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6 March 2018

Tired of TV and film 'remakes' and 'reboots'? Prepare for the first 'regenerations'

Written by: Symon Madry, Account Director at Edelman


I recently heard something which threw me into emotional chaos. Fear, anger, curiosity and sadness filled me all at once, and then rapidly cycled through my mind like some kind of grief coping mechanism.

What if it’s bad? But could be good. How dare they? Is this what we’ve come to? 

I had heard The Matrix was being re-booted.

Before further Nerd Rage takes hold, additional reading reveals that it’s not a direct ‘re-make’ (same story and characters eg. Beauty and the Beast) or strictly a ‘re-boot’ (core concept remains but elements change eg. Star-Trek, The Mummy.) Instead, it will exist within the same ‘universe’ as the original films but tell a different story with nods to characters and events considered canon (eg. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.)

Discussions around the need or validity for remakes/reboots aside, technology may see a whole new genre emerge: ‘regenerations’. Here, facial recognition technology would see current actors have their faces superimposed over a classic film or show.

What sparked this idea for me was watching Amazon’s Comrade Detective, in which Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt dub a government-funded buddy cop drama from 1980s communist Romania.

Dubbing is as old as cinema itself, typically for foreign language films; but what if instead of just replacing the audio tracks, the actors’ faces themselves were replaced?  Audiences may one day come to expect this. After all, we’re now accustomed to Snapchat filters and animojis, all from our own smartphones.

Like most technology, by the time most learn about it, it’s already being used for good (face-swapping Nicolas Cage into ‘every movie’) and bad (superimposing actors’ faces in pornography with ‘deepfake’ tech – note: links to article, so completely safe for work; but once again showing how the cliché of the adult film industry pioneering new technology, from video streaming to virtual reality, holds up).

Hopefully the former outweighs the latter. Just think: dubbing actors could step in front of the camera, simultaneously removing the need for subtitles for viewers; aspiring stars could act alongside their heroes; or expensive re-shoots a la Christopher Plummer famously replacing Kevin Spacey at the eleventh hour in All The Money In The World, be rendered unnecessary.

Potentially, this could create a whole new style of acting, similar to ‘motion-capture’, most famously pioneered by Andy Serkis (King Kong, Caesar in Planet of the Apes and Supreme Emperor Snoke in Star Wars - ironically, all remakes or reboots themselves). He has just as famously been ignored for any acting awards, but with more – and better – acting of this style, the Academy and others will need to adapt as quickly as the techniques and technology do.

But if computer regenerations of beloved childhood films isn’t frightening enough, this technology will change fake news into ‘fake views’. In mid-2017 deep learning technology was used to create fake footage of Barrack Obama, in which old audio from the former President was fed through an algorithm to generate a new video. See this article from The Verge for a better understanding, and importantly, demonstration.

Bad? Good? Better? Worse? My emotions are mixed.

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