COMMENT: Bringing icons back from the dead is Hollywood's most chillingly immoral trend yet, says Julie Burchill.
Emma Thompson's whopping carbon footprint - she famously flew more than 5,000 miles to attend an Extinction Rebellion protest - shows no sign of becoming more modest any time soon. The new film she has written, Last Christmas - described by director Paul Feig as "a love letter to George Michael" - premieres next week in London; in a fortnight she'll have clocked up just shy of 7,000 miles in air travel. Flying has become the new stripping off for showbiz kids - fine if it's deemed artistically necessary.
Though on this front, the early signs are not encouraging. "A beautifully wrapped Christmas gift filled with rotten turkey leftovers... a clunky, charmless disappointment," said The Guardian, which has to hurt as it's practically the Emma Thompson Fan Club Newsletter. The BBC was even more brutal: "What did George Michael do to deserve this? Why should he be associated with a brutally unfunny and contrived romantic comedy when he's no longer around to object?" To be fair, he did contribute a previously unreleased song (the somewhat sinisterly titled This Is How (We Want You to Get High) and his family have issued a statement saying that they "hope fans everywhere rejoice in hearing this great new song written with immense passion and pride...we proudly send it as his gift to you this season to bring you all love and festive joy". Thompson is also on record as discussing the project with him in 2013.
There can be no such claims that the late James Dean was looking forward to his starring role in a film called Finding Jack, which hopes to see the light of day next year, thanks to CGI. A heart-warming tale about a Vietnam veteran (Dean) and an abject dog (the film), the hopeful director told The Hollywood Reporter: "We feel very honoured that his family supports us and will take every precaution to ensure that his legacy as one of the most epic film stars to date is kept firmly intact. The family views this as his fourth movie, a film he never got to make. We do not intend to let his fans down." Something called CMG (Corpse Marketers Guild, perchance?) Worldwide, which represents the Deans - as well as the families of such stone-cold talent as Burt Reynolds, Bette Davis and Christopher Reeve - told The Reporter: "This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us."
Touchingly, youngsters have taken to Twitter using heated language - lack of consent, an insult to the craft of acting, disgusting publicity stunt - which, for once, seems totally appropriate. I'm aware that this is nothing new - there have been hologram tours of dead pop stars doing the rounds for ages now and as I'm writing this Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman have popped up on TV dressed for Casablanca but advertising the Tesco Clubcard Plus. Could one imagine a more queasy juxtaposition of bygone glamour and humdrum penny-pinching?
It's all very well for living musicians to squeeze the juice out of their back catalogues, as they have with Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody; I've got young friends who have just discovered Freddie Mercury due to the film. But once living legends have shuffled off this mortal coil, it's never a good look to dig them up and strap their corpse to a flogged horse. The only plus I can think of is that quite a few of today's overpaid and underwhelming stars will be looking nervously behind them now - how can the ageing Johnny Depp ever compare with Dean, or Paltrow with Monroe? The same for politics; what a relief that Corbyn can't conjure up a hologram of Nye Bevan, or Johnson of Churchill, to add instant gravitas to their proclamations and promises, as they'd instantly be dwarfed by them.
The term grave-robbing rightly fills us with disgust; the story of Rossetti exhuming poor Lizzie Siddal's grave for the love poems he wrote her when his career was on the skids is uniquely shocking in the bursting back pages of mistreated muses. When we see a reanimated idol, it's like having all the love letters we never sent them rubbed gleefully in our faces. So let the famous dead rest in peace - not in pixelated pieces - safe at last from prying and prurience.