In the wake of the tragic news that critically acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had passed away, one big question was left lingering: had the actor finished his work on The Hunger Games sequel, Mockingjay Part 2? Certain filmgoers might think concern over the fate of Hoffman's work in the young adult novel adaptation series was unnecessary, given the breadth of the fan-favorite performer's career in movies and on stage; yet, Hoffman was a standout in the well-received second installment, Catching Fire, and many fans (young and old) were eager to see him return in the two remaining sequels.
Unfortunately, even though Lionsgate Entertainment had combined portions of Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2's shooting schedules, it was later confirmed that Hoffman did not yet complete his contributions to the film series - and had one final scene to film. Therefore, it was unclear whether the studio, and director Francis Lawrence, would recast the role or simply remove the scene altogether. Now, we're getting word that the filmmakers intend to digitally recreate the actor - to ensure that the scene, a key moment for the character, is included.
At this point, the report, courtesy of The New York Post, is unofficial but allegedly comes from sources close to the production. The news isn't a total surprise, as the idea had previously been floated as a possibility back when we first learned that Hoffman still had one scene left to complete. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, a Lionsgate insider revealed how Lawrence could use a digital double to finish Hoffman's missing scene - which has been described as a "heartfelt" moment for the former Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee:
"They seem to have plans that don’t seem very complicated [...] You can do digital things, you can have conversations where you’re not focusing on him but the people he’s talking to."
At the time, THR interviewed effects guru Rob Legato to find out what Lawrence might, in theory, do with a recreated Hoffman for the scene. While Legato has no connection to The Hunger Games production, he theorized that a digital recreation of the deceased actor would easily work (in moderation):
"These days the technology of using someone's likeness is a whole lot easier to do. I won't say you could generate a Philip Seymour Hoffman with all the acting ability, but you could certainly replicate him for a shot or two."
Book series fans might have some idea of which scene, in particular, is causing trouble for Lionsgate; though, the studio has already made changes to the novel adaptations - with plenty more to come in the final two installments. As a result, it's hard for anyone outside of the production to determine the best course of action in this difficult time - especially since the scene might require a pretty involved performance (possibly including dialogue) since it has been described as a significant moment for Heavensbee. Digital recreations of deceased or aged performers have been a mixed bag over the last few years - with many moviegoers still cringing at the awkward inclusion of an all-digital (and youngified) Jeff Bridges as Clu 2 in Tron: Legacy or, similarly, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Salvation.
That said, as Legato suggests, Hoffman's digital double might only need to be utilized in a few isolated shots (and could even use audio pulled from earlier read-throughs or other sources) - meaning that even if it can't replicate the talented actor's nuances, it could bridge the missing pieces and ensure that the majority of Hoffman's actual performance can still be utilized in the final film. Every year digital effects improve upon the "uncanny valley" - meaning that six years between Terminator Salvation (in 2009) and Mockingjay Part 2's expected release (in 2015) is significant and could help calm digital skeptics. After all, Mockingjay would release a full fifteen years after a digital double of actor Oliver Reed was used in Gladiator - following the performer's sudden death (before completing his scenes).
Of course, whether or not Lionsgate can replicate a convincing performance for Hoffman also raises the question of when to utilize similar technology going forward. Should we be allowed to bring back long-dead actors and stick them into modern movies? Hoffman's digital "performance" will still be part of his onscreen legacy - causing a murky grey area between what ownership actors actually have over their performances. I'm sure we'd all love to see Heath Ledger's Joker back for Batman vs. Superman (he was, allegedly, contracted for two films) but most people agree that would be an inappropriate jump. Time will tell where Hollywood draws the line but, in the case of Mockingjay - Part 2, it's great that (assuming they pull it off) a digital recreation will prevent a last-minute recasting, and allow fans to see the majority of Philip Seymour Hoffman's hard work - long after he left us.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 opens in theaters on November 21st, 2014, followed by Part 2 a year later on November 20th, 2015.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for updates on The Hunger Games series as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.