‘Hunger Games’ Handles Actor’s Death With Class

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay director Francis Lawrence has refused to use technology to cope with the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman partway through the shooting of the two Mockingjay films, instead honoring the great actor by shuffling his lines to other actors and cutting parts rather than attempting to use CGI technology to replace him.

The director spoke about the decision to forego technical trickery to deal with Hoffman’s absence in an interview with HuffPost Live. “He had two scenes with dialogue that were left and we decided we didn’t want to try any digital trickery with him, so we rewrote his scenes and gave the dialogue to other actors,” he said. “He was one of the greatest actors, I think, of all time and I just think to try to fake a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance would have been catastrophic and I would never want to do that. I just think this was the best way to be able to get around such a horrible thing.”

Hoffman died from an accidental drug overdose in February while the Hunger Games crew was filming both parts of Mockingjay at the same time. The actor played Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker who helps Jennifer Lawrence’s character Katniss stir rebellion.

The process of using CGI to replace a deceased actor might seem like an outwardly terrible idea — thus, Lawrence’s decision seems pretty obvious — but the team behind The Fast and the Furious 7 used the technology to finish that film after star Paul Walker died in an automobile accident last year. Walker’s brothers, Cody and Caleb, were brought in to help finish filming his parts, and Paul’s face will be added onto their bodies using something called face-replacement technology.

That process was deeply upsetting for Walker’s co-star Vin Diesel, who holed up in his trailer and caused filming to be shut down several times due to his dissatisfaction with the technology.

The actor responded to rumors about his difficulties on set in a Facebook post, saying of Walker: ““He always knew I would fight for him … whether it was to protect his deal or to protect his integrity,” Diesel wrote. “With our new ambitious vfx team, the whole cast and crew has had to adjust to this awkward and uncomfortable process of pixels over people. Aside from the obvious strains it places on the director, the challenge is not to allow it to compromise what makes the character so special.

Apparently they got things worked out, because the film finished shooting and is set for release in April. Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor, is going to be retired in the movie (not killed off as some had speculated) so that the franchise can continue without him. According to a statement from Universal released when the decision was made to complete work on the film rather than scrap it in the wake of Walker’s death, the Walker brothers were used for finishing up some action scenes, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be featured impersonating Paul too prominently.

“We have resumed shooting and now welcome Paul’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, into our FAST family. Caleb and Cody are helping us complete some remaining action for their brother and fill in small gaps left in production. Having them on set has made us all feel that Paul is with us too,” Universal said, per The Hollywood Reporter.

The less the technology is used, the better, not only due to matters of taste but because of the aesthetic theory of the “uncanny valley.” According to that theory, the closer an animation or recreation of human features appears to being actually human, the more it will inspire a feeling of intense revulsion in a human viewer. Cartoons and video games need to retain an element of their fakeness because of this principle. Attempting to digitally place a dead person’s face on another person’s body is a dangerous way to flirt with that uncanny valley.

Overall, Lawrence and The Hunger Games team made a much safer and more tasteful decision with handling Hoffman’s death, though they may have had less material left to shoot when the actor died. As beloved as the long-running Fast and the Furious franchise may be, Walker isn’t exactly considered to be one of the great actors of this generation, so that film had a bit more leniency when it came to using other bodies in replacing him for action scenes.  We know Vin Diesel didn’t approve, but we’ll see how well they did with that face-replacement stuff come April.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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