First, if you’ve recently seen Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, I hope you’re doing okay. Second off, you probably are wondering when Hollywood is going to either give up on de-aging actors or learn that they need to wait until the technology drastically improves.
Now, this isn’t to say that de-aging is done poorly every single time, but when it is done poorly, it is immediately noticeable and just about the only thing you can focus on. Problems with the plot and idea of Dial of Destiny aside, let’s take a look at de-aging in cinema and why Hollywood should put an end to it.
Let Them Retire for God’s Sake
I don’t know if it’s the actors clinging onto their roles or if Hollywood is just offering them boatloads of money—or both—but it needs to stop. After the bad reviews Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull received, you would’ve thought that Indiana Jones as a franchise was done, or at least wouldn’t feature Harrison Ford anymore and would go a different direction. If you thought that, you would’ve been correct—for about 15 years until Dial of Destiny.
Harrison Ford is 81 god damn years old. There should be no reason for him to be the lead of an action-adventure movie at this point. He’s done; it’s over. He had a great run and starred in some of cinema’s greatest movies of all time, but it’s time to pass the torch. Why, oh why, do we have to sit through an opening scene that lasts 25 minutes and is so far down the uncanny valley that you can’t help but stare at Jones’s face whenever it’s on-screen—and not for a good reason either.
I will say that it is impressive what they can do, but the technology just still isn’t there. The effects always fall short of replicating the actual actor’s younger self, especially when used to such a large degree in motion sequences and well-lit scenes. Ford here is de-aged by around 40 years, but it looks off. He looks almost like a video game character, particularly if you focus on his eyes, which is what humans are naturally drawn to. It seems unnatural, and the entire time you can’t help but know you’re looking at a digitally altered 81-year-old Harrison Ford.
Another example would be Mark Hamill appearing in The Mandalorian as a young Luke. Hamill himself said “it is unusual” and that “they could get an age-appropriate actor”—which they basically did. The stand-in actor, Graham Hamilton, could’ve easily played a young Luke Skywalker. Obviously, it’s not a 1-for-1 likeness, but it’s close enough, and they already had him acting everything out. Plugging a de-aged Hamill over him seems pointless.
Too Old to Be De-Aged
There becomes an age where it is impossible to truly de-age a character. Disregarding the technology, even if it were perfect and made him look exactly like his 40-year-old self, he would still move and fight like an 81-year-old man.
The best example of this is in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman with Robert DeNiro. DeNiro’s de-aging looks off for the most part, but it is especially noticeable when he is fighting a guy outside a store and kicking him exactly how a seventy-year-old man would. We’re supposed to believe he’s a young hitman when he’s swinging his fists and walking like a geriatric in a nursing home?
Now, looking at Gemini Man with Will Smith, we see a different story. Will Smith is (relatively) young and still able to move and fight like a young man, making his younger counterpart in the film believable. There are still complaints to be made about the effects (and film overall), but it’s at least somewhat more believable during action sequences than either Ford’s or DeNiro’s characters in their de-aged films.
The fact is that de-aging cannot be done without losing a significant degree of emotion and human characteristics. De-aging can’t replicate the movements that a younger person makes, the way that 1980s Ford would walk and talk, etc. There’s a lot lost in the process, and until it gets better, Hollywood would be better off avoiding using the technology like a crutch—or a 25-minute long opening scene that immediately reminds us “this isn’t the real Harrison Ford.”
The Future of De-Aging Actors
If Hollywood continues to just de-age our favorite actors so they can cling to their popularity and fame, we will slowly see a decline in the number of names across cinema and TV. Why bother with a new and mostly unheard-of actor when you can just de-age a household name and throw them in whatever film you want? Going back to Dial of Destiny, the directors and producers didn’t want to make the film without Ford, and Ford himself said something along the lines of that when he dies, Indiana Jones dies too.
Alright there, buddy, some of us have 5+ decades left on this rock and would like to see more Indy after you check out. The original trilogy had a certain charm and sense of adventure to them that the new films don’t, and it isn’t just because Indy looks and acts like an 81-year-old man. I’d rather see Hollywood throw a new name at Indian Jones with a greater focus on the adventure of the old films than get another installment with 88-year-old Harrison Ford.
We also are seeing some fear that Hollywood might completely replace extras in their films with virtual stand-ins through the use of full-body scans and machine learning. Before this, they even wanted to bring James Dean back to life in a Vietnam War film, which would have been wild considering he’s been dead for almost 70 years. Hollywood really just can’t let people go—unless they’re extras, then they’ll do whatever it takes to not have to pay people. Now, replacing entire crowds with CGI is nothing new, but adding virtual extras to a bar scene that were usually paid gigs would be new for the industry as a whole.
Regardless, until the technology behind de-aging gets way better, it should be avoided. Even if it does get better, de-aging, in general, should probably still be avoided since it’s impossible to turn the mannerisms and movements of an 81-year-old man into a 40-year-old hero.
What do you think? Does de-aging have its place in cinema? Or should Hollywood and filmmakers kick it to the curb and stick with practical special effects?