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Monday February 17, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday February 17, 2014 MYT 10:53:05 AM
by olivia lee
The late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in a scene from 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' as Plutarch Heavensbee. - The Hunger Games Facebook/Murray Close
Actors’ deaths affect more than just fans – they often leave the fates of multimillion-dollar films hanging in the balance. We take a look at how seven films were salvaged in the aftermath of key actors' sudden passing.
ACADEMY Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s untimely death earlier this month left the Hollywood film industry abuzz with speculation about how it would affect The Hunger Games franchise. While the late 46-year-old completed his scenes for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, he still had seven days of filming left for the second half of the third and final instalment of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series. Hoffman, who was found dead in his New York City home on Feb 2 of an apparent heroin overdose, had joined the cast of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as Plutarch Heavensbee – the head gamemaker and a key figure who becomes mentor to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen.
Despite the initial hubbub, a Lionsgate Studio executive has announced that Hoffman’s death will have “no impact” on production – it's been suggested that CGI technology will be used to fill out some of the actor’s missing scenes. It’s also understood that the release dates for both movies will go ahead as scheduled with Part 1 hitting cinemas on Nov 21 this year and Part 2 the following year.
However, the same cannot be said about Showtime TV series Happyish that was created with Hoffman in mind. The premise, according to the cable network’s entertainment president David Nevins, tells how Hoffman’s character Thom Payne – “a successful but self-loathing creative director at a New York ad agency fears becoming culturally irrelevant in a world with 25-year-old CEOs and 27-year-old billionaires”. While the series’ pilot has been filmed, it is “unlikely” the project will go on. Not everything can be saved by CGI.
Let’s take a look at how six other actors lived on through CGI and the creative genius of filmmakers that made it possible for their final movie to see the light of day.
After Paul Walker’s tragic death in a car crash in November last year left the estimated US$200mil (RM665mil) production of Fast & Furious 7 in limbo, Universal Pictures decided to retire his character Brian O’Conner so that the franchise could live on. Despite the film studio keeping mum on details, it’s been rumoured the production team cast Walker’s 25-year-old look-alike brother, Cody, to stand in as his body double and digitally fill out the details. We have every faith that the nine-month delay to the intended release date of July 11, 2014 – the new date is sometime in April 2015 – should provide director James Wan and screenwriter Chris Morgan with sufficient time to iron out the kinks. Walker’s other incomplete projects – Agent 47 (the sequel to Timothy Olyphant’s Hitman) and Nicholas Sparks’ The Best Of Me – may see Homeland’s Rupert Friend and X-Men’s James Marsden taking up the roles respectively.
Heath Ledger’s death on Jan 22, 2008, threw a spanner in the works for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – the movie’s original “Why so serious?” marketing campaign was unceremoniously dropped for being inappropriate. But that was a tiny problem compared to what director Terry Gilliam had to overcome for The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus. Ledger had only completed less than half of his scenes for the film. Worse still, his death caused many of the film’s investors to pull out. Gilliam initially wanted to call it quits but a re-imagining of the film’s storyline led to the casting of three of Ledger’s closest actor friends – Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell – as transformed versions of his character. The fantasy film was eventually finished and released in Christmas 2009.
It was March 31, 1993, the 52nd day of a 60-day shoot when Brandon Lee was accidentally shot in the abdomen with a dummy bullet on the set of The Crow. Despite a six-hour surgery, Lee died at the young age of 28. The film almost followed Lee to the grave, but CGI, a very new concept at the time, did what doctors could not. Dream Quest Images digitally composited Lee’s seven unfinished scenes. The most difficult scene was also the most crucial, when Lee’s character Eric Draven enters his apartment after digging himself out of his grave. The scene only lasted for five seconds but took “between 500 and 550 (hours) of direct labour”, according to the company’s special effects producer Mark M. Galvin. The hard work paid off: The Crow became a cult hit, earned US$144mil on its US$23mil budget and solidified Lee’s brief film legacy.
The second time CGI was used to fill in the blanks was for Gladiator, when 61-year-old Oliver Reed, who had three weeks of filming left for his role as the elderly slave dealer Proximo, died in a bar from a heart attack on May 2, 1999. After agreeing to a partial rewrite, director Ridley Scott forged ahead, using a body double with Reed’s head digitally superimposed. Visual effects supervisor Rob Harvey described it as a weird thing to do “particularly then, when the technology wasn’t really there at all. … We only manipulated his beard (for continuity), but it was his head cut out and stuck on to the body double. … We had to find lines that were dropped and takes that weren’t used to piece together a coherent sequence. It was a clever bit of directing and scriptwriting. We just tried to do it as tastefully as possible.” The two minutes’ worth of digital trickery cost an estimated US$3mil, but the film would later gross more than US$187mil at the box office. It also went on to win five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Visual Effects.
George Sluizer’s Dark Blood production was indefinitely shut down when financial backers pulled out after its lead actor River Phoenix died suddenly of a drug-induced heart failure on Oct 31, 1993, with only 11 days of filming left. The movie sat in the vault of the insurance company until Sluizer rescued it in October 2011 when he learnt it was going to be destroyed. Aged 80, plagued by illness, and using his own money, Sluizer overcame rumours that he approached Joaquin Phoenix to narrate his late brother’s unfilmed parts and the Phoenix family’s refusal to have anything to do with the film to bring the two-decade-old project to completion. After rewriting and narrating the incomplete sequences himself, Sluizer eventually premiered the movie on Sept 27, 2012, to a private audience at the Netherlands Film Festival. However, a distribution deal still eludes the film and it continues to languish in no man’s land.
Bruce Lee was midway through the Hong Kong production of Game Of Death when he jumped on the opportunity to film his masterpiece Enter The Dragon, promising Game Of Death producer Raymond Chow he would resume work on the film afterwards. But, as fate would have it, before he could, he died on July 20, 1973, of cerebral edema caused by an allergic reaction to a painkiller he’d taken for a headache. Lee’s tragic death left Chow with only 30 minutes’ worth of the actor’s fight scenes and not much else. Faced with this quandary, Chow changed the film’s premise. Originally, Lee’s character Billy Lo was blackmailed to retrieve a treasure from a heavily guarded pagoda, but in the revised version, Billy is shot in the face by gangsters but survives and fakes his death, assuming a new identity with “a new face”. The gangsters eventually learn Billy is alive and kidnaps his girlfriend, luring him to the pagoda to rescue her. Only 11 minutes from the original footage was used in the final 90-minute version of the film, with stand-ins, cardboard cutouts, and stills of Lee’s face completing the show. Interestingly, Billy’s funeral scene in the film includes real footage from Lee’s funeral.
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Lifestyle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Hunger Games, unfinished, films, movies, Paul Walker, Heath Ledger, Brandon Lee, River Phoenix, Bruce Lee
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