set to bring back his voice, it's long been touted that actors images could be brought back by computer and used to make a brand new film, long after their death. So far it's never happened, but it's close.
There have been a few cases of old stars being raised by computer, but we've only really seen screen legends being brought back for television advertising, something that feels much cheaper and demeaning to their image than a film.
Should actors be brought back to life for films? Are there circumstances where it could be the right thing to do, and if they do, who manages or protects them?
As far as I know there have only really been two cases of bringing an actor back to life for a film, one was minor and was to complete the film they were already filming when they died, and the other was a fitting tribute for a man who had already appeared in an earlier film in the same series.
During filming for The Crow, the star Brandon Lee was killed in a tragic accident and his image was digitally manipulated for a few small scenes in order to complete the film. One could argue that this was the beginning of exploiting dead actors, but I don't think that's the case for a second. This was completing a film that the actor was already committed to and passionate about making, I see it as a fitting tribute.
That goes for Marlon Brando's appearance in Superman Returns (Filmstalker review), a film that saw the great actor digitised and recreated for the scenes where he was seen through the crystal recordings Superman brought with him to Earth. That's another very fitting tribute to the actor who played such a small but monumental role in an iconic film series. Again, no ill could be thought of that.
However there's not really been an inappropriate use of a dead actors image in a film as yet, or has there?
For me, by far the more embarrassing and demeaning appearances of dead actors digitally recreated have not been in film but in television adverts which see stars such as Gene Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, and Steve McQueen brought out of their films and public appearances before their death to promote some product that they've never seen nor endorsed. Using the recognisable face and the connection with the audience, the promotion companies, product owners and the people who now own the stars image, to get more money and reduce the star to an advertising tool.
Mind you that's not just with television adverts, images of these actors have been used in advertising for a very long time, so why not in a new film? Is there that big a difference? Does it really matter if an old star is brought back to life for some new film?
Recently The Hollywood Reporter reported that Orson Welles was to return to a film well after his death. It's not so bad though, before his death he narrated a children's Christmas novel and the recordings were unearthed not long ago.
These recordings are going to be used to narrate a 3D live action and CG film of the story, Christmas Tails. The film is being directed by Todd Tucker, and Orson Welles will indeed voice the narrator of the story.
The President of the production company Drac, Harvey Lowry, reveals what the film has in store for us:
”It's a movie about how Santa's dog saves Christmas, but on one level, this a story about the discovery of Orson's lost tapes...This is a substantial find. It's something that a filmmaker dreams of.”
Well the film sounds like fun, but it's not that bad that Welles' voice is being used to narrate the film is it? I mean the recordings exist already and the film is being developed around the recordings, there's no manipulation of what he is set to say so that he says something other than what he recorded in 1985. Is that so bad?
I think not. It would be a travesty if, using computers or mimics, what Orson Welles said was changed and passed off for his own words.
No, the real concern will come when actors are digitally recreated and made to do things they never did, acting in films they never agreed to and playing roles that they may never have agreed to. Now all they need is the approval of the actors' estate, often easier than one might think.
Is it something that you would want to see though? Would you want to watch a dead actor brought back to life in a new production? Is it morally right?
Of course it's happening right now, and has been for some time, with the appearance of famous old stars selling us products right left and centre, and no one's been complaining.
How long will it be before one of these stars is resurrected for film?