Actors are back from the dead, but only as puppets

The Hollywood Blog

By Adam Margolis


word “Nostalgia” has a specific meaning in Hollywood

today. Interestingly though, the word a

ctually comes from two Greek

roots, the first being, “nostos” which means returning home; and the

second root is “algos” which means pain or longing. It was a term that

was taken very seriously from the 17th century all through the 19th. In

fact, “homesickness” or Nostalgia was something that doctors looked at

very seriously. There have even been reported deaths caused by


      So now what has this word come to mean in the land of

Hollywood? I think we can all agree that Nostalgia is commonly accepted

to mean a feeling of longing past times, but in media it means big

dollars. From Charlie’s Angels to Transformers to Garfield to Magnum PI

(Seriously they are making that into a feature) Producers have figured

out a way to capitalize for people’s longing of the past. Remember how

great it was to turn on the Transformers on Saturday morning…now


forward 15 years…your sitting in a movie theater, eagerly awaiting the

next trailer when all of a sudden you hear a sound or piece of music

from something familiar. You rack your brain and inhale with a burst of

excitement as your it triggers the memory of being 7 years old, without

a worry in the world, shaking with anticipation as your favorite

Saturday morning cartoon is about to start. Suddenly, the characters

that you once loved so long ago are BACK and BIGGER and BADDER and more

REALISTIC. This is great right? But now that the whiff of success is

lifting from these Nostalgia-driven ideas, Hollywood doesn’t want to

let go….

I think we are entering a new era of Nostalgia. The gap

between the memories of favorite characters and remakes is closing. A

lot of these nostalgia ideas like to use what worked in the past, while

reinventing the characters and world for a modern audience. Some of the

films, shows or commercials even come off as respectful satire. But as

the technology continues to improve at rapid speeds, the way the media

plays off of Nostalgia is changing.

      Recently, a commercial for the Orville Redenbacher Popcorn

company was produced, using a Computer Generated version of the popcorn

icon. In the ad, Mr. Redenbacher, who passed away in 1995, can be seen

walking and bouncing around a modern office. He casually pulls popcorn

out of the microwave just after making a comment about his mp3 music

player. The CG (computer generated) version of Redenbacher is so

realistic, that I had to rewind the tivo to take a second look. This is

a very controversial selling method and also proof that in a capital

market, people will even be raised from the dead to sell a product.

      I’m sure that the Redenbacher estate was aware and gave full

permission for the use of Orville’s image, but how can anyone truly

know what the man would have wanted. I appreciate the technical

achievement of the commercial but it left me with a sense of discomfort

(having nothing to do with the look of their popcorn). I almost felt as

if I had witnessed tampering of an Indian burial ground. Orville

Redenbacher wasn’t even around for the birth of the mp3 and its

thousands of available players, yet here he is, bopping away to some

tune on his ipod.

Mr. Redenbacher is just one dead celebrity who making a comeback

among many in recent years. Long after her death, Marylin Monroe was

advertising perfume. Steve McQueen has even regained his status as the

ultimate guy to be like, his image appearing on ads for watches,

Cologne and even Ford Mustangs. In a recent issue of Maxim, Bob Marley

was modeling a suit (that he most likely would have never worn while

alive). There are early reports that actors like Humphrey Bogart or

Bruce Lee will eventually be brought back to the big screen to pick up

where they left off, and maintain the same youth health for

eternity. Director, Rob Cohen who did “Dragon the Bruce Lee Story” and

“XXX” will be directing the CG Bruce Lee in a Dreamworks produced

picture. Cohen States,

“The big headline is that I am NOT using clips from the film; I am

creating an entirely photo-realistic Bruce Lee with new, advanced

digital technology. Digital Domain who did “XXX” and “Stealth” with me

are on it big time. We are in the vfx development stage.

This will be the first digital actor and I am very excited about the challenge.”

Cohen has the rights to Bruce Lee’s films and the support of the Lee

family. He says that he is going this to honor Bruce and to share his

spirit and skill with a new generation.

      Logistically, replacing real actors with CG ones makes

sense. No serious demands or paychecks…no on-set tantrums, no tabloid

stories to ruin releases. It seems to make sense from a producing

standpoint. HOWEVER, as we’ve learned over and over and over again, in

many sci-fi movies and stories, there is no replacement for a real

human spirit.

      But the real issue is, who should be making decisions on

behalf of these deceased celebrities, if anyone at all? Shouldn’t the

dead be left alone and the memories that they left behind for us be

left in tact? Will CG versions of our favorite stars from yesteryear

change their personas? I believe that if this becomes a common practice

the lines between reality and CG manifestations will become forever

blurred. History is called history because it stays in the past. I know

that the vast majority of actors and ideas are shit these days, but I

challenge people, producers, advertisers, etc…to come up with new, good

ideas, rather than continually looking to peoples Nostalgic thoughts

for modern ideas.