The Gemini Man trailer and Hollywood’s obsession with de-aging technology

Ang Lee’s new film, Gemini Man, is about an older and weathered hitman being hunted down by a very skilled assassin that mirrors his every skill and talent. He knows the way he thinks, moves and acts because it is actually a younger version of himself.

Check out the trailer below:

The film looks to be a promising action thriller with all the lovely bells and whistles of a futuristic adventure movie. It is written and directed by Life of Pi director Ang Lee. Lee is no rookie when it comes to CGI magic. One of the main characters of his award winning film was a digitally animated Tiger named Richard Parker. This time around, Lee goes above and beyond by creating an animated younger double of lead actor Will Smith. I will personally be seeing this film in theaters, because regardless of what anyone says Will Smith is an American hero, but it begs the question about why so many movies have been following this trend of de-aging actors in the editing room.

The simple answer is “Why not?” As technology evolves it allows us to try new things in movies. The same can be said with the use of CGI for dinosaurs and animals in films like Jurassic Park and The Jungle Book. It is interesting, though, that so many big budget films have been taking this route.

On of the earliest that comes to mind is Tron: Legacy, the film Disney used to revitalize the properties of the old neon-lit film Tron. The film took us back into the virtual world to see an older Jeff Bridges return as Kevin Flynn, designer of the Tron system. Flynn, being human, was properly aged as a seasoned Jeff Bridges, but Clu was a character that was essentially a digital copy of Flynn when he was a young man. This copy was made in the early 80’s during the time of the original film. Disney digitally created a younger Bridges for the image of Clu that, honestly, wasn’t bad looking at all. You can see the artificial nature of his skin, but he is quite literally a digital copy in the film so his appearance does not seem out of place. On the flipside, you get the Terminator Salvation version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s model of the Terminator. Yikes. You can’t win ‘em all.

Disney has continued this trend over time with the computer generated Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Robert Downey Jr. even got a taste in a short scene for Captain America: Civil War. They’ve since gotten it down to more of an exact science with the de-aging of so many characters in their recent films. Both Michael Douglas and Laurence Fishburne got the treatment in Ant Man & The Wasp, as well Clark Gregg and Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. The thing is, natural aging limits the storytelling ability in franchises like these. There may be directors interested in showing the viewers important bits throughout a timeline. If Ant Man & The Wasp wants to tell you about Hank’s past, they need a means to do so. You have to either find someone who looks like a young Michael Douglas or try and make him look younger. Certain movies have done so with makeup, see the film Looper for example. This film took Joseph Gordon Levitt and put him through hours of makeup so he would look like a younger Bruce Willis. According to onset workers for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, a similar approach was taken for the scenes of a young Kurt Russell with only a small amount of CGI for touch ups.

Basically, de-aging technology provides such a cool freedom for creators to interject a moment from the past into a story without recasting an iconic character. The trouble is whether or not the editing room is up to snuff. I’m excited by this film’s premise and the fact that I get to see Will Smith fight Will Smith. The CGI admittedly looks a little rough, but the film is not even done yet so I won’t let that change my anticipation for the film. I also appreciate them essentially recreating the Will from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air era with the fade and all. I don’t know what’s going on with Will lately. First the Genie and now this, all I know is he has never been one to shy away from a risky project, for better or worst.

A few films that do de-aging well would be Looper and Blade Runner 2049. Looper  has a great story that seems to be somewhat mirrored in Gemini Man. Essentially, Gordon-Levitt is an executioner that kills targets as they get teleported to a platform in from of him. That’s all fine and dandy until Bruce Willis, Gordon-Levitt as an older man, pops up on the platform. Blade Runner 2049 not only does some good work making Sean Young appear younger, but it also does a lot to make Dave Batista look older. It truly is a visual masterpiece.

Do you like the use of de-aging technology? What films do you think did it well?

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