Ang Lee is one of modern cinemas most celebrated and colorful directors when it comes to his filmography. He has constantly challenged himself, pushed boundaries and always seems ahead of the curve. Things he does that seems odd, taboo or weird now end up becoming somewhat a bit of normalcy later on. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is his latest foray down that road. And yes, there’s a movie here, a plot, actors and all the like, but its not been the buzz and discussion for the film at all. Lee has instilled the highest framerate ever used on a film; 120fps. The talk of this movie was all about that technological movement and nothing to do with the film. For its 4K UHD Blu-ray debut, the frame rate is being cut in half to 60fps; a home video landmark (Still a big deal considering, in some theaters The Hobbit films were 48fps). People will get a chance to see this for themselves when the film releases on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.
Academy Award® winner Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK, based on the widely-acclaimed, bestselling novel. The story is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing battle in Iraq and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through a sequence of flashbacks, the truth about what really happened is revealed – contrasting the realities of the war with America’s distorted perceptions of heroism. Co-starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel and Steve Martin.
For all intents and purposes, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk gave me the sort of look and feel of one of those cheapo Hallmark/religious movies I’ve had to review in the past. Its just one with one with a top of the line director and a much more well known and talented cast. Maybe it has to do with the frame rate (I’ll get to that in sec) that affects the overall look of it, but it just feels like a silly story that seems to not really have too much a grasp on reality and how people behave and interact with each other. For all the people involved in front of and behind the camera, you think someone would’ve felt how odd or generic it was.
While I said that, there are some good performances that come out of this film. Kristen Stewart continues to prove she’s one of the most talented people her age. I’ve never been a big Garrett Hedlund fan (I did enjoy him in Inside Llewyn Davis), but he’s outstanding in this (for him). He pretty much carries a lot of the modern scenes in the film and commands the screen. Vin Diesel shows up in flashback sequences, but has a very big presence that looms over the film and he fits his role perfectly and gives one of his better dramatic readings. On top of it all, its fun to see Steven Martin and Chris Tucker is small roles.
You can’t discuss this film without having a bit about the frame rate. And honestly, I feel like that’s what this whole movie is about. Like Ang Lee found a cheap book to get the rights to and adapt that wouldn’t require heavy CG, and didn’t care about the content or weakness of the script, he just was all about filming it. And its quite wild to look at and I honestly never truly got adjusted or used to it. It doesn’t feel like a film. Billy Lynn looks as if you took anything artistic about film as a medium and removed it. While the image is crystal clear and the movements “liftelike”, you feel like you’re watching a soap opera, PBS or whatnot. And I’m only at 60fps, I’m not sure what 120fps is like. Now, I am sure its going to be a key step into making 3D without glasses work as the image really does some intriguing things with depth.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk isn’t really a film, its a filmmaker’s experiment. Its supposed to be a dark satire, but it honestly comes off as genuine and American Sniper-like at times (Not a good thing). But that’s all secondary to the technical merits of the film. I experimented with this and showed it to my wife and my sister to see how they’d react to the frame rate. My wife thought it was kinda neat, but not for a movie, while my sister got weirded out by the whole thing and averted her eyes at many instances as she just felt odd looking at it. There is a place for this I think, but its not in film and television storytelling, but with sports, news and documentaries. Hopefully it can leave film alone as it just makes it look super cheap, generic and quite fake even for something that isn’t a fantasy or reliant on effects.
Encoding: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Clarity/Detail: Anytime I’ve ever referred to a great transfer in one of my reviews as “like looking through a window”, needs to be retracted. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the clearest, crispest, sharpest most lifelike and yes “like looking through a window” film ever released on home video. Its the most clean and full image. Details, like seeing thread patterns on a man in the VERY BACK of a press room are visible. Distance is not a challenge. If there is even the tiniest bit of discrepancy, the image will pick it up. Its unreal, its the craziest thing you may have ever laid your eyes on. Its odd, and your eyes need to adjust and get used to it, but honestly I never truly got “used to it” as it never really felt like I was watching a movie. One of the few times it did was during a night vision filtered raid sequence that look pretty damn cool (They really do have fun with the technology, trying many different things with lighting and the like). I referenced the standard Blu-ray of the film (In the standard 24fps) and its pretty crazy how much more like an actual feature film it felt like than its 4K UHD upgrade. Maybe I’m odd, but even with my dramas, comedies and the like, I still think film is an escape and fantasy. I don’t need for it to look hyper real, I’m usually watching a movie to get away from that. However, this is probably an unavoidable advancement in technology, so time will catch up. I just hope directors and cinematographers quickly find out or discover how to add the art and cinematic feel back to these razor sharp and clear as day images.
Depth: I have a feeling insane frame rates like this are going to be the key to making the glasses-free 3D that’s being worked on. With just 60fps, any time someone reaches at the screen it feels oh so close to a 3D image. Characters feels wholly 3 dimensional and almost popping off the screen themselves. Distance is well documented here as everything feels full pushed back and creeping into your wall or entertainment center. Movements are incredibly smooth, with zero blur and gives the effect of the 1.5x play function on the PS3. However, its a hair better looking than that. Camera movements are so smooth they look sped up as well. Background people and images are gushing with detail even when they are supposed to be blurry. There are many shots, too where EVERYTHING on the screen is in focus and its almost like insanity on your eyes.
Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich. They feature a big palette on their own and no details are lost upon this image. You can still make out wrinkles, hair follices and lines in clothing. Shadow work is realistic and looks quite terrific. During the review for this, no crushing was witnessed in the video, though I highly doubt this was even a concern in the transfer.
Color Reproduction: HDR is off the hook here in many spots. Colors like blue, feature a many different tints and shades that can pop on the screen. One constant thing that sticks out is a red “1” on a patch on the soldiers’ uniforms during the Iraq flashbacks. What really really impresses are some of the “props ” in the film. There is a scene with a medium shot and the soldiers are holding footballs and the reddish/brown on them that reflects that luster is so real you just know what it feels like. And also, during a lunch/snack scene the food on the table (Fruits, pretzels) and the flowers decorating are just bursting off the screen, not in a vivid sense, but just because they look incredibly real you can taste or smell them. There are quilts, lights, fire and jumbotron screens that also featuring individual colors that just lift right off the screen.
Flesh Tones: Skin tones are the natural of the natural and maintain the appearance for the whole run time. Yes, moles, dimples, acne, wrinkles, stubble, lip texture, veins and such all stick out. Kristen Stewart has some clear as day scars on her body (For her character, not real) that show up genuinely. What I think brings even more to the forefront with the 60fps is the red blemishes on peoples’ faces. You get a much more full and flushed sense of (mainly white) folks faces. You can see it change back and forth during dialogue delivery and reactions to others. One other thing is the sort of contouring and the like you can back on the skin from the cheeks and such on lower part of the faces. I’ve never met Garrett Hedlund, but with the clarity and as many close ups he is given in this movie, I feel like I know his face pretty well (maybe even better than in person, haha).
Noise/Artifacts: Are you kidding?
Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD Compatible), English Audio Descriptive Service, French 5.1, French Audio Descriptive Service, Portuguese 5.1, Thai 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Dynamics: Not to be overshadowed by the visual presentation, this Atmos track is flipping fantastic. Every environment is incredibly realized whether its a firefight in Iraq or just some soldiers hanging out in the parking garage of a stadium waiting for their ride. Every echos, bullet fired or car door slammed featured every bit a piece of the layered sound that you would hear if you were there on the set that day.
Height: Bullets whiz by, the crowd at the stadium roars and pyrotechnics flying a little over are just a couple examples of how the mix doesn’t forget to include your center channel and makes it a player throughout.
Low Frequency Extension: Engine hums, explosions, rifle fire, the thunderous stadium and music of Destiny Child’s halftime show all bring a bump and rumble to your subwoofer. Its deep and powerful when it hits too.
Surround Sound Presentation: As mentioned, every environment carries every little bit of sound accurate to its spot on the screen. You’ll get good unique contributions to from the side and rear speakers. Motion is expertly portrayed. The halftime stuff and the battle scenes are insanely impressive and will have you wanting to demo them for your friends that you are showing this presentation off to in your viewing area.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is really clean and crisp. Even during loud moments you can make out every word and feel like you’re present there in the action. Diction is full to every whisp and saliva smack.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk comes with the Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray editions and an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The 4K UHD Blu-ray disc contains the 60fps presentation as well as 1 featurette. The rest of the supplemental material appear on the standard Blu-ray disc.
Technology As Art: Changing The Language Of Cinema (4K, 5:25) – Ang Lee and Tim Squyres discuss the high frame rate used to tell the story. They both feel clarity and staging were important. The film was originally cut at this 60fps and that’s what Ang Lee would run his dailies on. They both talk about how important it is to have film look like what your eyes actually see.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 10:18)
Into Battle And Onto The Field: Stepping Inside Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (HD, 9:21) – Ang Lee discusses this rich material of analyzing our humanity through the film. Features interviews from the cast and producer and other crew. They also discuss the frame rate and challenges of acting and filming it. The cast talks that if you aren’t truly genuine the camera will catch it. No makeup was used and guys had to shave 3 times a day to keep it fresh.
Assembling A Cast (HD, 11:29) – This is the one where they talk about casting people, how great and perfect people were in their parts and how they were great to work with. Features some of the audition videos.
Recreating The Halftime Show (HD, 6:27) – This is the “making of” for the halftime show scene in the film with interviews from cast and crew.
The Brotherhood Of Combat (HD, 4:24) – Goes through the training and preparation for the actors playing soldiers in the film. The stunt coordinator discuss a boot camp Ang Lee demanded with a military advisor.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is pretty sub-mediocre and feels ultimately inconsequential as what you’ll be talking about with this movie has little to do with the characters, events, actors or script. Its the frame rate and the look of the film which will be the buzz. And that’s great for 4K UHD Blu-ray. While I’m not a fan of the motion or look of a feature film in 60fps, I cannot deny that this is the best picture quality ever offered on home video if you’re looking for clarity, detail, lifelike movements and color. Its also accompanied by fantastic sound and some good complimentary extras. If you have a 4K UHD player, this is the time to check out anything that is pushing the limits or experimenting with the new format, so pick it up regardless of the film’s quality.