The Movie You Need to Own, Even Though It’s Not Very Good

2/14/2017 10:47:00 AM
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk follows Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), a 19-year-old soldier who becomes a hero after rushing in to the aid of a fallen soldier during a battle in Iraq. The footage of the rescue goes viral, Billy and his fellow soldiers of Bravo Squad become national heroes, and the squad is temporarily brought home for a “victory tour” culminating in a halftime show at a football stadium. The film uses flashbacks to shed more light on the events that transpired and to contrast “the realities of the war with America’s distorted perceptions of heroism.”

Judging by the film’s meager box office returns, you likely didn’t see Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk during its theatrical release, but that shouldn’t stop you from running out and grabbing the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc and immediately making it your showroom’s reference go-to video demo.

What makes Billy Lynn so revolutionary is that director Ang Lee used an unprecedented shooting style, filming at 4K, stereoscopic 3D at 120 frames per second (fps) instead of the usual 24. This is the highest frame rate ever used on a film, considerably upping the ante over Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which was shot at 48 fps. The finished product resulted in more than 540 terabytes of dailies with a final delivery file that was 84 TB.

Unfortunately, the film’s complex, unprecedentedly high frame rate created a problem for theaters, and projecting the film in its full resolution required installing costly new equipment. As such, only six theaters in the world were equipped to show it at 120 fps, with just two in the United States, the AMC Lincoln Square in New York, and The ArcLight Hollywood in Los Angeles.

When you stripped away the technological marvel of watching this at 120 fps, you are left with a film that really isn’t that good. A lot of the dialog is clunky, the story is thin, you never really care about the guys of Bravo, and following the squad as the film leads up to the big Halftime Walk climax is a bit slow and plodding and forced.

But it doesn’t matter. You still need to purchase this disc because the Ultra HD Blu-ray is sourced from full 4K material and runs at 60 fps. As such it represents the current reference, absolute state of the art of home cinema. And if you want to show what your display is truly capable of, you must own this disc.

My only prior experience with 4K60 is the cover art display screen of Kaleidescape’s Strato UHD player where navigating the covers produces ultra-fluid movement that is beautiful to watch. But how would the experience hold up over nearly 2 hours?

For sure, the movie looks decidedly different than any other movie you’ve watched. And I found the 60 fps experience to be both immersive and distracting. At times it felt like I was viewing a reality show shot on video, at others I was pulled out of the moment by some striking video detail. Perhaps if Billy Lynn had been a better movie, the experience would have been different.

Prior to viewing the feature, you should watch one of the disc’s extras, titled, “Technology as Art: Changing the Language of Cinema,” where director Lee and editor Tim Squyres discuss the high frame rate. And in case there is any question about what you are about to see, prior to the film’s beginning this message appears:

“THE 4K PRESENTATION OF BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK IS DISPLAYED AT 60 FRAMES PER SECOND (FPS), VERSUS THE STANDARD 24 FPS, OFFERING A FIRST OF ITS KIND, UNIQUE, AND IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE.”

This disc is presented in Dolby Atmos, but the soundtrack is pretty laid back until chapters 10 and 11. There are some nice establishing ambient scenes, but for the most part this disc is about picture quality. However, the audio in the big finale is reference all the way.

(Spoilers follow…)

Billy Lynn
opens with a couple minutes of grainy, low-resolution video footage that both establishes what Billy did to earn his Silver Star and also to help ease the audience into the transition of watching a movie at 60 fps. When the movie cuts to Billy’s bedroom at the three-minute mark, the hyper clarity is even more apparent.

What really stands out with the picture is the amazing depth of field, razor sharpness, and full-field focus. Everything just leaps off the screen in near 3D depth, focus, and detail. At 6:34 we cut to a cemetery and you can literally read the details on the gravestones to about four rows back. If you have any clients who question whether 8 million pixels can make a resolution difference, I offer this scene as Exhibit A. Also, notice how the gravestones stay in solid detail and focus even while the camera pans over to the service.

At the 13:56 mark in chapter 3, we cut back in to Billy in an Iraqi bazaar. The sounds of the market are all around the room, but there is a sharpness and edge detail around each actor that makes them almost stand off the screen. Notice the fine details apparent on close-ups. At 15:25, when we cut to the football stadium for the first time, we hold tight on Billy Lynn for a bit and you can see stitching and fabric details in his medals and ribbons that you’ve never seen on screen before.

The film is filled with lots of up-close, tight shots on the actor’s faces where you can read every thought, detail, and expression down to the smallest pore on their face and every strand of hair on their head. Also, pay attention to the jacket worn by Albert (Chris Tucker). The blazer features an incredibly tight pattern that retains its detail down to the last stitch.

Chapter 7 begins with the squad attending a banquet at the stadium and the cameras slowly pans across tables of food. At 39:49 the camera goes tight on some food and holds still for a second, filling your screen with what looks like an 8-million-pixel high-res still photo. The scene cuts to Iraq as the team clears a house and questions some locals with some terrific use of audio to track voices coming from around the room as different members of the team check in.

Chapter 10 opens with the team pulling into a town in Iraq, readying for the big firefight, and the high frame rate loves this bright outdoor scene. Notice the detail in the walls of the buildings, the grille of the Humvee, the texture in the soldier’s patches, and the diamond pattern detail in the butt of the rifle grips. The scene ends before the shooting starts, but every second is crammed with amazing eye candy.

The halftime show begins at 1:07 with the announcer and singers’ voices booming overhead through the PA system. Black levels are incredibly clean in the low-lit shots and the fireworks, Jumbotron, and light show are an HDR treat as the company marches to the stage. Notice how the perspective of the audio sweeps around the room as Bravo goes behind the stage, and then how it swirls around the room as the camera takes a circular pan around Billy Lynn. The show lasts nearly six minutes and looks and sounds terrific.

The big battle scene is at 1:12:50 in chapter 11 and it is hyper-realistic war footage unlike anything you’ve seen. You can practically count each spent shell casing leaving the rifles, and see the bullets firing from the barrels. Everything about the scene is captured in amazing clarity, down to each bullet hole and particle of dust and debris. Notice the shockwave when the soldiers fire anti-tank rockets. When the camera follows Billy running down to Shroom, it looks like over-the-shoulder footage from Call of Duty. This is R-rated demo material for both violence and language, but it is home theater at its finest, with truly reference and immersive audio and video filling every frame.

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