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Gemini Man : Will Smith and VFX Are At Their Best

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The sci-fi epic Gemini Man has been trapped in development hell for over two decades since it was originally conceived in 1997, but the film is finally coming to fruition now that technology, seemingly, has caught up to its high-concept premise. Directed by Academy Award-winner Ang Lee, the new Paramount Pictures movie stars Will Smith as an aging hitman (Brogen) facing off with a younger clone of himself (Junior), and pushes the bounds of known filmmaking technology to execute on that advanced sci-fi idea.

But will the finished film actually work in execution as much as in conception? That’s what I set out to find out during a special footage presentation on the Paramount Studios lot in Los Angeles, where a select group of journalists, including myself, got a preview of a now-released behind the scenes featurette, three new clips, and a new trailer (which will be dropping on Thursday). Check out the new behind-the-scenes featurette of Gemini Man below:

All the footage, shot digitally at an extra-high frame rate of 120 frames-per-second, was presented in 3D. The good news is that science-fiction action movie is delivering heavily on the “action,” and the set pieces in this movie rival the impressive action sequences of last year’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout. The first clip showcased the film’s fight scenes as Brogen comes face-to-face with Junior, and they’re quickly locked in an intense firefight with a grenade thrown in for fun. Fast and slick, Lee’s choice to swap smooth cinematography for shaky shots adds to the feel and intensity. The action choreography is flawless, and the 3D conversion makes it pop.

The second clip, taking place in what was referred to as the “Bone Room,” really showed off Gemini Man’s technological achievements with young Smith and older Smith facing off up close. Brogen is analyzing Junior and trying to break down his genesis and why he’s being targeted. It’s strong work from both Smith (and Smith). We also got a taste of Smith’s dramatic performance, and it is on point. Again, the fight sequences are tight and executed with staggering accuracy. The digitally created Junior is immaculate. Punches land so convincingly, and look so natural, that it’s entirely believable that both versions of Smith are real to a breathtaking degree.

The third and final clip was less about action and gave the audience a chance to chew on more of the film’s dramatic performances with Smith’s Junior and his “father,” Clive Owen’s Clay Verris, coming face to face. The tension is tightly wound and the scene proves Ang Lee’s ability to balance the spectacle with depth and pull impactful performances from his cast. These are complex characters delivered with skill. It bodes extremely well for the finished product.

The trailer, set to be released this week, is more focused on showing off the dramatic beats in balance with the action, which does a better job of showcasing the strengths of the movie versus the first trailer, which was released three months ago. Take a look at newly-released images from Gemini Man below:

If that’s the good news, the bad news is that, due to the frame rate, the image so crisp it becomes a distraction. For context, the industry standard for movie frame rates is 24 fps; Peter Jackson famously doubled that to 48 fps for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. While the visual style created by the significantly increased frame rate might appeal to some people, I found the visuals took too long to adjust to while watching the portions of footage we saw. It’s always hard to judge a finished project based on small pieces in footage presentations, but my first impression after watching three scenes and the trailer is that I’m not entirely sure I like the stylistic choice.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer spoke to why it was important to the filmmaking team to shoot the movie in the higher-than-normal framerate. “What Ang Lee has done, visually, would be difficult to do at 24 frames,” Bruckheimer said, “but he did it at 120 frames which means you see every little thing. It would’ve been much easier to do this at 24 frames because we can hide a lot. There’s a diffusion to it. When you see this film, it’s lifelike. It is unbelievable what Ang has accomplished. You have to give credit to Skydance, to David Ellison, and to Paramount for taking this huge leap because they laid down a lot of money, praying and hoping that Ang was right on this and I don’t even think he was sure about this himself, but he delivered.”

As for the inclusion of 3D in the movie, I’m not convinced that its use in Gemini Man adds enough positives. While it does elevate and adds depth to the content, there’s already more than enough there to be visually processing. It takes a movie that is already big and in your face and makes even more so. While Lee used 3D very effectively in Life of Pi — it felt complementary to the film and it enhanced what was there — here it felt more like icing on an already amply iced cake. Since we didn’t get to view any footage in 2D, it’s unclear if, comparatively, it does elevate the content. That said, it certainly doesn’t spoil the experience; it’s one of those cases in cinema where just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

While I’m not sold on the increased framerate or addition of 3D, I am sure what is on screen is undeniably impressive and Smith’s performance appears to be one of his best, at least judging by the footage we saw. When it comes to the performance, having Smith play opposite Smith was quite a risk, but it appears to have paid off. Casting the right actor in the right role is hard enough, but when you’ve got to cast the same actor in two opposing parts, that’s even harder. The strengths and the vulnerabilities of both characters are very different, and Smith plays to them like a conductor handles an orchestra – both are accomplished performances. Not only that, but Smith plays against himself with an ease and an intensity that works perfectly. Neither role is less than the other, or feels incomplete; it never feels hammy or like a novelty. It’s one (two?) of the most engaging elements of the movie as a whole.

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