Rogue One, ILM & Hollywood’s Next Big Ethical Problem … aka The Peter Cushing Dilemma


This was a bit of a wild weekend leading into the week before Christmas. In Chicago the weather decided to take a giant dump on us, of course, and nationwide we have been dealing with the sorts of hilarity that can only happen in America. This year has been one of the most memorable of my lifetime, obviously, and I think we as a country are looking forward to 2017 immensely. Mainly its because we don’t want to see any more celebrities dying, I think, and 2017 will also double as a year without any national elections to make things go crazy that way.

The big movie news story of the week was the release of Rogue One, a canon Star Wars story that isn’t an “Episode,” doesn’t have the trademark opening theme and scrawl and definitely will not have a sequel or become a franchise in its own right. It’s the one thing I liked about Gareth Edwards’ film the most; this was a one off film that left everything finished when it ended. There’s no more story to tell for Rogue One, which has raised the bar for the anthology films Disney is planning on to an unconsciously high level. There was so much to love about it.

1. Darth Vader makes an appearance and does exactly what he should: wreck dudes with the force while slashing them with his light saber. The end sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

2. All the technology is nearly identical in appearance to the original Star Wars trilogy. It felt like a film that could’ve been made in the 1970s for the most part as opposed to the cold CGI of the prequel trilogy.

3. Gareth Edwards and Disney had the guts to pull the trigger and make this a one-off, doing what made sense for the story above all. I think everyone who saw the film expected it to turn into a secondary franchise as opposed to the sort of brutal finale it wound up becoming.

I’m not going to write a Top 10 Films of 2016, mainly because I haven’t seen enough to really craft a Top 10 list worthy of the moniker, but if I did I’d have a hard time keeping Rogue One off the top. It was such an amazing film that I’m convinced that anything that Lucas selling to Disney was the best possible thing for it. I was hesitant, even after Episode 7, but so far they’re two for two and I’ll give them credit for one thing. They understand what Star Wars is on a genetic level and are doing things that service that instinct.

One thing from Rogue One is astounding, though. Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) is a substantial part of the film, one that needed to happen to maintain continuity, and if you didn’t know any better you’d think Cushing aged remarkably well as he looked nearly identical to his appearances in the original trilogy. That line of thinking also works if you’re unaware of the fact that he’s been dead for more than two decades.

A creation using CGI, body and voice doubles, Cushing’s appearance was properly licensed by his estate and ILM essentially recreated Tarkin on a computer. It was something when a prominent member of the original cast was CGI’d for the final moments of the film, of course, but Tarkin’s recreation is something that’s more relevant and important. Cushing wasn’t just a character actor known for that one part; he was an actor of note that didn’t just have his physical appearance recreated for a commercial. He had a performance created using his likeness well after his death that was so convincing that you had to look at his Wikipedia to make sure he was dead.

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ILM isn’t releasing how they did it, of course, as this is a billion dollar tech innovation that’s going to change Hollywood. Look at all the potential scenarios.

— An actor playing the younger and older versions of a character won’t be merely makeup now; the ability to take an actor like George Clooney and allow him to play a younger version of a character, or their older counterpart, can be accomplished with a computer instead of make up or another actor. An actor in a high profile biopic will be able to age themselves up or down based on the time frame in a much more convincing manner.

— Actors who die during the production of a film can be recreated instead of having their scenes rewritten.

— Actors can come back from beyond the grave if their estates allow it.

While the film fan in me imagines how cool some of those scenarios can be, imagine the following scenarios. Marlon Brando’s estate can license him for a remake of The Godfather. Jamie Foxx in Ray look like younger and older versions of Ray Charles instead of 37-year-old Jamie Foxx having make up to try and age him up and down less than gracefully. Jim Carrey can have his face aged back to his heyday to play Ace Ventura one more time as a younger man.

All three are now officially plausible scenarios. The latter two are now just acting choices to be made by a studio and an actor. I’m ok with those as a film fan because technology can do wonders to help inform an actor’s performance; we’ve used motion capture for so long that it’s accepted as part of cinema. So are green screens, CGI and so many things that now make up modern filmmaking. They’re tools to enhance an actor’s performance and something like this, for an actor with choices to make, has the ability to do just that.

The first thing is scary and needs to be discussed, at a minimum on an ethics level. Why? Because the following scenario is a possibility now:

Imagine if someone like Vivid Video paid Marilyn Monroe’s estate enough money to make their own version of The Seven Year Itch where an actress doubles for Monroe but ultimately, it’s the “Blonde Bombshell” acting in a porn film because of the technology involved. Part of acting is the ability to have a performance ultimately be yours, not a computer’s, and one imagines that Monroe would’ve passed on a film like Blondes Get Bukkake’d that her estate could sell her likeness for. They wouldn’t … but now they could. And that’s scary as hell.

While porn aficionados would want this, of course, when does an actor’s desires to not be in a film end? One imagines any attorney for a famous actor is now crafting something in their will to prevent a nightmare scenario … but how many dead actors of note that didn’t have this can now be affected? Plenty. Enough money and one can remake Ocean’s Eleven with the original cast, potentially. Peter Cushing appearing in Rogue One for a part is one thing; he was a member of the original cast and one imagines his estate was down with it because of the project. But what happens when money talks and an actor’s image is taken into the hands of someone without their best interests in mind?

Welcome the Peter Cushing Dilemma.

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Scott Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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