Ang Lee’s Newest Direction is an Attempt to Elevate a Clichéd Genre…
No two movies from visionary director Ang Lee are quite the same. One moment he is making a modern martial arts classic, the next, an introspective superhero movie, and after that, a heart wrenching romance about two gay cowboys. If there is one commonality across his entire filmography it is that every movie is ambitious. Thus, we knew from the get-go that his new film “Gemini Man” was unlikely to be a standard shoot-em-up action movie. The sight of a twenty-three year old looking Will Smith acting in the trailer confirmed this.
Skydance Media, the company behind the latest Mission Impossible and Terminator movies is producing Gemini Man. The film falls in with their impressive line of action movies that tout A-List stars in the leading roles, except this time, there are two leading men, but still only one A-List star.
In “Gemini Man,” Will Smith plays two versions of the same character. One of them is a middle-aged man who fits the actor’s natural current look. The other one, however, is a young adult that looks like Will Smith out of his “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” days… well, that plus a touch of CGI makeup.
Can VFX Extend the Reach of Will Smith via Digital Clone?
CGI has definitely come a long way since the turn of the millennium, but the human eye has also learned to recognize when things are off. Thus, generating a human face, especially one as recognizable as Will Smith’s, with computer technology is one of the trickiest tasks for a visual effects artist.
With the help of over seven-hundred people on the VFX team, “Gemini Man’s” young Will Smith was created through motion capture animation. Smith would perform all of the young character’s scenes wearing sensors on his face, and then the VFX team would animate over his face to essentially de-age the actor while preserving the performance. It is a technique made popular by Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and has more more recently been boldly used to recreate Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Attempts to create human beings out of CGI and motion capture are not without their critics. Especially when the CGI human being is based off someone whose look the audience knows, it becomes easy to tell when the slightest detail is off. Digitized images have a certain over-polished, almost plastic look to them. So when the image is trying to resemble something as organic as a human face, it is very difficult to fool the viewer.
We cannot deny that there is a something just a little prosthetic looking about the young Will Smith in “Gemini Man.” Then again, maybe that is just due to the fact that we know what Will Smith actually looked like at twenty-three and our knowledge of the on-screen face being artificial forces us to seek out the blemishes.
will Will Save You from Yourself? Hubris Implies only a Hero’s Clone can Beat the Hero
Narratively in the movie, the young Will Smith is a clone of the older Will Smith, whose blood was used for an experiment against his knowing twenty-five years ago. In the present, the two Will Smiths are both hit-men pinned against one another. When they learn that they are the same person, though, the situation becomes far more complicated.
The movie’s first trailer made it look like a flat out Will Smith versus Will Smith story, a sci-fi action flick about one version of the self against another in the vein of Rian Jonson’s 2011 “Looper.” However, the second trailer reveals more about the man behind the cloning, the young Will Smith’s mentor and the older Will Smith’s former boss. While there will still be plenty of Smith on Smith action, this crime-boss character, played by Clive Owen, will likely be the archvillain, and perhaps we will witness the two Smiths teaming up to take him down in the end.
Even if there is something a little uncanny about seeing a CGI Will Smith, with Ang Lee behind the camera, an enormous VFX department, and an impressive cast of writers including David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke, “Gemini Man” is bound to be an interesting ride, so much so, that we may be able to look past the digital imperfections to appreciate what it is in all of its originality.
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