New Movie Uses AI to De-Age Tom Hanks and Robin Wright to What They Looked Like in the 90s

Oh boy.

Back to the Future

Beloved Hollywood filmmaker Robert Zemeckis wants us to recall the good old days, back when his movies weren’t critical flops and commanded hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. And so, in his new, eras-spanning movie “Here,” the director reunites his “Forrest Gump” co-stars Tom Hanks and Robin Wright as if it were still the 90s, with the two actors looking younger than ever.

Or, well, sort of. This feel-good looking movie, as it turns out, has a controversial quirk: to make his stars look young again, Zemeckis leveraged AI-assisted de-aging technology — and the results, which if we’re being generous are mixed, come at a time when AI’s use in entertainment is a hot-button issue.

You can have a look at in action for yourselves in this just-released trailer. In some moments, the AI de-aging looks convincing enough. In others, though, it can be as uncanny as audiences have come to expect from this technology — like someone put Hanks and Wright through a FaceApp setting and called it quits.

Through the Ages

“Here” marks a big swing from Zemeckis (he’s had a lot of those this century, and most of them, it pains us to say, were misses.) Based on a graphic novel of the same name, the entire movie takes place in the exact same location — with the exact same view — starting at least as far back as the dinosaurs and progressing to the living room of the couple portrayed by Hanks and Wright. The twee answer, maybe, to Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life.”

“The single perspective never changes, but everything around it does,” Zemeckis told Vanity Fair in a recent interview. “It’s actually never been done before.”

Hanks and Wright’s characters first come into the picture as a young couple. The production used a generative AI driven tool called Metaphysic Live, which essentially does a “realtime, hypperreal faceswap,” in the company’s own description, on the actors to age them up or down. Wright was de-aged, for example, with footage of when she was 19 years old, according to IndieWire.

Questionable Experiment

Zemeckis has always been one to toy with the limits of technology in the medium. His ’80s classic “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which combined hand-drawn cartoons with live-action noir caricatures, is testament to that. At the turn of the century, he kept pushing forward by using CGI, but to dubious effect, which many saw as a downward turn for the director. So when “Here” and its use of de-aging AI was announced in early 2023, few were surprised.

Those CGI duds, like “Beowulf” and “Pinnochio,” were more labored and less beloved — possibly presaging Zemeckis’ foray into AI with “Here.” De-aging, AI-powered or not, has always proved divisive, drawing scrutiny in blockbusters ranging from the recent “Indiana Jones” to serious pictures like “The Irishman.”

It’s not just that it looks bad. Many creatives oppose AI on principle, especially in the movie industry, where Hollywood screenwriters fought tooth and nail for landmark protections against the technology. So however good or bad Zemeckis’ latest picture turns out to be, it will undoubtedly remain controversial.

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