Aaliyah in final role

2002-02-22 14:01

Los Angeles - When R&B singer Aaliyah died in a plane crash last summer, she had been working on roles in three movies. Only one role survived her - that of a 4 000-year-old vampire in Queen of the Damned.

The film is the latest case in which filmmakers had to decide whether to complete and market a movie after a star dies.

In the case of this horror thriller, based on an Anne Rice novel, the 22-year-old Aaliyah had already finished most of her work.

"Everything is pretty much intact. It was a blessing that she was able to finish shooting it," said Rashad Haughton, Aaliyah's 24-year-old brother, who helped salvage the role by re-recording some of his sister's dialogue.

In the two upcoming sequels to The Matrix, however, which were filming simultaneously, there wasn't enough footage of Aaliyah to preserve her performances. Although fans petitioned Warner Bros to keep her in the movies, producers had to recast the role.

Touchy subject

"It's a touchy subject," Haughton said. "Some people don't understand she had just started filming. There was no way to finish it with her in it."

In this era of digital technology, some filmmakers have saved performances by actors who die during production - including Brandon Lee in 1994's The Crow and Oliver Reed in 2000's Gladiator - by recreating the actors through computerisation.

It wasn't that easy years ago. In the 1959 Biblical epic Solomon and Sheba, star Tyrone Power had completed about half the movie when he died from a heart attack. Yul Brynner was hired to refilm all of Power's scenes, although film buffs claim Power is visible in some long shots.

Hiring a new actor to restart production is often extremely costly. Production insurance covers much of the loss, but such policies often have enormous deductibles.

Spencer Tracy's heart ailment on the set of 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was such a liability that no company would insure him.

Collateral salaries

Director Stanley Kramer and co-star Katharine Hepburn agreed to use their salaries as collateral in case Tracy died and the film needed to be reshot.

"He worked only in the mornings," Kramer said in 1991. "His energy would drain. He wouldn't have it in the afternoon ... He was very proud of getting through it."

Tracy finished the movie, but died just 10 days after filming his last scene.

For slapstick comedies, the pall cast by a star's death can be devastating. Even fans who liked John Candy's performance as a stagecoach driver in the critically savaged 1994 comedy Wagons East said it is hard to laugh at the footage from the last days of his life.

Serious dramas, on the other hand, often can survive a star's death, which may even add to the actor's mystique. Of James Dean's three major movies, only East of Eden debuted before his 1955 death in a car crash at age 24.

Rebel Without a Cause came out a month later, and the actor's death added to the sense of doom hanging over his character. The next year, Dean's fame was still on the rise, and his final performance, as a Texas rancher in Giant, earned him a posthumous Academy Award nomination.

Lee, son of martial-arts star Bruce Lee, died at 28 on the set of The Crow in 1993 when he was shot with a fragment from a prop gun that was supposed to fire blanks. Several major scenes were left to shoot, but director Alex Proyas digitally placed Lee into new shots using previous footage. Slight script rewrites and clever use of shadows and lookalikes did the rest.

Fantasy and reality

In Queen of the Damned, Aaliyah's brother acknowledged, some fans might be uncomfortable seeing her play an undead monster who devours beating hearts and slurps blood.

"But this was a role she wanted to play," Haughton said. "I hope people can tell the difference between fantasy and reality."

Director Michael Rymer enlisted Haughton to help finish Aaliyah's dialogue for the movie. Some of her lines in a few outdoor shots were inaudible; Haughton re-recorded them and sound editors made a composite of the two voices.

The result is an ethereal blend of her high voice and his deeper one. Rymer believes it adds a supernatural aura to the character's voice.

Sometimes so much of a film is left unfinished that nothing can save it.

When River Phoenix (23) died from a drug overdose in 1993, he still had several climactic scenes to shoot in Dark Blood. The film's insurance carrier determined it was cheaper to cover the production loss for about $7 million than to reshoot the movie with a new actor.

Such insurance policies are standard on every film. Stars are often restricted in their behaviour - some policies may prohibit them from flying their own planes or engaging in dangerous sports like rock-climbing or skydiving.

In 1962, Henry T Weinstein, producer of Something's Got to Give, told executives at 20th Century Fox that production should be halted because of star Marilyn Monroe's drug addiction and alcoholism.

The studio refused.

"I said ... 'If I came to tell you she just had a heart attack what would you do?'" the late Weinstein recalled in the 2001 documentary Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days. "They said, 'If she had a heart attack we couldn't get insurance, with this [drug addiction] we can'."

The 36-year-old Monroe died midway through production from an overdose of sedatives. The movie was never finished. - Sapa/AP