Updated: Feb 14
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1&2) The two faces of actor Will Smith: 51-year-old Henry Brogan a retired government assassin is exhausted after battling 23-year-old GEMINI assassin Junior, who was created from Brogan's DNA. Smith performed both characters, while special software developed by Weta Digital created the younger face.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language; Streaming via (buy & rent) Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “The Future is Now” featurette
TWO FACES of Will Smith in the same movie would have guaranteed a sure blockbuster during his heyday of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Today, the 51-year-old actor and rapper struggles to be a major box office draw. His recent performance as the blue Genie in Disney’s reboot of “Aladdin” got mixed reviews – impossible to match Robin Williams’ original zany performance. Still, the movie cracked the $1 billion mark.
So, when director Ang Lee and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were searching for the right actor to play a double role as a government assassin in the sci-fi thriller “Gemini Man,” Smith was their GUY!
The project had bounced around Hollywood for several decades. First Clint Eastwood, and then Harrison Ford, was pegged to play Henry Brogan, an assassin on the verge of retirement who discovers a younger version of himself — a product of his own DNA — is trying to kill him. Visual effects limitations kept the project frozen for years, but once they settled on Smith, first-rate digital de-aging software had become quite effective. Martin Scorsese used similar software to make Robert De Niro look 40 years younger in “The Irishman.”
(1) Henry Brogan prepares for his final kill as a government assassin from a hillside in Belgium. (2) His target a supposed Russian bio-terrorist Valery Dormov. (3) Brogan takes aim two kilometers away.
Smith’s performance as Junior, the 23-year-old killer, believably inhabits the physicality while wearing a motion-capture head camera aimed at his face. British actor Clive Owen, who had been Daniel Craig’s toughest competition to be James Bond of the 2000s, plays the villainous government superior Clay Verris. Verris oversees the government’s black-ops GEMINI program while raising and programming Junior, who calls Verris “Pop.” “We knew a whole a generation of moviegoers would be familiar with how Will Smith looked during his ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ days and his early films (“Bad Boys,” “Independence Day,” “Men in Black”),” says Bruckheimer in one of the six featurettes included on the enclosed Blu-ray and digital platforms.
The films opens with Brogan on a hillside with his long-range rifle, making adjustments to knock off his last kill, a supposed Russian bio-terrorist riding on a European bullet train a mile away. Brogan’s contact on the train confirms the kill, and he retreats to his Georgia coastal home, where he’s betrayed and suddenly on the run.
“Seventy-two kills, it starts to mess with you a little bit. Deep down, it’s like my soul was hurt. I just want some peace.” — Henry Brogan
Bruckheimer describes Smith’s two characters as the “Butting of heads of two different upbringings that come together at the end and kind of come to terms with one another.” Smith was shocked by the results of the de-aging software. “It was actually scary. Wow! The technology is so spectacular that Junior penetrates you emotionally.” Smith watched old movie footage and TV episodes to rediscover his younger self, which he describes as “Freedom and recklessness.”
(1) After his 72nd kill, Brogan returns to his home in Buttermilk Sound, Georgia. (2) Handler Del Patterson (Ralph Brown) tries to convince him to continue as a government assassin. "You're still the best we got. Best anyone's got, we made the world safer," says Patterson. (3) Jack Willis (Douglas Hodge) a former Marine who served with Henry, tells him the person he killed in Belgium is not a Russian bio-terrorist. (4) Government superior Clay Verris (Clive Owen) and Intelligence officer Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond) watch Willis and Brogan via a drone.
Eventually Henry and Junior comes face-to-face with a dramatic physical fight. “We couldn’t film Smith twice at once, so we knew we had to go with a digital path,” says VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer. He considers creating a human as the most difficult thing within the visual effects world. The team at Weta Digital, based in New Zealand, who developed the amazing effects for “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy,” was selected. Lee felt they understood the dramatic and emotional needs while making sure every little detail and muscle flex and tweak on Smith’s face was captured.
Weta also sampled Smith’s acting from the ‘90s, to find his characteristic moments, so the wizardry software could recreate those expressions. His performance from “Bad Boys” (1995) became the foundation for the look and physical feel of Junior. A huge amount of time was spent getting his mouth just right, from the lips and teeth. Plus they developed a new sub-surface model for skin shading, giving the look of real pigmentation of melanin and the density of pigmentation, which contribute to the appearance of the skin and how light goes into it and bounces around, Westenhofer explains.
During a key motorcycle chase, filmed along a 15th-century fortification in Cartagena, Columbia, Smith did most of his own stunts. But for Junior’s maneuvers on top of the wall, a number of different cameras captured the stunt person, while Junior’s face was shot with Smith’s helmet cam. That was filmed on a soundstage with 52 overhead mini-cameras, to capture the 3D positions, as Smith watched the stunt person's movements on a huge monitor.
(1) Brogan hands Danny Zakarweski a tracking device he found on the boat he rented. He's convinced she's a government agent tracking his moves. (2) Brogan has been ambushed and escapes after killing the team and warns Zakarweski she's bound to be next. (3&4) They flee Georgia and head south where former Marine buddy Baron, who runs a Carribean air tour company based in Cartagena, Columbia comes to the rescue.
Brogan’s allies include Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) as Agent Danny Zakarweski, the daughter of an FBI field agent who was killed off-duty while working a bank robbery; and former Marine buddy Baron, who can fly anything, played by the delightful Benedict Wong (“Doctor Strange,” “The Martian”). The only glaring weakness of “Gemini Man” is its script, by a trio of writers (David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke), a sure sign of multi-rewrites.
The production costs topped $140 million, mostly due to the groundbreaking VFX work rendered in 4K, and on-location filming in South America; Savannah, Georgia; and Budapest, Hungary, which provided exquisite texture to the film.
Right out of the gate, “Gemini Man” struggled to find favorable reviews with U.S. media. It only got 18 percent from Rotten Tomatoes’ top critics, and only made $48 million domestically, while international moviegoers were much more engaged, pushing its worldwide gross to $174 million.
(1) Brogan and Zakarweski arrive at Baron's home in colorful Cartagena, Columbia. (2-4) The next morning Junior is hunting Brogan and it's a battle of survival.
Ang Lee continues his fascination with 3D technology, using stereo (two sets of lens) 4K cameras to capture “Gemini Man” at a hyper-frame rate of 120 frames per second. Traditional filmmaking is at 24 fps and video at 30 fps. Only a handful of theaters worldwide were able to projector the imagery at 120 fps in the 3D format, but for Paramount’s 4K disc (1.85:1 aspect ratio), they provide it in 2D at 60 frames per second (the highest standard for the format) and mastered in true 4K. It takes a good 10-minutes to adjust to the higher and smoother frame rate. Once acclimated, the imagery becomes lifelike - putting you into the action. I only wish Lee and his post-production team had applied a digital filter to remove that stark video look, and toned the footage to look like film stock, like other digital captured films.
The overall clarity is breathtaking, from the Atlantic shoreline to cityscapes of Cartagena, and the gorgeous exteriors and interiors around Budapest of the Mattias Church, the Parliament Building, the Kiscelli Museum and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Filming in 4K and mastering in 4K makes all the difference, and we can only hope the rest of Hollywood will follow Lee and others, like filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who believe higher resolution on-screen does matter. The expanded color spectrum and HDR toning with HDR10 and Dolby Vision is balanced and natural, from highlights to deep dark shadows, to super bright explosive fireballs and warm color palette during the night scenes in Budapest.
The only negative is when Lee and cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Memories of a Geisha”) frames the actors dead center in the frame. That was intentional for the virtual reality 3D feel, but it doesn’t translate well for normal 2D viewing, making it seem off-balanced. For those watching “Gemini Man” in HD, you are truly missing out on one of the best 4K experiences ever presented for home viewing.
The 4K, Blu-ray and most streaming sites are providing the immersive eight-channel Dolby Atmos experience, with effects and music cues from composer Lorne Balfe, pushed to your height speakers. At times the low bass response will vibrate your walls and seats, so be ready. The dialogue is nicely balanced between gunfire, explosions, helicopters, and jet noise.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by how well the action sequences held together and amazed by the remarkable 4K imagery. The audience score of 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes is a complete flip of the critic numbers, so there's hope "Gemini Man" will finish strong on the home front.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Baron pilot's a Gulfstream jet with Brogan and Zakarweski onboard as they head to Budapest looking for answers. (2) Junior back at GEMINI headquarters where Verris treats some of his wounds from the Cartagena battle. (3&4) Beautiful cityscapes of Hungary's capital city with views of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the River Danube. (3) Interior of The Budapest University of Technology and Economics library, where Zakarweski seeks a DNA test between Brogan and Junior. (4) Brogan meets with Russian Yuri Kovacs (Ilia Volok) at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.
(1-3) The Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park of Budapest is the backdrop for a meeting between Zakarweski and Junior. (4) Brogan and Junior are face-to-face again in the basement of the Kiscelli Museum. (5) Stateside a super Junior appears to withstand bullets and fire.
BEHIND THE SCENES FEATURETTE