Let Actors Act

Image courtesy of Pixabay and Giovanni_cg

I watched Rogue One, and while it was a thoroughly enjoyable, if formulaic film with a tired structure to its climax, there’s only really one part of it I want to talk about now. As most of you will be aware, there are certain characters in the film who were recreated with CGI. I understand why they did this: to keep continuity with Episode IV which continues moments after the ending in a high profile franchise. Unfortunately, I can see it as the start of a slippery path down into the slimier depths of the ethics of art and film making.

Should we ‘resurrect’ deceased actors to continue playing parts in movies?

Long story short, I think we shouldn’t. It has an acceptable aspect, such as adding the final touches to a piece which was so near completion before an untimely death. I’m thinking here of Brandon Lee in the magnificent The Crow or Paul Walker in the less magnificent, but highly popular Fast and Furious franchise. Mostly, it’s icky though. Ok, it’s also acceptable when used to recreate a living actor at a different age, think Carrie Fisher in the very same movie, who personally approved the use, or Michael Douglas made to look younger for the prologue of Marvel’s Ant-Man. Let’s think about poor Peter Cushing though and I think you’ll see where the ick is.

Movies aren’t real life. I feel I have to explain this as a jumping off point, because people often complain about how pistols don’t hold 100 bullets, cars can’t spin around like that, space wouldn’t have sound in it or any of the other millions of complaints the public make, obviously thinking that they are watching a documentary of that time the ex-governor of California killed an alien hunter, or whatever or when a short, egomaniac blackmailed by a religious cult tried to save the world from a deadly virus. Movies are not real life. Movies are a metaphorical construct designed to elicit emotions. Everything you see, hear and, in some cases, feel in movies is designed to trigger a response from you and/or explain the story. Perhaps, the 100 bullets in a gun are a metaphor for the heroes determination, anger or luck or perhaps, simply, stopping to reload every few shots would ruin the emotional build up and the effect of the climax.

Similarly, characters are not real people. They are played by actors who represent certain archetypes, ideas or emotional triggers. I’m explaining this because I’m pedantic. We’re forgetting that characters aren’t real people. It follows then that going to extraordinary lengths to keep a character appearing exactly the same despite the actor’s death is not only saying that the fictional character is more important than the real person, but it is breaking the reality that it would claim it is trying to protect. In doing this, we put the actor first and not the character, which is the wrong way around. This is breaking the fourth wall, which is only good when someone looks directly into the camera. We know that guy is dead, so we look for flaws in the CGI representation, or we don’t know he’s dead but there’s something definitely off about the performance and that takes us out of the story. In case you didn’t know, that’s the golden rule of storytelling: DON’T do anything that takes the audience out of the story. It’s true. Google it. I’ll wait for you.

Secondly, Cushing obviously had no say in this, and creating an extended piece of art with someone’s likeness without permission feels like Weekend at Bernie’s when the kids are parading that body around for entertainment. Ok, so I assume his estate gave permission  but family aren’t necessarily respectful of a person’s wishes. In fact, family can be arseholes who just want money off a successful relative, which by the way, is also the plot of many good movies. So, we’re still in corpse parading territory here. The only one who can truly speak for the dead is the dead themselves, and that doesn’t happen very often.

It’s called respect, people, respect for the dead, and it is sorely missing. Basically, saying that Peter Cushing’s zombie-like resurrection is okay is saying that we are such whiny babies, as an audience, that we can’t let go of the past. We have to freeze everything exactly as it is so we can enjoy it that way forever. Damned be the art, damned be years of ritual and tradition for our ancestors, damn it all to hell. It’s also saying that we shouldn’t respect other people, which is madness.

Letting go of the past, and learning to deal with this concept, is an important part of growing up. We are already such an immature society – just look at how defensive and entitled we are, so much so we are willing to destroy our own climate rather than admit we are damaging it – we shouldn’t perpetuate these problems, by spending millions of dollars to make a beloved icon appear on screen for another film. Hire a new actor, and if they do their job the character will be brought to life (good) not the original actor (bad). Otherwise, where will we be when all the icons die? We’ll be in no-actor land, that’s where.

My main complaint is with the art itself. The job of actor is to play different people, essentially to make an audience believe that they are that character. To deny that this is possible is to deny the hundred years (and more) of cinema, and the thousands of years of plays, performances and acting completed in entertainment by actors everywhere the world over. That’s a lot of evidence to back it up. I’ve seen people deny some pretty obvious things, like non-existent WMDs, rape, bad tempers, elephants in rooms, UFOs, but I don’t think anyone can deny acting. So what defense does the nostalgic film goer have left?

Perhaps they don’t like the idea that someone else could play the same character. Well that’s Tosh. No, not the cute asian woman from Torchwood. I meanrubbish! look at the Bond franchise, X-men‘s two casts, et al. Sure, it’s a little jarring when we first see the new actor, but ask most people and I think you’ll find that after the initial moment, they forget about it and enjoy the movie. If it weren’t acceptable for an actor to take the place of a real person biographies never would have taken off. Matt Smith as Prince Phillip in Netflix’s The Crown wouldn’t have been as enthralling a performance as it was. To deny an actor a chance to fulfill a role is also turning your back on acting’s long and distinguished history and it’s entire purpose.

In summary, a vote for CGI resurrections is a vote saying we have no respect for the dead, for other people, it’s saying we have no respect for the art of film making and especially acting, it’s saying that we are whiny, bitchy babies so desperate to wrap ourselves up in the blanket of nostalgia that we would spend endless amounts of money and insult even our idols to protect ourselves from the harsh reality that sometimes people die. Or, are we looking at the beginning of digital immortality? Will the entire human race continue to live on as digital creations forever? What will it mean to be alive and human?

If there are any other arguments in favor of CGI resurrections, please let me know in the comments below, and I’ll gladly discuss them. However, I can’t see any way to justify this as it stands, or should I say, flops around on the floor like an animated corpse trying to dance to a cheesy 80s number, not helping a man escape isolation on a desert island to civilization.

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