Up to now, the dead have done only cameos, owing to the cost and complexity of reconstituting and manipulating their images for lengthier performances. Sir Laurence Olivier appeared for only seconds in 2004's 'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow'.
Eric Barba, the visual effects supervisor at Digital Domain responsible for such films as "TRON: Legacy" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," says so many nuances are involved in re-creating a dead star that it's a hard trick to pull off successfully.
Among unsuccessful efforts, he cites his own reanimation of popcorn king Orville Redenbacher, who, though dead, starred in a new series of Barba-supervised commercials four years ago. Creating Redenbacher's likeness, says Barba, was the easy part. Imbuing it with life was hard. One actor supplied Redenbacher's voice, another his facial manifestations, another his body. There were three different performances to integrate. The result, says Barba, "was considered odd. Even my own people couldn't tell me what was wrong." Wags dubbed it Orville Deadenbacher.
Yet progress is being made with every new attempt. The technology, says Roesler, "continues to improve day to day." Salter expects to see a full length feature film starring somebody dead in "the next couple of years."
One reason: demand. Roesler says advertisers and directors appreciate the upside to working with the dead. With a live star, something can always go wrong—a wardrobe malfunction, a traffic incident, a stay in rehab. The dead are well behaved. They show up when called. And their place in the public mind is secure--as immutable as Mt. Rushmore.
To preserve Monroe's integrity, Salter says he will be choosy what roles he allows her to accept and will stand guard against situations he deems inappropriate. "When she's on the set, we'll manage her. She's not taking off her clothes, I can tell you that!"
Would he be friendly to the idea of Monroe's being teamed with a live co-star? "Madonna? We'd be honored." How about with some other deceased great--maybe Sonja Henie, the skating champ? Can we look forward to Marilyn Monroe on Ice? "You could."
Salter says he'd be delighted to see Monroe star in a Lucas picture, and that he's ready to propose attractive terms: "I'll make him a better deal then he'd get with Angelina Jolie."