The irony has not escaped me that star of many a Hammer House Horror film Peter Cushing was resurrected in near true-to-life CGI form for the new Star Wars film, Rogue One. If you were not one of the people queueing up on the day of the film’s release, then you’re probably not that big a fan, so you won’t mind if I give this one away. Bill and I attended a late viewing of ‘Rogue One’ last night at our local cinema. The seats were pretty empty, as we had anticipated, with the odd night-owl crawling in during the trailers. I doubt the emptiness was due to it being a rubbish film, but because the initial fevered rush on the 16th had probably dispensed of most of the fans who would have come to watch it. Plus all the kids were probably in bed at such a late hour.
It’s not my aim to review the film here. Go and watch it and decide for yourself. It’s fun, and grittier than previous films. However, I’ve always found the Muppet Show cheese slightly off-putting, personally, although I was a big fan of Jim Henson’s work and the Muppet Show back in the day. But there is a time and a place. It works less well in the current films. Some of the props I thought were a little questionable and cheap-looking, like the very obvious acrylic plumbing pipe and joints that were used in the construction of the pilot’s chair in the fish-people’s ship. I have no idea what they were called, like I say, I’m not a hardened fan so I don’t really care.
What piqued my interest this morning however, was an article in The Independent about Peter Cushing’s CGI cameo, addressing the issue of whether this kind of computer wizardry was at all ethical. British actor Peter Cushing, famous for his roles as Dracula in the Hammer House Horror films, and of course for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars movies died back in 1994. Unable to contest his likeness being used in the film to such eye-opening effect, Christopher Hooton, the author of the article suggests that , “the moment is underpinned by some quite terrifying existential questions”. That moment being the very moment you realise that the film director has gone all out on recreating the dead actor. I thought it was a wonderful moment, and both Bill and I marvelled at how much he’d grown since his original appearance. Now, in life he was 6′ tall. In the film last night he was at least 6’3-5″, towering above all of the other quite flesh-worthy characters. I proposed to Bill that perhaps through the magic of CGI, the original height of the film’s fictional character might have been conveyed, finally. Actors don’t always meet the required casting spec. Such is the nature of artistic licence. And why not?
Indeed, Mr. Hooton’s enquiry also addressed the potential for such mimicry to be taken advantage of and misused by future film-makers, and thus dispensing for the need of real actors, or, worse than that, the hiring of a two-bit soap actor to partially flesh out the CGI portrayal of a high calibre thespian long pushing up the daisies!
If he’d watched any of the countless behind-the-scenes documentary films that currently exist of how these kinds of CGI characters are created (Gollum and The Lord of the Rings springs to mind, and the superb acting talent of Andy Serkis), Mr. Hooton would have noticed that real and talented actors are very often employed in capturing the movements necessary in order to make the two-dimensional animated characters seem at all real. As I’m quite sure was the case in this film. It isn’t just a convincing ‘skin’, as it is termed in the gaming/animation world, that is required to give these almost Frankensteinian creations life, it’s a much more involved process than that, as any animator or film-maker knows. What’s more, a lot of love, blood, sweat and tears, and immense skill on the part of all involved goes into these creations. I mean, what a wonderful tribute to the late, great Peter Cushing. I think he would have been absolutely delighted to have been remembered with such fondness in such an iconic saga to which the films of the Star Wars universe belong. I think he might have been slightly incensed, as was I, at Mr. Hooton’s very negative outlook and his harsh critique of what should be seen as really quite inspiring. Ba bloody humbug!
Mr. Hooton also gives mention to the less well rendered CGI Carrie Fisher as her younger self playing the role of Princess Leia at the end of the film. Why her character’s rendering wasn’t as polished is more than likely an issue relating to budget than anything else, and also because it really was a very brief appearance. Judging by the afore mentioned plastic piping, I would guess the film budget was already stretched to the limit, probably by the VFX used to recreate Peter Cushing.
Carrie Fisher however, is still very much with us. Was it unethical to portray her as her younger self through CGI too, or should that be seen as a potential affront to her long acting career by surreptitiously suggesting that she’s too long in the tooth these days to pull off a decent role?
I doubt it. She played an integral role in the last Star Wars film ‘Episode VII, The Force Awakens’, very much as her older self, and the now mature Princess Leia alongside original co-star Harrison Ford, not to mention Mark Hamill at the end of that film, also as his more mature self!
I’m pretty sure Ms. Fisher received full credit for her portrayal as the young Leia in the film, as did Peter Cushing along with his estate, and I’m sure she was more than flattered to be portrayed as her younger self once again. I do believe some of the key characters were also portrayed in this way in the prequel trilogy, such as Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi. From experience of having known a lot of people in the theatre and film industries, from actors, directors, to prop makers, lighting riggers, carpenters, and costume makers, the credits are what count as they act as important references for further work, and in the building of professional reputations and careers. Many of the The Star Wars characters and their actors have reached legendary status in the history of popular culture, that’s got to be worth some kind of accolade, as I believe this latest stunt was on behalf of the Star Wars franchise. It’s a business for both actors and film-makers, with the art and the money going very much hand-in-hand, even though in the end it’s that art that will be remembered.
Mr. Hooton of The Independent, go and take an antidepressant and give these people a break. Jeez!
Nothing worse than an armchair expert…or a hack journalist…