Digitally de-aging actors must be an enticing proposition for a film studio. Not only do you get to exploit multiple generations of nostalgia, but you can also skip over the backlash that comes with recasting a beloved character. All the better if, as in the new new Indiana Jones movie, it’s only for one scene. That way you can provide the kind of connective tissue required to legitimize a new sequel — especially one made 41 years after the original.
This latest detail about the long-in-development movie arrived on Monday as part of an Empire magazine story, which revealed a few facts about the opening of the new movie, including that it would de-age star Harrison Ford to his age in the original trilogy.
According to director James Mangold (Logan), the movie’s opening will be set in 1944 in a castle full of Nazis as Indy does all sorts of adventuring to get himself free. And, supposedly, he’ll do all of this looking about like his old Raiders of the Lost Ark self, though that still remains to be seen.
After all, Disney, which is producing this movie under 20th Century Pictures, has a complicated history with de-aging and is responsible for some of the strangest and most jarring uses it’s had so far. Notoriously, the company recreated Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, with unintentionally strange and somewhat horrifying results, for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The series also faced mixed results with its digitally de-aged Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian, pulling the actor’s voice back through the decades to 1983.
But perhaps the most infamous de-aging belongs to Netflix, not Disney. That studio is solely reponsible for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, in which it recreated Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino across a few decades of in-movie story with decidedly mixed results.
To help avoid any of these issues, Mangold worked with visual effects studio Industrial Light and Magic to work with new software that composites reams of archive footage of Ford’s younger self and matches it with newly shot footage, blending the two into something the team hopes will look seamless.
Indiana Jones 5 producer Kathleen Kennedy, who also produced all of the aforementioned Star Wars properties, is bullish on some of the new techniques that have come along since digital de-aging first made its big forays into film.
“My hope is that, although it will be talked about in terms of technology, you just watch it and go, ‘Oh my God, they just found footage. This was a thing they shot 40 years ago’,” Kennedy told Empire.
The notoriously curmudgeonly Ford also shared a bit of Kennedy’s optimism. “This is the first time I’ve seen it where I believe it,” the actor told Empire. And while he’s certainly pretty obligated to say nice things about the movie, it’s worth remembering that of all the franchises he’s done, Ford’s never been shy about calling Indy is favorite, or about his desire to return to it. And that much love for the franchise has to be worth something, so maybe Ford wouldn’t have gotten on-board with the de-aging if he didn’t really think it worked.
Whatever the end result, we’ll have to wait until either the first footage of the movie premieres to see for ourselves, or maybe until its eventual June 30 release date.