A digital clone of the actor — created using artificial intelligence technology like that used to generate deepfakes — will walk, talk and interact on screen with other actors in the film.
This is the second time Dean's digital clone has been lined up for a film. In 2019, it was announced he would be resurrected in CGI for Finding Jack, but it was later cancelled.
Travis Cloyd, chief executive of immersive media agency WorldwideXR (WXR), confirmed to BBC, however, that Dean will instead star in Back to Eden, a science fiction film in which "an out of this world visit to find truth leads to a journey across America with the legend James Dean".
The digital cloning of Dean also represents a significant shift in what is possible. His AI avatar can play a flat-screen role in Back to Eden and a series of subsequent films, but to engage with audiences in interactive platforms, including augmented reality, virtual reality and gaming.
The concept will be annoying to those who feel that Dean’s legacy will be destroyed. Humphrey Bogart, who is also dead, said that "Dean died at just the right time. He left behind a legend. If he had lived, he'd never have been able to live up to his publicity.”
The technology raises some uncomfortable questions. Who owns the rights to someone's face, voice and persona after they die? What control can they have over the direction of their career after death — could an actor who made their name starring in gritty dramas suddenly be made to appear in a goofball comedy, adverts or porn.
In June Rolling Stone published this advice from Samuel L. Jackson. "Future actors should do what I always do when I get a contract and it has the words 'in perpetuity' and 'known and unknown' on it: I cross that shit out. It's my way of saying, 'No, I do not approve of this.'"