From Beyond the Grave: How filmmakers are taking that Peter Cushing film's title way too literally.

November 7, 2019

 

Truth be told, the new Star Wars movies, from The Force Awakens on, haven't really done much for me. As kid I absolutely adored the original trilogy, and while the prequels were something of a let down, I still excitedly queued to see them. These new movies, though, they fill me more with obligation than with joy. I have to see them if I want to be a part of the conversation, but I can't say I really enjoy them, at least not on the same level.

 

Whether this comes from simply being older, and no longer the target audience, is irrelevant, I still like the original trilogy. I still watch the prequels in a rewatch. But going through the new films is something I do begrudgingly, more as a completest than as someone who feels the need to watch them all again. It's my own personal opinion, and I'm not saying I'm right on the matter, you can enjoy them as much as you want. And I'm not some Last Jedi hater (I actually prefer Rian Johnson's movie to J J Abrams'), I'm just not all that into them, really.

 

If you asked me choose, I mean if I really had to, which one of the new breed of Star Wars films was my favourite, I guess it would probably be Gareth Edwards' standalone adventure, Rogue One.

 

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. It has a whole host of issues, but it's the best of the bunch. It offers up a new take on the universe, ends on a hell of a downer, has far more interesting and new ideas to explore than any of the others, and has the best set-pieces. But when I saw it in the cinema, midnight showing, I came away with one very strong, although not entirely clear, feeling; I didn't like Grand Moff Tarkin.

 

For those of you not in the know, Grand Moff Tarkin is the character played by Peter Cushing in George Lucas' 1977 original.  Now, Cushing, who died in 1994, is obviously not in Rogue One. And while recasting the role would have been frustrating from a continuity point of view, it would have made sense if the story required the return of the character. Shit! You recast Han Solo! However, they didn't recast. At least, not in the way you think.

 

Guy Henry, who you might (but probably don't) know from Holby City, is the actor who technically plays the character in the 2016 movie. And while he does have a kind of Peter Cushing-esque quality to his appearance, he's little more than a stand-in for some, admittedly impressive, VFX work. Using motion-capture technology and old photographs and footage of Cushing, the filmmakers behind Rogue One "resurrected" the iconic actor to appear in the movie.

 

I felt uncomfortable with it. I know Peter Cushing starred in From Beyond the Grave, but I don't think it was an instruction to Hollywood studios and their VFX houses.

 

There have been countless debates over the ethical and moral slant behind doing so, but personally it just felt wrong. Cushing didn't agree to this. Cushing may very well have done, I have no idea. But none the less, it's not a Peter Cushing performance, and while slightly altering a look is one thing, completely grafting someone else's face onto someone, for a movie they definitely didn't, nor could have if they wanted to, sign up for is something else.

 

Paul Walker in Furious 7 is hardly a fitting comparison. He already appeared in that movie when he was alive. Likewise Oliver Reed in Gladiator. This was something new. Something unsettling. This was digitally inserting a dead actor into a role.

 

For whatever reason (I honestly don't know), the folks over at Disney and Lucasfilm decided that this was acceptable. They decided that it was okay to use Peter Cushing's memory in this way. Interestingly, when actress Carrie Fisher sadly passed away in 2016, the same folks responsible for this decision ruled out using digital technology to resurrect her.

 

In their official statement they said; "We want to assure fans that Lucasfilm has no plans to recreate Carrie Fisher's performance... we cherish her memory and legacy as Princess Liea, and will always strive to honour everything she gave to Star Wars".

 

So, while the execs at Disney and Lucasfilm felt is was dishonourable to Carrie Fisher's legacy to digitally resurrect her for subsequent movies, they felt no such dishonour when doing it to Peter Cushing? Something is wrong here. Either it's okay or it isn't, surely? And those rules don't change because someone is a more iconic character in your franchise...

 

This week we saw news that filmmakers Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh have acquired the image rights to insert James Dean into their upcoming movie, Finding Jack.

 

Dean died, aged 24, in 1955. The book on which this new movie is based wasn't released until 2008. It's not like James Dean wanted desperately to appear in it. Just what on Earth is going on here? How is this honouring the memory of someone? This is taking their likeness and digitally recreating them in an effort to capitalise on their memory. It won't be a James Dean performance anymore than Tarkin in Rogue One is a Peter Cushing performance. It'll be a cynical, soulless, pale imitation at best. At worst it'll be a creepy, uncanny valley recreation of someone who never agreed to this in the first place.

 

There are so many reasons this avenue is unacceptable. From the actors who will lose out on a big break or the opportunity to appear in a part that might just further their career and give us, an audience, a great performance in its own right, to the ethical and moral considerations of using someone's face and voice to do something they perhaps wouldn't have wanted to do...

 

CGI and digital trickery is all well and good, if not overused - at least in my opinion - when it comes to film-making. But this... this is a route I'm not sure I'm comfortable with, and I'm not sure I want to see it taken any further. To quote Dr Ian Malcolm, Jeff Goldbum's character in Jurassic Park, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn't stop to think if they should".

 

Where does this end? Do we now foresee a future where films star dead actors, and the only faces that sell tickets are the ones from 20 years ago? Does Tom Cruise star in a blockbuster alongside Steve McQueen, both of them racing motorbikes to the border?

 

Look, I'm not going to dispute that the work is very, very impressive. But for me, it just doesn't sit well. 

 

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© Alex Secker 2018