The filmmakers bringing back a CGI version of James Dean for the upcoming movie Finding Jack originally wanted to resurrect Elvis Presley, but were denied his rights. A dynamic talent in the 1950s, Dean starred in the Hollywood classics East of Eden, Giant and Rebel Without a Cause, becoming a film superstar in the process. But the actor’s life was tragically cut short in 1955 when, at the age of just 24, he died in a car wreck.
Thanks in large part to his early death, Dean has become a Hollywood icon. This iconic status is indeed surely why filmmakers Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh recent revealed they are planning to bring Dean back, in CGI form, for their upcoming Vietnam film Finding Jack. Not surprisingly, news that Dean will return over half a century after his death to “star” in a new movie was met with a great deal of anger not only by Dean’s fans, but by many in the film community, including Captain America star Chris Evans who tweeted "This is awful" after learning the news.
As it turns out, had Ernst and Golykh had their way, instead of Dean starring in Finding Jack, a different Hollywood icon would have been featured in the film. As reported by THR, the filmmaking duo originally wanted to bring back Presley for the movie but were denied by the late singer-actor’s estate. Ernst also told THR that he and Golykh at one time considered creating a digital version of Paul Newman to co-star alongside Dean, but ultimately scrapped the idea.
Presley of course became a huge and culture-changing pop star before jumping to movies, going on to become a massive box office draw in a string of specially tailored, mostly musical vehicles that allowed Presley to flash his charisma and musical chops while not stretching his limited acting skills too far.
The ethical debate over whether to use CGI versions of dead actors in movies was already a heated one before this, but the debate is bound to get even more intense with Finding Jack, which will see the CGI Dean having a great deal of screen time. In the past when CGI was used to bring back dead actors, as when Peter Cushing was resurrected for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the appearances were small and mostly there for novelty value. But in the case of Finding Jack, the fake Dean will be expected to carry a huge story load, which not only creates a major technical challenge for the effects department, but also creates challenges for whichever actor or actors are employed to physically perform the part before Dean’s features are added.
Indeed, the fact that Dean himself will not actually be in the movie, but will simply be a CGI creation made to look like Dean with other performers doing the actual body and voice acting, has led some to argue that this whole enterprise is nothing but a sad stunt meant to bring publicity to a movie that otherwise would have been overlooked. For their part, Finding Jack directors Ernst and Golykh insist they have good intentions in casting Dean to star in their movie, and hope the social media backlash doesn't detract from the film. Had they gotten Presley instead of Dean, they definitely would’ve succeeded in bringing more attention, as The King to this day still has a huge and devoted fan following. But the ethical dilemmas would have been exactly the same.