CGI Actors in Film: A Tribute or an Insult?

CGI has been an ever-growing asset of filmmaking in the modern era, but recently there has been a vogue for making actors appear as their younger selves and even resurrecting deceased actors. Is this incorporation a harmless novelty or the future of cinema?


Robert De Niro The Irishman

Paramount


It was recently announced that Scorsese’s highly anticipated film The Irishman would use technology to alter Robert De Niro’s 73-year-old face back to its youthful stage in The Godfather: Part II era. Although this is not the first time the software has been used, it seems more extreme than Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s subtle nose alteration designed to make him appear more Bruce Willis-like in Looper, and although it is used heavily in A Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it is because it is intrinsically linked to the plot. What is perhaps more unique about the De Niro situation is that there is rumoured to be very little jumping between ages, unlike the constant flickering of Benjamin Button. Instead it is a feature-length alteration which is being preferred to simply casting a younger looking actor.  There is a particular irony to this ordeal with De Niro winning an Oscar, and making his name as an actor for portraying a younger version of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather: Part II. Could the future of the technology deprive upcoming actors from receiving awards if more esteemed actors can simply be revitalised?


Star Wars CGI

The Independent


Probably not, but it does make the phenomenon feel slightly unnecessary. The recent Star Wars controversy involving the restoration of deceased actor Peter Cushing and the discussion whether Carrie Fisher could have a similar resurrection after her recent death, seems incredibly avoidable. There is no shame in a recast if an actor or actress has unfortunately passed away, there seems to be no need to restore Cushing at a great expense especially when the permission to do so was from his estate and not the man himself. In a franchise that spans decades it is expected that recasts will be necessary, particularly so with Star Wars’ jumping chronology. So, to digitally restore seems to be a novelty for nostalgia’s sake and to sell tickets. This then plunges the debate into moral questioning as to whether it is right to do it, but as it is a relatively new phenomenon people don’t seem to know whether it is right or not, but in truth it is just needless.

Could the phenomenon eventually replace actors and actresses in cinema’s future? Let’s hope not. Crazier things have happened, but this reality seems too farfetched. It will most likely remain a novelty for big budget remakes as a way of achieving some veiled sense of authenticity to the original. But with Scorsese’s huge cinematic influence, if The Irishman proves to be an incredible success, it could make this form of technology the forefront for a new wave of cinema. EJ


Words by Tom Williams