Sep 24, 2020
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‘Gemini Man’: The Elements That Doomed It Commercially Also Harmed It Artistically

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Will Smith and Will Smith in Gemini Man PARAMOUNT I went and caught a cheap matinee showing of Ang Lee s Gemini Man on Monday afternoon intentionally seeking out a 2-D 24-frames-per-second presentation in a comparatively old-school (non-stadium seating) theater. Simply put I needed to see how the film played in the main conventionally old-school format possible which is how most theatrical moviegoers (or eventual VOD/DVD viewers) will probably see the film


I m not going to claim that it was a visible disaster without the higher-frame rate because that s not true. The action scenes especially the massive motorcycle chase that kicks off the second one act still impressed. Will Smith remains terrific no matter if he s more engaging as old Will Smith than young Will Smith


That truly brings me to the crux of Gemini Man s core problem commercially and artistically. It put the technology above the story. I don t necessarily mean that inside the sense of any variety of big wannabe tentpoles that prioritize visuals and special effects over character and story. It s not as an instance Angelina Jolie s Tomb Raider which offered four extended action sequences and little else which was mostly constructed from Lara Croft shooting at computer-generated imagery


Nor is it a kind of a prologue for a franchise exercises. The issue is that because Ang Lee and friends are trying to craft something specifically tailored to the 120-fps format a format that by the style very few people will be ready to sample Gemini Man became an oddly buttoned-down small-scale and dramatically stilted actioner


More importantly by going the CGI Will Smith route they made a film so expensive that it had little chance of breaking even in its current form. That might be fine admirable even if it didn t cost $138 million. To most folks watching the movie in a traditional theater (or a typical 1080p Blu-Ray) the film is comparatively lacking in glossy bells and whistles and big-budget spectacle


Yes the total young Will Smith gimmick is interesting but the expensive special effects don t change the narrative in any specific way. By that I mean going the route of Looper Rian Johnson s $40 million-budgeted) time travel hit man actioner (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) and just casting a tender actor who resembles a tender Will Smith would have likely been significantly cheaper and offered similar narrative and emotional payoffs


While waiting for a second time I kept wondering Is there a version of this film that just tells an analogous story for the cheap that might have made it profitable? Imagine a version of Gemini Man that pits Will Smith and offhand Justice Smith (no relation but an outstanding actor who looks plenty like a young-and-brooding Will Smith) against each other


We d get an analogous tortured hitman comes face-to-face with a younger version of himself story but without the bells and whistles necessary to essentially create a CGI double of young Will Smith. Moreover we d spend more of the movie just engaged inside the characters (and action) including the performance of whoever played the clone in place of implicitly judging each shot of Junior in terms of whether it passed the uncanny valley of the smell test


Imagine a version of Gemini Man that didn t have awkwardly cut dramatic sequences and a definite stiffness inside the conversational interactions as though the director was fascinated with aggressive cutting for the better frame rate. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Will Smith in Gemini Man from Paramount Pictures Skydance and Jerry


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By spending $138 million on what is largely quality notwithstanding a small-scale Lionsgate Premiere-scaled action thriller Paramount Skydance and friends have done more than just create a financially impossible version of Gemini Man. If this is just about art then that s fine which is why Martin Scorsese can spend $140 million of Netflix s money on The Irishman a straight-up mob drama specifically because he wants it to star young versions of Robert De Niro Al Pacino and Joe Pesci


Yes that’s ironic considering De Niro became a celeb (and won his first Oscar) playing young Marlon Brando in The Godfather Part II. Gemini Man priced well outside the potential for profitability would be taken as more than just a referendum on itself. Its relative failure barring a miracle overseas ($25. 5 million in five days of domestic release) has rendered it another strike against the original star-driven studio programmer in modern-day theatrical moviegoing


It ll be another strike against Will Smith s star power outside of a safe franchise/IP play. And for those who just wanted a big-budget Will Smith action thriller its bells and whistles went toward creating a less satisfying movie than merely casting a tender look-a-like. Moreover the alternative to move with young Will Smith which is a part of what made it so expensive didn t make Gemini Man a more robust or more commercial film


Like the new Star Trek films or the Ghostbusters remake (both of which overspent on arbitrary spectacle) Gemini Man had an inflated budget simply by elements that didn t go toward creating a more commercial movie. I cannot say whether a $90 million Gemini Man without or with the frame rate (which for the record I quite enjoyed) that just cast Will Smith and another young black actor as young Will Smith would were artistically preferable or (noting the smaller budget) more financially plausible


If this were the 1990s when this film was initially conceived I d be less fascinated with a studio saying To hell with it let s ride or die! to a filmmaker like Ang Lee and a celeb like Will Smith. But theatrical moviegoing is at an impasse at the moment with original star-driven studio programmers facing an uphill battle against streaming content and the allure of branded/IP franchise fare


Making a film like Gemini Man too expensive to break even and too small-scale to entrap audiences feels like industry-wide sabotage. For the record Gemini Man didn t bomb simply by its high-frame-rate or its CGI double Will Smith but rather because an overfocus on those elements took time money and imagination far from making a film that might were more entertaining for audiences who just wanted a huge Will Smith action movie


Gemini Man sacrificed making a unique movie for the sake of factors that might have made the movie special and in a world where audiences don t care about never-before-seen worlds new technology or cutting-edge technology or movie magic as by-themselves selling points all Gemini Man had was Will Smith doing action in a seemingly small-scale genre exercise


For better or worse character especially branded character still counts. I m sure James Cameron whose Avatar sequels would be shot at a more robust frame rate in addition is paying attention

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