If you can see Ang Lee‘s Gemini Man in 120 fps 3D, do so. Even if it’s just to have the experience and then never want to have that experience again. It’s not necessarily a bad experience, just a different one. It might have felt less strange had there not been so many poorly written dialogue scenes. The first act of the movie is like looking through a window and observing Will Smith in awkward exchanges with other actors in real life. When the action does happen, though, it’s like you’re right there with it, for better or worse. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in a movie theater before. So that happened, and now I can move on.
And now we can move backward. The following is a list of movies and movie experiences I recommend after you’ve seen and experienced Gemini Man in 120 fps 3D in particular. Some of these are similar in their premises. Some involve special forms of exhibition, including high frame rates (HFR). There may be a few that require literal time travel. Which may actually be easier to do than actually see Gemini Man in its proper form (120 fps 3D 4K). But if you do manage to go back in time, try not to kill your younger self. Or be killed him them.
Let’s kick things off with this week’s documentary pick. Viktor Kossakovsky‘s Aquarela is currently still in theaters, having released in the US in mid-August following screenings at such film festivals as Sundance and SXSW. It’s about water, including frozen water, and can be funny, scary, hypnotic, and powerful. The film was also shot at an HFR of 96 fps and is, where possible, being projected at 48 fps. Of course, just as I found with the case of Gemini Man screenings, it’s difficult to not only find a theater showing it properly but to find someone at the theater who knows which exact format their films are even being shown in, so you may have trouble finding the proper place to see Aquarela. If you can, though, do it, and become engulfed in the waves and the weather and the heavy metal score.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Your first literal jump back in time should be brief. Just go back to earlier this year and see Alita: Battle Angel on the big screen, preferably in 3D at a Dolby Cinema. It’s not just one of the best sci-fi movies of 2019. It was one of the most theatrically necessary movies of the year, and sadly going by its box office performance, most people didn’t bother to see it on the big screen. Like Gemini Man, the James Cameron-produced Alita is the final result of a project many decades in the making. And both movies feature an otherwise childless scientist who raises a character intended to be a fighting machine. Each could have spent more of the time it took to finally go into production on locking a better script, but Alita at least has more visual spectacle to counter its weaknesses. Compared to Gemini Man, it was more worth the wait. Fortunately for those who appreciate Cameron spectacle and HFR, his Avatar sequels may be projected in the format, but how high is unknown.
There was a time, early into the development of Gemini Man, when two different actors were going to play the lead character and his young clone. Harrison Ford and Chris O’Donnell to be exact. But the powers that be in Hollywood wanted to wait until the technology was there to have someone like, say, Will Smith, perform both roles. The thing is, the de-aged Smith in Gemini Man is both a distraction and not always necessarily a perfect match. They could have gotten a lookalike or just another actor and molded him a bit. That’s what Rian Johnson did for the time-travel action thriller Looper, casting Bruce Willis as an older hired gun and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, wearing facial prosthetics, as his younger self. We accept who they are without the need for the special effect (and in Gemini Man, it’s overly stated that it’s the same guy anyway). Plus Looper isn’t just about there being two of the same guy. There is more to the story and character development there.
Double Take (2009)
For all the directors that were linked to Gemini Man over 22 years, I can’t help but wonder what Alfred Hitchcock would have done with the premise. He was fond of doppelgangers. And that’s the foundation for this essay film repurposing footage of Hitch from old intros and TV spots as well as featuring two impersonators, one a lookalike and the other a soundalike, in order to have two versions of the filmmaker, different in age by 20 years, interact. “If you meet your double, you should kill him. Or he will kill you,” one of them says. That’s the plot of almost any movie in which someone meets their double, apparently, save for the Parent Traps. Johan Grimonprez‘s feature shows you don’t have to spend a whole lot of money on tech that audiences can’t appreciate in order to be an “experimental film.” Just find it in the editing.
So many evil doctors think that clones of great warriors will be even better warriors than the originals. Or at least as good — an equal counterpart that can take over when the older version retires or dies. Only this fantasy comedy from Harold Ramis has the smarts to show us how things really would be with ill-conceived cloning. In Multiplicity, Michael Keaton‘s busy lead character makes copies of himself to help with his work and life load. But the double is not quite as good as he is, because he’s a second-generation copy. And then from there, copies make copies, and silliness ensues. In Gemini Man, there’s an implication that Junior (the younger Smith) is more knockoff than an equal in the fact that he’s not quite the best there is, contrary to what he and his evil doctor daddy think. And the other clone soldier whom the two versions meet at the end proves to be an even lesser copy. Perhaps he’s made from Junior and just a third-generation replica?
Where the Day Takes You (1992)
Whenever there’s a de-aged actor in a movie, I like to look back at what the performer looked like when they were actually that young. To prove whether or not the special effects team got it right. Yes, it’s true that de-aging is supposed to give us a younger version of the character, not an exact replica of the actor as a young man, but our brains want the latter. While the de-aged Will Smith of Gemini Man most resembles the actor as he looks in 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation, if anything, he made that movie when he was 24. Not 23, which is the age Smith says he’s supposed to be de-aged to. His movie debut, Where the Day Takes You, in which he plays a disabled street kid, came out when he was 23. It was shot when he was just 22, but that’s okay because he shot Gemini Man when he was 50 but his character there is 51.
Night of Dreams (1978)
Most theaters showing Gemini Man in HFR can only show the 60 fps version, which is half the amount of frames as the intended 120 fps (yay, I can do math in my job!). While HFR seems a relatively new idea, thanks to interest and experimentation from Ang Lee (who also went 120 fps three years ago with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) and Peter Jackson before him with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, there was someone significant doing the high-frame-rate thing more than 40 years ago. Douglas Trumbull, the special effects legend best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey, developed a process called Showscan in the 1970s for shooting in 70mm 60 fps, and he kicked off the format by directing this narrative short involving a family’s dreams. Trumbull had intended on making Brainstorm the first feature shot with the Showscan process, but that didn’t pan out. He made another short in the early ’80s, a documentary called New Magic showing off the “magic” of the format, which otherwise wound up only being used for amusement park attractions and other limited-exhibition releases. In 1991, Trumbull and others received special Scientific and Engineering Oscars for Showcan’s development.
When actors have had to play multiple ages of either the same character or different characters, the movies have relied mostly on makeup. Especially for aging up. For younger versions, filmmakers have typically just cast kids with some resemblance. But if you wanted to be really silly, you’d just dress up the actor in kid clothes and put them in oversized sets. Brats, a short starring the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy as themselves as well as their own toddlers, is probably a more fitting recommendation for the Hobbit movies given its forced-perspective effect. But it’s funny to see how they de-aged actors 90 years ago. And to see a more slapstick take on the older versions threatened or inconvenienced in some way by the younger version of themselves. It’s not the first time actors played multiple roles — in fact, Georges Melies did it and had them sharing the screen at the same time, which unfortunately isn’t the case here, despite promotional images teasing it so.
The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station (1896)
As I mentioned in the intro, watching Gemini Man in 120 fps 3D made me feel like I was looking at Will Smith right there in front of me through a window. Of course, I’m familiar enough with what movies are to not be fooled into thinking I truly was looking through a window or that explosions appearing to come through the screen weren’t going to do me any harm. The people of the world of 1896 were not so cinematically savvy. According to legend, those in attendance at the first exhibition of the Lumiere Brothers‘ 50-second actuality short The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station thought the titularly arriving locomotive was coming towards them, and they jumped out of their seats out of the way. This may have happened, or it may not have, or perhaps it actually occurred at the remade stereoscopic 3D version shot decades later by Louis Lumiere. If only we had a time machine to go back and see which experience, if either, really happened. The Lumieres, by the way, shot and projected their films at only 16 fps.
Watch The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station via YouTube here: