Monday, October 14, 2019

Gemini Man

I probably didn't have to go all the way out to Chestnut Hill to see Gemini Man in the closest we're going to get to Ang Lee's preferred format - Regal Fenway is almost certainly playing it in the same 4K/60fps/3D+ format on their RPX screen - but if it's not good enough to see twice, I wanted to be sure, and Showcase Cinemas was the only company that tweeted back in the affirmative when I asked if their 3D+ screenings were 4K. The bummer was Showplace Icon definitively saying no, since their Icon-X screen is terrific and I just genuinely assume that they're projecting in 4K. Is there some component in their system that freaks when you try to push five times as much data through it?

It sounds likely when you put it that way, I suppose, but it's the sort of thing I've pondered on occasion since theaters downgraded to digital - because film projectors are dead-simple mechanical devices in theory (though in practice they perform best with a knowledgeable, attentive projectionist paying attention and keeping them properly calibrated), upgrading the picture is often a matter of just threading higher-quality film through them, and various sound and 3D upgrades have been successfully bolted on over time. Dig through old Roger Ebert writings and you'll find talk of MaxiVision 48, a more significant upgrade to get a higher frame rate but one theaters could do without huge outlay. Film projectors have proven incredibly hackable. A digital system, though, is pretty much stuck. Maybe you can do a firmware upgrade to get new sound formats, HDR, and motion data, but going from 2K to 4K seems like it would mean replacing the most expensive part. And getting from a 2K/2D/24fps system to what Ang Lee was trying to show means multiple multiples - 4x the pixel data per frame, 2x to go from 2D to 3D, 5x to go from 24fps to 120fps. A full MAGI set-up would require 40 times as much data going through the system as is the case with most movies you see in most Boston-area theaters, and that's upgrading display elements, polarized lenses, hard drive space, and probably the very cables connecting components. I'm kind of not surprised that nobody in America did it for a just-okay Ang Lee movie that has been in development hell for a quarter-century, especially if they wouldn't do it for The Hobbit.

It will happen eventually, though - in two years, when James Cameron and Disney start twisting arms over who gets Avatar 2, some theaters will start upgrading the way they installed DTS sound in order to get first dibs on Jurassic Park. It will suck for smaller places who are running on thin margins, but I'm guessing it will look amazing.

Or at least I hope so. For all that Gemini Man is just okay, I found that I greatly enjoyed writing about visual effects and technology that genuinely felt new. One of the things that has made the new Star Wars movies a bit less exciting is that there's been no sense of the folks at Industrial Lights and Magic having to invent new techniques to create what the people making them imagined, which had always been part of what made them so special. The CGI in Jurassic Park didn't quite signal the beginning of the end of innovation in visual effects, it often feels like it's been a process of refining tools rather than creating new ones since then. Gemini Man looks weird - although I wonder how many HFR/3D+ movies per year would have to come out before audiences started to see it as just a stylistic choice the filmmaker can make, akin to scope/flat, 3D, black & white, color schemes, etc., as opposed to wrong.

Gemini Man

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2019 in Showcase SuperLux Chestnut Hill #3 (first-run, RealD 3D+ at 4K and 60 frames per second)

It's a testament to the core idea of Gemini Man - both in terms of being something that would be fun for audiences to see on-screen and the foundation on which you can build a solid story - that work on it never really stopped over the past twenty-odd years, long enough to have originally been planned with Tony Scott directing Harrison Ford (or at least, those are the earliest names I can recall being attached) and the necessary visual effects technology just out of reach. The gestation period has been just long enough for its gimmick to go from revolutionary to almost commonplace, with the script probably being revised just enough times to sand a few too many rough edges off but still have the film remain interesting.

It opens with Defense Intelligence Agency sniper Henry Brogan (Will Smith) making a near-impossible kill shot, one he decides should be his last for how close it came to also killing an innocent child. He should, perhaps, have retired a week early, as an old colleague hints that the target was not a terrorist after all. That makes him a target, with DIA bigwig Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond) initially sending a conventional assault team - which Henry and Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the unknowing agent surveilling him, are able to escape with the help of another old friend, Baron (Benedict Wong). That leads to Lassiter and defense contractor Clay Verris (Clive Owen) pulling out their secret weapon: Junior, an assassin who may be Henry's match because he is Henry's clone.

This film could probably have been made with two actors who bear some resemblance to each other; movies have been doing that as long as there have been movies, although they seldom ask the audience to buy into the pair acting against each other, something that's still asking for trouble with digital de-aging. Fortunately, the artists and technicians involved with creating Junior are able to rise to the challenge - he doesn't quite look exactly like the Will Smith of the early 1990s, but some of that is context; the "Fresh Prince"-era version of Smith that Junior is meant to evoke seldom did the sort of heavier material he's got to handle here. It's convincing enough, though; one's brain recognizes Junior as a younger version of Henry and doesn't reject him when they are on the same screen together. Relatively invisible details help to sell it, too: Smith and whoever the sound crew make his voice sound 23 rather than 51, and stand-in Victor Hugo seems to capture the right gait and body-language.

Full review at EFilmCritic

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