Imagine this: you go to a movie, sit down with your popcorn and your soda, settle in for your movie, and who appears on screen in this brand new, 21st century film but…Marilyn Monroe?
Personally, I don’t really buy this idea, but after chatting with my father just a few nights ago, I thought it was at least worth some thought. He and I were talking, and he was telling me about a movie he’d just seen, called “The Adventures of Tin-Tin.” I’ve not yet seen the film, but my dad described the CGI (computer generated imagery) as excellent, almost comparable to a real-life image. Furthermore, he surmised that soon, within the next five years, we would have CGI so lifelike that we could effectively resurrect dead actors and actresses and put them back onto the screen. My dad cited Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe as his three most likely candidates for this treatment. He even thinks that synthesizers will soon be built that can match their voices exactly, creating the perfect CG recreation of the dead. This technique would eliminate the need to pay actors millions of dollars. And without real actors, who needs agents or producers? Entire films could be made within studios, by only a handful of people. In the near future, promises my father, this will be commonplace.
I hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t like this idea. First off, do we really want movie studios to have this kind of power? Essentially, they’ll be able to put any star they want into any movie. So let’s say they make some snoozer rom-com that no one will be interested in. “Why not throw Marilyn in?” they might ask. It’s not like they would need to pay her computer-generated counterpart. It would be far cheaper than hiring a new actress, and who wouldn’t want to see Marilyn Monroe back on the silver screen?
But what would that do to her legacy, I wonder? She would go from an American icon to a marketing gimmick, a computer generated simulacrum thrown into any old B-movie just to generate a little interest. I’d even go as far as to say that this would be disrespectful to her memory, or the memory of any star resurrected in such a way.
Furthermore, what would this do to the industry? Imagine a world without actors and actresses. Yes, there would be far less celebrity gossip, and admittedly, some of those actors and actresses wouldn’t exactly be missed. But think about what we would be losing in terms of screen performance. Acting, like many other forms of art, is based in subtlety. Though film animators are vastly talented people, can we really expect them to create characters with more depth and passion than experienced actors? Granted, most viewers have no problem identifying with Woody and Buzz and Mike and Sully, myself included. But in terms of emotional depth, these are relatively simple characters. If we take an intense, introspective drama, 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” for example, and replace Daniel Day-Lewis with a perfectly lifelike, computer-generated version of himself, can we really expect the same quality of performance?
Lastly, acting is a human art. Just like athletic exhibition or musical performance, we appreciate it because it is a difficult skill that requires practice. In this country, athletes are loved because they possess skills that most other people do not. Part of the reason Michael Jordan became so famous was that he could perform feats that wowed even his peers. His leap from the foul line in the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest was impressive because he was pushing the limits of human potential. The same goes for music. Jimi Hendrix was admired because he did things on the guitar that no other human could do, then or now. Meryl Streep has earned 16 Academy Award Nominations because she exhibits acting skills that surpass those of most other people.
But where is the achievement if we replace these extraordinary people with computer-generated clones of themselves? Even if the clones perform the exact same feats, I doubt that anyone would be impressed. After all, a machine is built to perform a task. If one such machine can replicate the actions of a dead star, it is merely performing the task which it was built for. On the other hand, a human who could perform these tasks would be met with praise, because that human is functioning above the norm.
I realize that this is an awfully long post, and though I could go on for several more pages, I’ll end it here. If my dad turns out to be right, I hope to see you picketing for real actors. I know I will.