Dennis Hopper’s on-screen tribute, coming this fall

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Posthumous screen appearances can be a little eerie, like hearing a phone message from someone after they passed away. But they can also be touching reminders of an actor’s legacy -- and because the person is acting, a chance to see them in a guise far different from their frail final days.

With its lag between production and release, moviedom has a long history of posthumous roles. Heath Ledger gave us creepy villainy in “The Dark Knight,” which came out six months after he died. Massimo Troisi conveyed poetic beauty in “Il Postino.”

We probably won’t get those tour de force moments in Dennis Hopper’s posthumous turn. But the prolific actor will bring his spirit to a movie screen one last time with “Alpha and Omega,” an independently made 3-D animated film that Lionsgate will release in September.

The movie itself will probably break little creative ground; judging by the trailer, the story of a dominant female wolf (Hayden Panettiere) and timid male one (Justin Long) who form a bond when transplanted to Idaho to repopulate the species will feature all the familiar wisecracking animals and easy life lessons common to “Madagascar,” “Bolt” and other awards-worthy fare.


But the appearance of Hopper as a wolf named Tony will, at the very least, give it a poignant touch. There’s talk that the film will be dedicated to him, and if Lionsgate can hit the right marketing note (a studio representative said Sunday it was too early to comment on plans), the film can take on the feel of a celebration of Hopper’s diverse career. (Of course the challenge will be to get the more grown-up Hopper fans to see a film about young cartoon wolves in love.)
It’s worth noting that in the annals of posthumous screen appearances, no one did it with as much force or spectral presence as James Dean, who appeared on the screen in the oil drama “Giant” despite his death in a motor accident before the movie was even edited. Dean’s co-star in the film? A young actor named Dennis Hopper. The cycle continues.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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