Meeting one’s own digital clone
Updated: 2019-10-11 08:18
By Elizabeth Kerr(HK Edition)
After Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings’ Gollum) cemented himself as Hollywood’s premier motion-capture performer, a brouhaha erupted over the lack of awards consideration for his stellar turn in the Planet of the Apes reboot series. And rightly so. His CGI-covered work gave that trilogy its soul, and without him it would have been just another animals-gone-wild effects spectacular.
Now stepping into the ring is another digital technology that has the potential to change who we see on screens. Always keen to play in the new tech sandbox, two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee teams up with Will Smith for the long-gestating Gemini Man. The film – about a quest to eliminate the source material for a secret military program that creates perfect soldiers from clones – has been kicking around for 20 years. The technology to properly tell the story was not available until now. Collaborating with Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking visual-effects studio, Weta Digital, Lee uses the boggling trinity of 4K 3D, 120-frames-per-second shooting (60fps in theaters) and a new type of animation to create a 23-year-old version of the 51-year-old Smith.
On paper, Lee is probably the ideal director to tackle the film, which demands a firm grasp on human emotions as well as filmmaking tech. Lee proved his expertise at the former in Brokeback Mountain and the latter in Life of Pi.
“We’re discovering a new concept of filmmaking,” Lee states about the technology behind Gemini Man in press materials. “It’s like silent movies, like sound, like color. We went through all that. This is another dimension.”
Lee and the producers are quick to point out that the technology used in the film is not the same as the “de-aging” trick Marvel Studios has become so fond of lately. Smith plays Henry Brogan, a highly trained assassin whose conscience finally forces him to retire. For some unspecified reason, he can’t stay alive, so his former commander-turned-industrialist Clay Verris (Clive Owen) sends Junior – Smith in a mo-cap performance overlaid with a digital version of his younger self – after him. Essentially he’s Jar Jar Binks, a cartoon, but one that is light-years ahead of both CGI construction and digital de-aging.
Sadly, the rest of Gemini Man doesn’t play at that level of sophistication. Somewhere buried beneath the character archetypes – like Benedict Wong’s resourceful army buddy, Baron, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s idealistic government agent, Danny Zakarweski – is a chewy story about the past (literally) coming back to haunt those in the present. The film also touches on the compartmentalization of trauma as well as military privatization and accountability, but it all gets lost amid the visual clamor.
Co-writer David Benioff, now known for his poor ending of Game of Thrones, can’t stick the landing here either with Lee. But, like Avatar a decade ago, the technology is the reason to see Gemini Man. The younger Smith is a feat of engineering and only falters in the final, brightly lit, baffling frames when his interaction with the real actors reveals him for the digital clone he is.
(HK Edition 10/11/2019 page11)