GEMINI MAN (2019, Ang Lee)
You will not see this movie. In fact, you can’t see this movie. To do so, you must be lucky enough to live near one of the 14 screens around the country that are exhibiting it in 3-D at 120fps. (And even then, those 14 screens are only capable of projecting a 2K image, not the 4K in which it was shot. This article from Polygon explains further.) Here in Los Angeles, today (Thursday Oct. 17, the seventh day of its release) is its final day on one of the screens (Arclight Hollywood) that’s showing it as intended. The movie has been a box office disaster and my showing on a Wednesday evening had a total of 5 people. If you do watch something called “Gemini Man” in middle America, or at home on video, you’ll be seeing a third-generation approximation of something that mildly resembles the movie. Like ordering a cheeseburger and only being served a photo of it.
I mention this not to sound elitist, or to criticize the inherently exclusionary nature of a movie that exists without the means to properly exhibit it — but to underscore that the presentation of it really IS the content. If I were to analyze this strictly on its narrative function, it’s a pretty bad DTV sci-fi thriller with cardboard characters, lousy dialogue (was “everyone hates cilantro” ever going to be funny without Smith’s delivery?) and a tired sub-Frankenstein morality theme about playing God with DNA. The plot is riddled with holes (if Smith is retiring, why does Owen need him to be killed? Just because he found out Dormov’s file was spiked, doesn’t mean he’s going to bother finding out why — this is why he’s retiring! Also, if Dormov was just a molecular biologist and not a terrorist, why did four of Lassiter’s hitmen fail to take him out?) and the structure follows in the wake of dozens of similar predictable actioners of the last 30 years: ex-military assassin has trouble with his One Last Job, and then gets a bounty on his own head by a private weapons firm getting high on its own supply. It really took David Benioff to write this?
On October 12, Eliud Kipchoge broke the previously unbreakable 2-hour barrier in the marathon, finishing in 1:59:40. He did this thanks to the inexorable march of technology: laser-guided routes, aerodynamic pace-setters, foam-padded Vaporfly shoes, a schedule programmed with ideal weather in mind, and other carefully constructed aides. But he did it, and nobody else can — especially nobody as old as he is (his age is listed as 34, but most experts agree he’s actually around 40). Technology does not make achievements less impressive – they just move the goalposts. Ang Lee has been doing this for years, and his previous film, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK used a similar visual presentation.
The effect is wholly immersive — the HFR provides a hyper-real image, the 2K (or 4K if you’re lucky) provides extra clarity and crispness, and the 3-D is, well, 3-D. Lee’s characters are directed to look right into the lens. When glass explodes, the shards fly out into the theater in a way that improves on all 3-D tech in the past, even AVATAR (though, since James Cameron is always on the vanguard of tech, this movie proves that AVATAR 2 is going to look absolutely phenomenal). Even the simple exposition of a spade tattoo on the inside of characters’ wrists is achieved by Lee framing those wrists over the shoulder as they reach away from the 3-D camera. It’s hard to imagine this movie existing apart from its tech, and that can be extended to the content as well — it’s a movie about cloning, and the de-aging effects on Smith’s face are better than any we’ve seen before (makes me curious to see how effective it is in THE IRISHMAN). So the centerpiece sequence (a chase in Cartagena, Colombia) is not only an incredible piece of action cinema (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and LIFE OF PI might be enough to make you forget that Lee is a superb director of clean, electrifying action dating back to CROUCHING TIGER all the way through the punishing war flashbacks of BILLY LYNN), but the technology allows it to also include Smith fighting Smith, with good enough 3-D and FX layering that you’ll believe the tire marks on old Smith’s cheek the rest of the movie did come from the spinning motorcycle wheel that threw him over a car.
The streaming wars are about to heat up. Disney+ is 4 weeks away, with Apple TV+ and others not far behind, in an effort to steal Netflix’s thunder. And the noise from this has most viewers claiming that streaming is the enemy of the theatrical experience. That just isn’t true. Streaming is the enemy of cable TV. Nobody hates Netflix more than Dish and Comcast. Because home viewing is home viewing, and there are only so many hours you spend on your couch and only so many dollars in your wallet to pay for the content. The enemy of movies are movie theaters. As cinema keeps evolving because of said inexorable technology march, theaters need to keep up with it. There’s no other way to get the experience. But alas, AMC multiplexes can barely show a 16:9 digitally shot comedy without poor luminosity from its projector bulbs, bad masking at the wrong aspect ratio, and failing to enforce rules against using cell phones or excessive talking. I doubt I’ll ever stop going to the movies. But if I do, it won’t be because of technology. It’ll be because of people refusing to accept it.