- The Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” was made in such an advanced way that no theater in the US can play it in the form he intended.
- Lee shot the movie in 120 frames per second, which gives the movie an incredibly sharp look. Ideally, Lee wants the movie shown in theaters at that frame rate, on a 4K projector, and in 3D.
- Theaters in the US can’t handle all those elements at the same time. The closest is 120 fps on a 2K projector in 3D, which is available at 14 theaters.
- “At the end of the day, you have to ask, ‘Is a guest willing to pay more for this experience because it’s so cutting edge?'” one theater owner offering “Gemini Man” at a high frame rate, who asked to speak anonymously, told Business Insider. “I don’t think it has risen to that level yet.”
- There’s also the strain put on the theater of having to show a movie of that size. One source at a theater chain showing “Gemini Man” at a high frame rate told Business Insider the projectionist had to deal with the movie crashing while doing tests.
- “But all those things are capable of being overcome, assuming that there is an appetite for this type of format in watching movies,” Russell Vannorsdel, the vice president of the Iowa-based chain Fridley Theatres, told Business Insider.
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The director Ang Lee is determined to give you a specific experience at the movies, even if it’s impossible.
The two-time best-director Oscar winner (“Life of Pi” and “Brokeback Mountain”) has been on a quest of sorts recently: getting audiences and Hollywood to appreciate high frame rates as much as he does.
The standard movie is shot at 24 frames per second. But Lee made his latest movie, “Gemini Man” (in theaters Friday), in the extremely sharp and ultrarealistic high frame rate of 120 frames per second. He also shot it digitally and for 3D.
That might sound great for the viewer, but collectively, those elements cause a major challenge. In fact, not a single theater in the US can play “Gemini Man” the way Lee wants it seen: 120 fps on a high-resolution 4K projector in 3D.
This isn’t the first time Lee has been in this situation. His previous movie, 2016’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” was also shot at a high frame rate of 120 fps and could not be seen in 4K and 3D because – as is still the case today – no theater in the US had the capabilities.
So if theaters can’t show Lee’s work in the way he intends it to be seen, why is he so determined to continue making his movies this way?
“My dream is, I hope this movie [will] do some business and other filmmakers join in and we develop this thing,” Lee told Collider.
But right now, he is the lone trailblazer, and theaters are going to go only so far in helping him.
Outside of seeing “Gemini Man” in standard 24 fps, many chains are giving audiences the option to see it at 60 fps in 3D, including in Imax. That’s sharper than standard but in no way the amazing feat of 120 fps.
The closest way to see the movie in the US in the way Lee wants you to is offered at 14 theaters, all run by AMC, which have Dolby theaters showing it at 120 fps on a 2K projector in 3D.
“At the end of the day, you have to ask, ‘Is a guest willing to pay more for this experience because it’s so cutting edge?'” one theater owner offering “Gemini Man” at a high frame rate, who asked to speak anonymously, told Business Insider. “I don’t think it has risen to that level yet.”
And then there’s the strain on the theater showing the movie. One source at a chain showing “Gemini Man” at a high frame rate this weekend told Business Insider the projectionist has had to deal with the movie crashing while doing tests.
Russell Vannorsdel, the vice president of the Iowa-based chain Fridley Theatres, said issues testing the 60 fps version that his chain will show this weekend were minimal. But he could only imagine how hard showing “Gemini Man” the way Lee intended would be.
“When you’re talking full-blown 120 fps 4K 3D, that’s a really big piece of content file, and playback is challenging in those circumstances as well as storage,” Vannorsdel told Business Insider. “But all those things are capable of being overcome, assuming that there is an appetite for this type of format in watching movies.”
Remember how the popularity of James Cameron’s “Avatar” made movies in 3D popular again? The same needs to be done with high frame rate. And Lee isn’t getting it done.
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” brought in only $30.9 million worldwide ($1.7 million domestic). And despite Lee making his high-frame-rate follow-up an action movie starring Will Smith on the run from a younger version of himself, “Gemini Man” is suffering from bad reviews (28% on Rotten Tomatoes) and not even expected to dethrone “Joker” from the top of the box office this weekend.
“It’s always tough to have a technological advancement become a box-office draw,” the Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Business Insider. “Theater owners want movies that are going to make box office. I don’t think anyone bases their moviegoing decision on any particular technology. It’s the movie that gets them in. It’s still, ‘What is the movie about?'”
But Lee may finally get some help in his quest. James Cameron has said as far back as 2011 that he plans to make the “Avatar” sequels in a high frame rate. But for now, theaters are not expecting amazingly sharp picture quality to drive in the crowds.
“To me, it feels like we’ve got a little bit of a longer path yet,” Vannorsdel said.