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Use of CGI James Dean in new film sparks an outcry

The grave of actor James Dean (John Harrell/AP)
The grave of actor James Dean (John Harrell/AP)

James Dean has not been alive in 64 years, but the Rebel Without A Cause actor has been cast in a new film about the Vietnam War.

The filmmakers behind the independent movie Finding Jack said a computer-generated Dean will play a co-starring role.

The digital Dean is to be assembled through old footage and photos and voiced by another actor.

Digitally manipulated posthumous performances have made some inroads into films, but those have been largely roles the actors had already played, including Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing, who first appeared together in Star Wars and were featured in the 2016 spin-off Rogue One.

But the prospect of one of the industry’s most beloved stars being digitally resurrected was met with widespread criticism after the news was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

Captain America actor Chris Evans was among those who called the plans disrespectful and wrongheaded.

“Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes,” Evans said on Twitter.

“The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.”

Rights to Dean’s likeness were acquired by the filmmakers and the production company Magic City Films through CMG Worldwide.

The company represents Dean’s family along with the intellectual property rights associated with many other deceased personalities including Neil Armstrong, Bette Davis and Burt Reynolds.

Mark Roesler, chairman and chief executive of CMG, defended the use of Dean and said the company has represented his family for decades.

Noting that Dean has more than 183,000 followers on Instagram, Mr Roesler said the star still resonates today.

“James Dean was known as Hollywood’s rebel and he famously said ‘if a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live after he’s died, then maybe he was a great man. Immortality is the only true success’,” said Mr Roesler.

“What was considered rebellious in the 50s is very different than what is rebellious today, and we feel confident that he would support this modern-day act of rebellion.”

Adapted from Gareth Crocker’s novel, Finding Jack is a live-action film about the US military’s abandonment of canine units following the Vietnam War.

Directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh are set to begin shooting on November 17.

Dean had just three leading roles before he died in a car crash in 1955 at the age of 24: Rebel Without A Cause, East Of Eden and Giant.