The trailer for Martin Scorsese’s upcoming biopic “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, recently dropped and gave us our first look at de-aged versions of both stars. The film will follow on the heels of recent projects that gave actors digital facelifts. The trend is stirring controversy, though, as well as questions of how it will impact acting and filmmaking moving forward.
De Niro, 75, and Pacino, 79, will be de-aged during different points of the upcoming Netflix production as they portray younger versions of their characters over the course of decades. In their de-aged company is Will Smith, who will have viewers seeing double in Ang Lee’s upcoming sci-fi thriller “Gemini Man.” In it, Smith’s middle-aged assassin will take on a younger clone of himself. An increasing number of marquee names have been de-aged on-screen recently, whether it be Samuel L. Jackson in “Captain Marvel,” Kurt Russell in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” or Anthony Hopkins in “Westworld.”
Recent additions to that list are the young actors in the upcoming sequel “It Chapter Two.” The film takes place 27 years after its predecessor and features the original’s adolescent characters as adults. But the sequel will also include flashback scenes to their childhoods. Since the child actors underwent growth spurts after the “It” remake was released in 2017, director Andy Muschietti says the budget for “It Chapter Two” included de-aging visual effects so that the flashback scenes would match.
No matter how old the actor it’s applied to, the de-aging technique is raising concern. Scorsese himself voiced questions over the technique and how it affected the expression found in actors’ eyes translating on-screen. Critics also cite the uncanny valley effect as one of their issues with the trend. But perhaps most concerning is how the technology can be used to resurrect deceased actors. An example of the latter is Peter Cushing in “Rogue One,” a film released 22 years after his death. Some questioned the ethics of recreating deceased actors on-screen because they have no involvement in those performances, even if their estates approved them. And when it comes to a uniquely personal art form like acting, critics feel that engineering an actor’s portrayal of a character without his or her input or approval is a mistake.
Long before Marvel jumped on the de-aging train, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben told us, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Since we’re now capable of de-aging and resurrecting humans on screen, the question moving forward is if we should. “The Irishman” will be a good litmus test for whether the technology detracts from the performances as it portrays the auspicious collaboration of two eminent talents known for their iconic work in “The Godfather: Part II.” In that classic, De Niro played a younger version of Don Vito Corleone; it was not an option at the time to de-age Marlon Brando so that he could reprise his role from “The Godfather.” Since Brando’s no longer with us, we’re left with one question. If de-aging had been possible and offered to him, would he have refused it?