The co-director of Finding Jack, the film intending to resurrect James Dean via CGI, has spoken out about the controversy surrounding the decision. Based on Garth Crocker’s novel of the same name, Finding Jack revolves around Rogan – the character Dean is to appear as – a suicidal soldier who finds a reason to live after bonding with the eponymous military dog, and must save him when 10,000 of the animals are declared to be surplus equipment after the war ends and abandoned to the hostile country.
However, nobody is interested in the film’s actual plot, but rather the somewhat ghoulish decision to create a performance from Dean almost 65 years after the rising star’s tragic death in a car crash at the age of 24. Reaction to the news has been vocal and negative to the point of hostile, with the likes of Chris Evans, Elijah Wood, Julie Ann Emery, Devon Sawa and Zelda Williams speaking out against the decision. Statements and conversation have raised issues such as how the role is to be credited, the simple fact that the performance on screen will not actually be the actor, and how it’s hard enough for actors to compete against live contemporaries, never mind dead legends.
Speaking with THR, Finding Jack’s co-director Anton Ernst has spoken of being “saddened” and “confused” by the backlash, stating “We don't really understand it. We never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick.” He also stated that Dean’s relatives “would have wanted their family member’s legacy to live on,” and that “we’ve brought a whole new generation of filmgoers to be aware of James Dean.”
Ernst went on to discuss the use of visual effects as a “tool,” citing the digital de-aging that allows the actors of The Irishman to portray their characters across decades, or including a character after an untimely death, such as with Carrie Fisher in The Rise of Skywalker. In the case of the latter he also stated that should an actor wish to never be featured posthumously, that decision should be honored.
If Ernst genuinely believes there would have been no controversy it was a naive stance. People were critical enough of the use the CGI Peter Cushing in Rogue One, and that’s one of three roles for which he is most famous, never mind something utterly unrelated. It’s a disingenuous false equivalence to compare the resurrection of a dead actor to altering a character’s appearance in a film or completing a performance an actor was already playing, while the statement of honoring an actor’s wishes tacitly implies the responsibility lies with a 24-year-old man for lacking the foresight to not only make provisions for an untimely death, but also predict the advancement of technology through to the next century along with how it might be utilized. All of this doesn’t even touch on Ernst’s previous suggestion that after he and his team spent “months of research” and “searched high and low,” none of the quite literally thousands of actors desperate for a role such as this were suitable, and it was better going to one whose earthly concerns ceased over half a century ago. Even if Finding Jack ends up being made as intended, the controversy is all it will be remembered for, rather than the themes of loyalty and companionship its actual story espouses. All focus will be on the use of the one man in the situation who had no say in the matter, and the unfortunate precedent his resurrection has set.