Gemini Man in 3D+ High Frame Rate review

Will Ang Lee’s action opus Gemini Man finally popularise the concept of High Frame Rate (HFR) cinema?

HFR has been tried before, without great commercial success. Some may remember the 48fps version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, or more recently seen Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, but neither received much of a studio push.

Gemini Man is different. Not only does this Will Smith action romp have broad commercial appeal, it’s arriving into an evolved Digital Cinema ecosystem, albeit one only able to display HFR at 60fps in 2K resolution.

Currently the DCI (Digital Cinema Image) specification only supports 3D in 4K up to 48fps. Even if it were sanctioned, the hardware requirements to deliver 4K HFR at a higher frame rate are onerous. To present Gemini Man in 3D 4K at 120fps would require a dual projection system, and few chains would want to make that kind of investment, given so few movies use the format.

So what we have in circulation are a variety of Gemini Man iterations. Under the banner 3D+, IMAX with Laser screens are exhibiting it in 3D at 60fps. Theatres with Sony Digital Laser projectors also offer 3D at 60fps (Sony tells HCC that as many as 150 theatres could be screening this version). The UK’s three Dolby Cinemas have the ability to screen 3D at 120fps.

Many exhibitors with compatible projection hardware have already purchased license keys to unlock HFR productions, or implemented the required firmware updates.

So do more frames equal better cinema?

Ang Lee is just one of a number of high-profile film-makers trying to move movies on from the long-established 24 frames per second standard. Peter Jackson and James Cameron are also A-List advocates – the latter is shooting his Avatar sequels in HFR. They consistently argue higher frame rate images are more realistic, and specifically, that it serves 3D better.

Audiences seem unconvinced. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey left viewers unimpressed, as the process made the movie look like a hokey stage production.

So what are we to make of this high-profile, high-technology cinema release? Is this really the future of movies?

HCC has seen Gemini Man in IMAX 3D+ at 60fps. It’s certainly true that the presentation is more ‘life-like’... looking much like a reality TV show or sports broadcast. Movement is smoother, similar to the interpolated video modes offered by TVs, albeit without the obvious motion artefacts. But it just looks cheap. Images lack depth and contrast, and the colour grade is inconsistent, going from over-saturated to dirty dull.

And HFR comes with other more insidious baggage. For a 3D project, Gemini Man is left looking astonishingly flat. Sure there are stereo VFX that have theme park-like appeal, the underwater bubbles are nice and subtle, the shattering glass less so, but all too often Will Smith and his team look like cut-outs on a flat background.

HFR also impacts stunts and visual effects. With a 24fps presentation, inherent blur aids staged fights; your brain tells you that the action hero really did connect with an assailants jaw. In HFR action looks more staged. You can spot the artifice a mile off.

It's no spoiler to reveal that the central conceit of the plot involves duelling Will Smiths, and this generally works well. The de-aged Smith is largely convincing (apart from one sequence that stands out like a sore thumb) and we really believe these are two separate characters, but other visual effects are less successful.

CG sequences are laid bare. A superb motorcycle chase is undermined at its climax when bike and rider are clearly swapped for CG. I suspect Ang Lee world have got away with this visual sleight of hand at 24fps.

As a movie, Gemini Man is fun enough, but as an advert for cutting-edge HFR cinema projection, what we see on screen is far from convincing.