Last week, news broke that James Dean will star in a new movie—64 years after his death. A production company called Magic City got the rights to Dean’s image from the late actor’s estate and plans to bring him to the silver screen again thanks to the wonder (or terror) of CGI. Now, Dean, or the digitally resurrected version of Dean or whatever, will play the second lead in a Vietnam War movie called Finding Jack, with a living actor standing in as his voice.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement inspired a wave of immediate backlash around Hollywood. Chris Evans called it “awful” and “shameful,” and Elijah Wood said, simply, “NOPE.” But it turns out the intense reaction was surprising to at least one person: Magic City’s Anton Ernst, the Finding Jack director.
Ernst told the Hollywood Reporter in a new interview that he’s gotten “positive feedback” about the movie and that the Dean estate has been “supportive,” saying it will inspire “a whole new generation of filmgoers to be aware of James Dean.” He didn’t see the overwhelming negativity coming. Per the Reporter:
Ernst spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the criticisms on social media, saying he was “saddened” and “confused” over the overwhelmingly negative comments. “We don’t really understand it. We never intended for this to be a marketing gimmick,” he said.
He also brought up Carrie Fisher’s appearance in the new Star Wars as an example of a way this posthumous CGI work can be done well, apparently missing the difference between honoring Fisher’s legacy in a role she was already scheduled to play and plopping James Dean in some random war movie half a century after his death.
When discussing whether resurrecting Dean digitally crosses a line with regards to posthumous casting, Ernst explained, “Anyone that is brought back to life — you have to respect them.” He noted Fisher’s posthumous appearances in the Star Wars franchise, saying that if the actress had expressed never wanting to be in a film after her death, or if her legacy or that of the franchise could be “tarnished” because of her casting, “then that should be a line.”
“I think the line should be … you must always honor the deceased’s wishes and try to act in a way that is honorable and full of dignity,” Ernst said.
Again, this is extremely different, since Dean could never have stated he didn’t want to appear in a film after his death because, uh, how would he have imagined that was even a possibility—but whatever. Finding Jack is still headed into production with an expected release on November 11, 2020, whether we like it or not.