Writing about “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” I stated, ” The changes to the language of cinema Ang Lee has made with this work are not yet fully understood, nor codified.” I further referred to the movie as “an oddity.” Here we are now, three years later, and Lee is back with his next film, “Gemini Man,” and watching it in 120 frames per second 3D, it is all the more clear that critics and artists need to develop a new language and new understanding of cinema in order to truly get at such a film.
There is a hyper-reality to this story of Will Smith’s super-assassin, Henry Brogan, squaring off a young clone of himself, Junior, in a battle for maybe the soul of the world but much more probably the life of Junior himself.
Generally speaking, filmic technique goes hand-in-hand with the story being told in order to enhance said story and the ideas behind it. I don’t think that necessarily happens here.
Projecting a film at this frame rate (as opposed to the traditional 24fps), makes everything on screen crystal clear. There is no grain to the image, there is no distance between the audience and what they are watching. It changes what is required of the written dialogue, the delivery of the dialogue, and even camera setups.
There are scenes in “Gemini Man” where it appears as though one can see the lighting equipment reflected in the eyes of the actors. Is it the equipment? Is it something else? Either way, it’s disturbing. These moments create a distance between the viewer and the movie in a way that is made worse by the otherwise more engrossing than usual image. When the viewer pulls back from “Gemini Man,” the distance between movie and viewer seems greater than it is during a traditional film because the viewer was closer in to start.
The converse is true as well – when a beat in “Gemini Man” works, it works even better than it otherwise would. As the distance between viewer and movie is lessened at the start, when one is pulled in by a great moment, they are closer than they otherwise would be. This is most easily seen in the action sequences. One ducks out of the way of bullets that come whizzing by, not because they’re coming out of the screen in some cheap 3D trick, but because the audience is inside the space with Brogan. The bullets are aimed at us as much as they are aimed at him.
It is an incredible thing to feel and one that deserves to be experienced. If you choose to go and see “Gemini Man,” you simply must find a theater that is showing in in 120fps 3D. Skip the movie otherwise.
The way the film is conveyed is the point. The rest is pure silliness.
Old Will Smith versus young Will Smith never really goes anywhere interesting on an intellectual level. It is all too easy for Brogan to convince Junior that his adopted father, the evil Clay Verris (Clive Owen), is a liar and doesn’t have Junior’s best interests at heart. It is all too easy for Brogan to convince a government watcher, Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), to turn sides and work with Brogan against the government that is now trying to kill him. Brogan has help everywhere, including with his old military buddy, Baron (the wonderful and ill-used Benedict Wong). There are the germs of big ideas here (the script is by David Benioff and Billy Ray and Darren Lemke), but they always seem to devolve into some sort of truly amazing fight sequence.
You leave the theater contemplating the technical marvel of what Lee has wrought, but it’s a hollow feeling that no amount of popcorn will fill. This is a better movie than “Billy Lynn” and Lee is coming closer to working out what this version of movie going looks and feels like, but he’s not there yet. I desperately want him to keep trying though. I don’t know that 120fps 3D will ever take the place of more traditional cinema, but I do think that it could be more than the sideshow spectacle it is now.
That cannot happen however until filmmakers know how to best craft dialogue for and shoot a film in this way, and actors know what feels true and what doesn’t. Audiences can learn to access and accept a movie shot and projected in this manner, but not until we get the first truly great movie in the format. There are moments of that movie in “Gemini Man,” but it isn’t great as a whole and it won’t be the work that gets us there.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures