The Case Against ‘De-Aging’ Actors in Movies

We mean with computers, not drastic plastic surgery
The Case Against ‘De-Aging’ Actors in Movies

By this point, we're all familiar with Hollywood's newfangled de-aging technology, which allows haggard movie stars to look young again but without the hassle of a blood sacrifice to the ancient gods. But this effect doesn't always turn out so great. Most famously, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman spent hundreds of millions of dollars pioneering this tech, but even that ended up looking kind of funky. Robert DeNiro's Frank Sheeran was supposed to be just 24 at the beginning of the movie, yet he moved with the exuberance of a widowed retiree lining up for the Early Bird Buffet.

Despite the fact that this trend only seemed to be gaining momentum last year, we've seen a few recent high-profile projects eschew this approach -- and the results have been way more effective. For the flashback scenes in Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee just used the same actors and trusted that audiences would suspend their disbelief. Meanwhile, It: Chapter 2 didn't even trust audiences to accept that the reality child actors from the first movie are human beings who aged slightly in the intervening years.

Instead of just re-casting the roles like they did with Obi Wan Kenobi and Han Solo, Rogue One: a Star Wars Story used computer animation to create new versions of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia, which was arguably creepy, distracting and creepily distracting.

On the other hand, last year's sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, didn't go this route at all. Instead of cobbling together CGI versions of the original actors, which according to the director "just felt wrong" they simply hired flesh-and-blood actors who looked passably familiar and gave great performances.

The Case Against ‘De-Aging’ Actors in Movies
Warner Bros.

In the end (SPOILERS for Doctor Sleep) Danny Torrence comes face-to-face with his father, Jack. And he's played not, by a Jack Nicholson made of pixels, but by former little boy from E.T., Henry Thomas. And let's be honest, if they recreated Nicholson as a CGI character he probably would have promptly disappeared only to show up on a Pixar computer hitting on Mrs. Incredible.

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Warner Bros.

The best recent argument against de-aging technology though is the Netflix series Dark. The show is built around a conceit that (minor SPOILERS for Dark) we see several different characters at multiple different points in time. But instead of using computer wizardry, or heavy make-up, the German production cast actors of varying ages who resemble one another. And the results are astounding. So much so that some episodes even end by showing the characters in split-screen with their younger selves, as if the casting director is straight-up daring you to find a single goddamn fault.

The effect is so impressive, reportedly "some viewers are convinced that one actor has just been aged up using makeup and prosthetics." The show works, not just because the characters look the same when they're younger, but because they feel like real people, not rogue Playstation 3 characters. 

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Top Image: Netflix, Lucasfilm

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