Martin Scorsese's upcoming film The Irishman tells the story of Frank Sheehan, an alleged mafia hitman who claimed to have been the one to bump off Jimmy Hoffa. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Yeah, it's basically the Avengers of mob movies. The Netflix project recently released its first trailer, and while Scorsese hasn't lost his mind and shoehorned a Death Star into the story, people are mostly interested in Industrial Light & Magic's contribution to the project.
The story takes place over several decades, so naturally, they need to make the elderly cast appear younger. Instead of simply giving legendary actor Robert De Niro a backwards baseball cap and a skateboard, Scorsese opted to use de-aging effects for large chunks of the movie. More Taxi Driver, less Dirty Grandpa, if you will. In any case, ILM was tasked with undertaking this digital Botox treatment. It's difficult to tell from the trailer how successful they were, since most of the (likely unfinished) de-aging shots are shrouded in helpful shadows. But we still have a few concerns.
For one, past examples of de-aging have looked kind of extremely weird. The first prominent example of this was the prologue of X-Men: The Last Stand, which you probably forgot about because of the two hours of nonsense that followed it. We meet a young Professor X and Magneto who are surprisingly smooth and shiny. Ian McKellen resembles a hastily photoshopped dating profile pic come to life, and Patrick Stewart looks like a Star Trek action figure who escaped from Andy's room.
Despite its janky start, the technology, pioneered by Lola VFX, has certainly improved over the years. Their work on this year's Captain Marvel looked pretty good, and reportedly cut shooting time "in half" by "youthening" Samuel L. Jackson without the aid of a double. Still, even Scorsese was reportedly "concerned" about how the de-aged performances were going to look in The Irishman.
Presumably, though, this process will one day be perfected, then things may get even more complicated. We may get to the point where stars can effortlessly monkey with their appearances, eliminating even the tiniest flaw or imperfection. Movies could become a kind of creepily perfect, Gattaca-like dystopia not representative of humanity. And this would probably even impact older movies and television as well. So in conclusion, come 2043, we'll all be watching remastered episodes of Seinfeld in which every single character is freakishly and inexplicably swole and vascular. The Singularity, everybody!
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