Gemini Man is an incredible video feast – and a decent movie, too
By Jim Bray
A funny thing happened on the way to reviewing director Ang Lee's Gemini Man: I went in looking specifically to experience and review the high frame rate video presentation, but found to my delight that it's actually a pretty good movie in its own right.
What an unexpected bonus!
Gemini Man pits Will Smith against a digitally "youthed" Will Smith in this tale of intrigue in United States' intelligence circles. He, the elder, is a professional hit man – er, hit person – who's the best in the business. But he's had enough of that life and wants to retire in peace – kind of like Bruce Willis' character begins the movie RED.
Alas, such is not to be because he's too dangerous to be allowed to live, so the powers that be send someone after him to take him out. And there we have our story.
It isn't anything you haven't seen before, really, combining RED with The Sixth Day and other such movies of sci-fi-ish intrigue, but it's surprisingly watchable and the plot holes and lapses in logic don't really spoil the ride.
And what a ride it is! Director Lee has crafted an enjoyable movie that's made even more enjoyable in its 4K disc incarnation because Paramount has released it with a high frame rate that more than doubles the 24 frames per second in which most movies are shot – especially film-based ones – to a marvellously real and involving 60 frames per second.
And that's why I wanted to see Gemini Man on 4K disc. 60 frames per second is common if you surf by the 4K stuff available on YouTube – drone footage, game previews, and the like – but it's rare in the cinematic universe. But it does promise the potential for incredible video images.
Ang Lee himself has done this before, though I never saw his Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (there's a scene on YouTube in 60fps that looks incredible, however), nor had I seen Peter Jackson's Hobbit films in their 48 fps high frame rate versions). Even before those titles, long before, in fact, special effects guru/film director Douglas Trumbull introduced his innovative Showscan technology that actually filmed at 60 frames per second with 70 millimetre film.
Alas, Showscan never caught on for cinematic films (Trumbull's Brainstorm – notorious for being the film during which Natalie Wood died – was supposed to be a showcase for Showscan technology) and instead is more or a novelty; I saw a couple of Showscan presentations in Las Vegas years ago and it's also been used in thrill rides.
So Gemini Man, it could be argued, is a kind of homage to Trumbull's vision, in a digital format. And boy, er "youth", does it deliver!
Gemini Person was actually shot at 120 frames per second, and in 3D, but the 60 frame per second image on the 4K disc offers enough apparent depth that 3D (in my never humble opinion) would be superfluous, and this way you don't need those damn glasses.
I was lucky enough to watch Gemini Man on a 75 inch QLED TV and there are many times during the thing's running time where the picture was so "pop off the screen realistic" that it was almost as if I were watching the action through a picture window rather than on a video screen. There are parts where it didn't seem to matter as much (dark scenes, etc., where you can't see much anyway), but most of the time it's bloody incredible.
Check out the scenes in Cartagena, Columbia, when Smith is first attacked by the guy sent to off him. Not only is the detail extremely impressive, but the colours – especially the pastels of the many buildings they drive around – are so rich and vibrant it just may make you wish all movies were shot that way. It's had that effect on me, and makes me wonder what an "upconverted" older 24 fps movie would be like show that way (probably not quite as good, but probably remarkable anyway).
It's kind of like the look you get with motion smoothing on modern flat panel TVs, which artificially increase the frame rate to eliminate motion artifacts that happen sometimes with 24 frames per second material (the standard for movies since time immemorial) shown on a 60 fps TV.
TV makers offer higher refresh rates (such as 120 or 240 hz) to supposedly get around this "judder" effect that happens when the camera moves across the frame on 24 fps content, but the downside is the "dreaded soap opera effect" that makes stuff in the foreground look spectacularly real, except that it seems as if they're shot in front of a blue special effects screen, making the entire scene look fake. You may like it with live sports, and you may even prefer it to 24 fps – in which case don't mess with it.
But I hate it, which is why every time I review or buy a TV, I shut off all that stuff. It can be called TruMotion, Auto Motion Plus, MotionFlow, or something like that and it's usually a simple matter to get rid of it.
But I digress. The 60 frames per second presentation of Gemini Man gives that spectacular foreground you get with the soap opera effect, but without the fakeness that makes the soap opera effect so annoying. It gives you the good, without the bad. And I find it hard to argue against that!
And I now have what may be the best reference disc I've had to date to use when reviewing televisions. It's really remarkable!
The downside is that the image is so bloody spectacular that it can show up some of the seams. The young Will Smith at times looks amazing, but at others it looks like the CG it really is. And during some of the action scenes it was apparent that the folks doing the action were CG in some shots.
On the other hand, there are some CG vehicles during the exciting motorcycle chase scene in Colombia, and the only way I could tell they were CG is by watching the supplementary materials – they were done that well!
I'd take the few flaws to get the unbelievable rest of the movie any day. And those flaws will probably go away as CG technology improves even more than it has already.
The HDR on this release is Dolby Vision, and it only adds to the enjoyment.
The audio is Dolby Atmos, which is backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD for those of us (like me) who haven't or won't upgrade our systems to Atmos, and it's also excellent. The mix is terrific, as ordnance flies around the home theatre; dialogue is crisp and clean, the bass is tight without being overpowering.
The 4K disc gives you a very short look at some of the special effects (which are remarkable considering most of them are so seamless you won't even know they're there), but most of the supplements are on the 1080p Blu-ray that also comes in the package (along with a digital download code). There's about an hour of stuff, and a lot of it is very interesting. There's an alternate opening and a deleted scene, along with some short featurettes that focus on specific areas of the production, such as "The Genesis of Gemini Man," Facing Your Younger Self," and my favourite "The Vision of Ang Lee," which delves into the high frame rate and 3D tech used in the film.
In all, it's a spectacular presentation for a film that, while not as spectacular, is a fun time in the home theatre. But it might spoil you for "lesser" presentations. Which is most of them.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.