Ang Lee has been exploring the limits of filmmaking technology including 3D and shooting in high 120 frames-per-second (FPS) rates. He received acclaim for such innovations in ‘The Life of Pi’ in 2012. Then, Lee shot his drama ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ (2016) in 120 FPS, much to everyone’s confusion. Why bother? It turns out, Lee used ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ as an experiment in order to get more comfortable with the process before moving on to his next movie, the major sci-fi action flick, ‘Gemini Man’. For this picture, Lee used CGI to create a 20-something Will Smith, among other digital enhancements, including the high frame rate (HFR). It didn’t help, as the movie bombed and it is speculated that ‘Gemini Man’ will lose $75 million at the box office.
Most movies are shot with 24 FPS, so 48 is double that. ‘The Hobbit’ movies were shot in 48 FPS and some people found that visually disturbing. So 120 is… well, even more visually disturbing.
Another director that has heavily explored and pushed the technologies of CGI is James Cameron, who is busy crafting the sequels to ‘Avatar’. And while he may come up with some groundbreaking techniques for these movies, don’t expect high frame rates to be one of them. In fact, he doesn’t even understand why Lee or any director wants to shoot entire movies in HFR, when it’s just a tool to be used where needed.
While promoting ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’, he discussed the latest filmmaking technology:
“I’ve seen some clips from Gemini Man. I haven’t seen the picture yet because I’m down here in New Zealand. I’m interested to see it. I mean, I have a personal philosophy around high frame rate, which is that it is a specific solution to specific problems having to do with 3D. And when you get the strobing and the jutter of certain shots that pan or certain lateral movement across frame, it’s distracting in 3D. And to me, it’s just a solution for those shots. I don’t think it’s a format. That’s just me personally. I know Ang doesn’t see it that way. I don’t think it’s like the next 70 millimeter or the next big thing. I think it’s a tool to be used to solve problems in 3D projection. And I’ll be using it sparingly throughout the Avatar films, but they won’t be in high frame rate. But I am curious to see what they came up with.
“Well, this is the thing. To me, the more mundane the subject, two people talking in the kitchen, the worse it works, because you feel like you’re in a set of a kitchen with actors in makeup. That’s how real it is, you know? But I think when you’ve got extraordinary subjects that are being shot for real, or even through CG, that hyper-reality actually works in your favor. So to me, it’s a wand that you wave in certain moments and use when you need it. It’s an authoring tool.”
I don’t think anyone is upset that the ‘Avatar’ sequels won’t be shot in 120 FPS. The first ‘Avatar’ came out in 2009 and revolutionized filmmaking in terms of the use of CGI and 3D. ‘Life of Pi’ rode the wave of ‘Avatar’s innovation to become a crowd-pleaser and box office hit.
But in the time since, the novelty of 3D has started to wear off. Though the domestic numbers are unknown, it was reported that internationally, only 25% of ticket sales for ‘Gemini Man’ were for 3D screenings. That may actually spell trouble for the ‘Avatar’ sequels, but that’s another subject for another time.
What do you think? Do you agree with James Cameron, that HFR should only be used to smooth shots out, and entire movies shouldn’t be shot that way?