120-FPS Fantasy of Ang Lee24 Oct 2019
It was 2016 when Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was screened around the globe. And there were merely 5 screens with capabilities to run the film in its very highest standard available: 120 FPS, 4K, 3D.
News spread that it was a huge pushing-forward of technology of film industry and human imagination of images. You just can’t get away from those words of praise easily being an 18-year-old kid. But I was in my high school when the film got premiered. It is a boarding school so I would not be able, of course, to see the film even shown in a lower frame rate version in cinema. What did I do? I bought an original book from which the film is adapted in a tiny inside-campus bookstore and finished it in a maths lesson.
The book was great as I previously expected. Later I watched the pirated film(24 FPS), not impressed at all. Given that advanced technology becomes the main selling-point of a film, what if somebody just has his own playback on a tiny, shitty phone with poor color mangement, trying to entertain himself/herself? When I was younger than that I can even enjoy myself with a screen as small as, say, 2.5 inches playing action films, covered in my quilt, in terribly low light. Such experience dropped some shadow to me on high FPS. I still take it as one of biggest obstacles that Ang Lee shall face.
I’m not going radical here with words like “storytelling is most important and you can make a good film even with good storytelling only”. It’s definitely good to have technology advancing. It’s even better to participate in this revolution. Great directors and writers can tailor a film using 120 FPS as a great tool in illustrating a vivid film. Maybe Ang Lee just leans towards technology-side way too much in his very fisrt attempt rather than making all aspects of films come together.
But It’s late 2019. What a shame that not a single director has tried 120 FPS during these 3 years. Even horizons are not well expanded. There’s still good news. Screens able to run high FPS are getting more(well, you can’t use the word “booming” yet), you can see more cinemas providing 60 FPS if they don’t offer 120 FPS option. 4K HDR is not a distant word anymore. The first attempt also, in a way, laid foundation for another go. Last but not least, Ang Lee still got his ambitions and willingness to push forward.
Taking all those into consideration, I was never happier when I heard about Gemini Man. Same recipe: 120FPS, 4K, 3D. New ingredient: Will Smith! As I observed that I can still go to a random cinema watching a 60 FPS version rather than bearing with the 24 FPS + 2D version even I am located in Xuzhou, a second-line city of China.
Shout out to ANG LEE!
So I pre-ordered a ticket, carefully thought about where I should be seated and excitedly headed for the cinema early. Lights off. Thrill gone. A playback error was experienced and the film can only carrying on in 2D version. Surely it’s a pity but it reminds me of the experience of watching Long Halftime Walk in 2016 and it raised a unskippable question: Is it capable of standing out as a great film even without all those fancy tech? Is the younger-Will-Smith-VFX stuff still look great in 24 FPS(allow future films shot in 24 FPS having ground to imporve)? Answer is positive, personally.
Later on cinema staff promised me a better experience that they would finish upgrading playback equipment in next days. So I watched it last night again, in 60 FPS + 3D.
I must say it looks like a whole new film. It’s that never-experienced-never-known kind of experience and astonishment. I wow-ed like an idiot multiple times during playing. I thrilled. I couldn’t help giving my compliments to my roommate sitting next to me(I know it’s impolite behaviour, trust me I know it). The chasing bridge looks like somebody is streaming GTA in world’s biggest screen. High FPS cameras brings high-speed shots to next level like never before. They made me feel dizzy sometimes but I still feel extreme excitement! Contrast of attraction between action shots and simple talking shots is more obvious in 60 FPS than 24 FPS. No doubt it will make some bridges more exciting and some others dull in 120 FPS.
3 years ago, the night Long Halftime Walk premiered, huge discussion, excitement and doubt lit up film circle. Finally I can share what was going on in their minds then.
Still, we haven’t settled down arguments like “Why 24 FPS looks more realistic than higher FPS films”, “Is high FPS’s resemblance to game ruining films’ texture”, and of course “Will high FPS make sense in other film genres”. But one thing is certain: unlike Wo He Wo De Zu Guo, there won’t be that many people seeing this film. Like I said, if you don’t see it you won’t know if you’ll like it or hate it. The new tech won’t receive enough acceptance to keep on advancing. So far Gemini Man hasn’t received a high reputation. You can’t blame all its “failure” on 120/60 FPS. But my biggest fear comes from Ang Lee, such a calm and mild man, facing a 50/50 chance whether he will end up in a lonely dead-end road, would insist his vision of future films. His response still seems positive on his choice, but with a little bit more confuse.