Nice work if you can get it: Arnold Schwarzenegger might end up in the latest “Terminator” sequel without having to step onto the set.
Okay, so he’s too busy trying to rescue budget-battered California to bother filming any scenes for “Terminator: Salvation.” But while inserting Schwarzenegger’s image into the new flick using old footage might involve some expensive special effects wizardry, it risks coming across as cheap gimmickry.
The possible cinematic legerdemain – Schwarzenegger reportedly wants to see how the scene looks before signing off, even with the film due in theater May 21 – raises new questions about actors’ changing role in the digital age.
In 1982, leftover celluloid footage of the late Peter Sellers formed the basis of “Trail of the Pink Panther,” a pathetic attempt to squeeze some posthumous pennies out of the comedy franchise. Better technology brought cheesier efforts: the late Fred Astaire infamously “danced” with a vacuum cleaner in a 1997 commercial.
Recent years have seen more thoughtful and seamless uses of special effects – while further blurring the line between acting and image manipulation.
Andy Serkis offered unforgettable performances in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, providing the voice and facial expressions for the digitally created villain, Gollum. Brad Pitt notched an Oscar nomination for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” even though his head was transposed, at different points, onto the bodies of three other actors.
But at least Serkis and Pitt showed up to work.
A canned cameo by Schwarzenegger could come off as a lifeless as a cyborg – and as a bloodless attempt to generate even more publicity for the much-anticipated movie.
So Terminator fans, tell us what would you rather see: the first Schwarzenegger-free film in the series, or an “I’ll-be-back” promise fulfilled – even if it’s just a digitally inserted rerun.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.