Saturday, February 8, 2014

Digital Recreation: Practical Movie-Making or Grave-Robbing?

It's been less than a week since Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment.  Like many people, I was in shock over the news.  Not only was he one of my favorite actors - and my frequent example of incredibly versatile actors who could take on pretty much any role - I was only vaguely aware of his drug problem.  I heard the news through a story posted by a friend on Facebook, and had to Google and check multiple news sites before I believed it wasn't a hoax.

I thought over some of my favorite movies in which he appeared, and had the urge to watch them, but thought that would be kind of morbid.  I also remembered seeing him in the latest Hunger Games movie and absent-mindedly thought, "Hmm, I wonder what they'll do about his character."

And then today I found out.  Hoffman had finished filming Mockingjay Part I, and had only a week left of filming on Mockingjay Part II.  To complete the one major scene Hoffman had left, the film-makers will use digital effects to recreate Hoffman.

The more I thought about this, the more I thought, "Wow, apparently Hollywood gets to decide when you're actually dead or not."  I was reminded of the Ed Wood film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.  The movie starred Bela Lugosi, a man known for his portrayal of Dracula.  Lugosi and Wood became friends, and Lugosi appeared in many of Wood's movies.  When Lugosi died during filming of Plan 9, due to complications from methadone and morphine addiction, Wood was devasted… but also had a movie to finish.  They found a man (his wife's chiropractor) who looked like Lugosi from the eyes up, and had him cover his face with a cape for his scenes as the reanimated Lugosi (reanimated both in the sense of the character - who died and was brought back by aliens - and reanimated in the same sense Hoffman will be).

True, Hoffman's digital recreation for Mockingjay Part II will only be for one scene (or so the film-makers say), while Lugosi's double appeared in a large chunk of the movie.  So we may only be talking about 10 or so minutes.  And this certainly wouldn't be the first time a movie was released after one of its actors had died.  But where do we draw the line?  Now that computer effects have gotten so good that this kind of recreation is possible - and probably won't even be noticeable to the viewer - is this something we will see more of in the future?  Where do we say, "Okay, that amount of digital recreation is acceptable" and where do we say, "That's going to far"?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thoughtfully yours,

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