Rebel Without a Demise


Media by Mason Kellerman

James Dean, actor, appears above the dates of his birth and death year. Dean will star in his fourth feature film 65 years after his death via cutting edge computer-generated imagery (CGI.)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, controversy arose when near-perfect likenesses of deceased actors Peter Cushings and Carrie Fisher were digitally portrayed in 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Combining computer-generated imagery (CGI) with voice acting, the creators at LucasFilms resurrected puppets in the image of the iconic characters. 

Now almost three years later, similar concerns are being raised due to the casting of James Dean in Magic City Film’s (MCF) upcoming Vietnam War action-drama “Finding Jack.”

Yes, that James Dean.

The rebel without a cause and cultural icon, who passed at age 24 due to a car crash, will once again take to the silver screen 65 years after his death. On the surface, the decision to cast Dean’s image has irked many, including myself, as disrespectful and damaging to the actor’s legacy. But a deeper analysis of Dean’s views on life might make the situation slightly less disgusting.

Alex Ernst, co-director of “Finding Jack,” told the Hollywood Reporter that the movie’s casting team “searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean.” 

Even after “months of research,” I’m not quite sure how they could omit all contemporary and, more importantly, living actors from their search, and then land on James Dean as their perfect cast. The irony of it all is that if MCF held actual auditions for the movie, there are probably several big name stars who lost the role to a dead man, someone in a green suit and a voice actor.

To be completely honest, I find Ernst’s explanation of why Dean was chosen almost completely unbelievable. MCF must have predicted they would catch flak for their choice. 

The sad thing is, in many cases, there is no such thing as bad publicity these days. So often there are headlines in the news about a person or company doing something that elicits a negative public response, only for the outrage to help spread awareness of said person or company. For all intents and purposes, it’s free publicity at its finest and most foul.

More suspiciously, it’s highly unlikely MCF greenlit the movie and gave it an estimated $40,500,000 budget without the idea of using Dean being there from the get-go. While there hasn’t been an official statement on the matter, MCF must be paying Imagine Engines and MOI Worldwide, the companies behind the CGI, an absolute boatload of money to recreate Dean. 

There also hasn’t been an official statement on if the Dean family, who approved the usage of his likeness in “Finding Dean,” were paid or not. But if they were, it would not be that far-fetched to speculate that MCF had the ability to do so handsomely. Many feel the family should have denied the offer and protected their ancestor’s reputation as an actor, but who is anyone to turn down thousands of dollars in return for a couple of signatures?

As frustrating as money’s influence may be sometimes, I find it’s best to let out a depressive sigh and look at the positive side of things. James Dean only appeared in three films before his death, and yet he has been immortalized as a teenage icon who represented feeling dissatisfied with one’s society and going against the grain. Constantly in pursuit of success, he used his gifts to pave his way to the top. He was truly a rebel, both on and off the screen, who wanted to be remembered.

“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man,” Dean said.

It may not be our position as living people to decide what the dead would or wouldn’t have wanted. But for better or for worse, “Finding Jack” is how Dean will live on.