Two-time Academy Award® winner Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, based on the widely-acclaimed, bestselling novel. The film is told from the point of view of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, becomes a hero after a harrowing Iraq battle and is brought home temporarily for a victory tour. Through flashbacks, culminating at the spectacular halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day football game, the film reveals what really happened to the squad - contrasting the realities of the war with America's perceptions. The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, with Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin.
Most viewers are going to feel every step of 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' – and not in a good way. This examination of the affect and purpose of war (and based on Ben Fountain's novel of the same name) is a movie that unfortunately is going to be remembered for the experimental way in which it was shot, rather than for its story or acting. That's a shame, since Director Ang Lee is usually pretty good at these sort of on-screen explorations of emotion (his Life of Pi remains one of my favorite movies of 2013). But Lee has really no one to blame but himself. This movie seems clearly the result of a filmmaker who became so obsessed with the way he was going to tell a story that he forgot about the necessary basics. For all the ways it tries to visually "wow" the audience, the movie lacks an engaging screenplay and – surprisingly – good direction. It's Lee's worst movie since The Hulk.
The plot of the movie is so simple, that it almost spoils the entire film just to describe it here. Young Army soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq where he's gained national notoriety after his bold rescue attempt of Sgt. "Shroom" Breem (Vin Diesel) was captured on video. He and the other young members of his combat team (including their lead officer, Sgt. Dime (Garrett Hedlund)) have been asked to be part of a salute to the troops at the halftime show of a Texas professional football team on Thanksgiving Day (it's a fictional team in the movie, although it was the Dallas Cowboys in the original novel). While there, Billy ponders what has happened to him in combat so far, as well as the possibility of not going back by claiming he suffers from PTSD (something his sister – played by Kristen Stewart – is begging him to do).
Silly subplots abound, starting with one that runs the length of the movie involving a movie producer (Chris Tucker – one of the few actors who does a convincing job here) trying to get a deal to turn Billy and his fellow soldiers' story into a feature film. Steve Martin (less convincing) plays the Jerry Jones-like owner of the football team who is interested in the project – but wants to lowball the amount he pays to the soldiers to obtain the rights to their story. Even more silly is a romance between Billy Lynn and one of the team's cheerleaders (played by Makenzie Leigh), who meets, makes out with, and falls in love with Billy all in the span of a few hours.
For its theatrical presentation, Lee had the movie shot at a high frame rate, 120fps, which is somewhat recreated for the 60fps rate of the 4K Ultra HD version of this release, but not for the standard Blu-ray version. Lee's concept was to provide a very intimate, "realistic" image for the audience that would supposedly allow each viewer to feel like he or she was right there alongside Billy during the course of this movie. Additionally, most of the exchanges in the film are close-up shots of the actors either looking directly into the camera or slightly off it during their dialogue delivery. I didn't see this film in the theater (where the 120fps also included 3D; a 3D version is also available but only as part of the 4K release and without the high frame rate), but the presentation doesn't work all that effectively at home. Sure, the 60fps image (assuming you go with the 4K disc) wows in its clarity, but also doesn't look very much like a movie...it feels more like an interactive video game at times.
Once you get past the unique methods Ang Lee used here, most will realize that 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' doesn't have a whole lot more to offer. While I'm not totally sold on the high frame rate method, I think it could work well with the right movie (a title like Hardcore Henry being shot in this method might be appealing). Sadly, the story here never lives up to the technical process.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' strolls onto home video in this 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The three discs are housed inside a slightly thicker than usual black keepcase, with the 4K disc held on a plastic hub and the two Blu-rays on hubs on the inside right and left of the case. In addition to an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet version of the movie, a single-fold insert advertising 4K Ultra HD is also included. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop.
The 4K disc is front-loaded with a Sony ad touting the advantages of HDR (high dynamic range) on the 4K format. The main menu of the 4K disc features still images from the movie, with the ability to move around from screen to screen (using one's remote) for language and chapter selection, as well as to look at still images of the main cast members. The standard Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Inferno, The Magnificent Seven, Passengers, Underworld: Blood Wars, and the animated 'Resident Evil: Vendetta'. There are no front-loaded trailers on the 3D Blu-ray disc.
Both Blu-rays in this release are region-free, and, of course, 4K discs have no region coding.
'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' was originally shot digitally at 120fps using the Sony CineAlta F65 camera. While the theatrical release was available (in some theaters) in both 3D and at 120fps, there currently is no home video support for 3D in the 4K format (in fact, the format was never even specced to handle 3D), so viewers only get a 60fps experience on the 4K disc – which, although not quite the theatrical experience, is still a format first for 4K Ultra HD. The transfer here is also taken from a 4k digital intermediate, so even though the frame rate has been cut in half for home video and the 3D element is missing (at least on the 4K disc), this is a pretty impressive transfer – assuming you like the "look" of this movie.
It is indeed the look of the 60fps that is going to cause the most debate between viewers. Some will see it as the type of presentation that was "built for 4K", with an incredibly sharp and detailed image, free of any motion blur or strobing. Others (myself included) will see it as too "video-like" and the type of resolution, while crystal clear, that just isn't good for a dramatic presentation. With that in mind, there's no doubt that the transfer here is pretty great – although not as perfect as you might expect. There's some aliasing that goes on the movie that's pretty glaring if you know where to look for it. Thankfully, it's not all that frequent, but it does prevent me from giving the 4K image a reference-quality score.
As for the standard 2D Blu-ray presentation, it's pretty flat by comparison, with the only real advantage being that for those viewers who find themselves distracted by the "hyper-real" look of the 4K image, this provides a more standard look that matches the image of most other digitally shot movies.
The 3D version (which, somewhat surprisingly, is only currently available on the 4k release, even though it's a 1080p disc) is somewhere between the two in appeal. It gives viewers the depth that was intended to accompany the high frame rate, but – of course – is still providing the standard frame rate of 24fps. It would be my second option when viewing this movie...assuming, of course, anyone out there actually wants to sit through 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' twice.
The featured audio on the 4K disc is a Dolby Atmos track which downgrades to a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track for those without Atmos capabilities in their home theater. Early in the movie, the Atmos track isn't given a whole lot to do – there are a lot of conversations in the movie, many of them without even an accompanying musical soundtrack. However, just when I was ready to write off the track as solid, but less than stellar, it wows during the movie's biggest moments: a sequence that flashes back and forth between the halftime show and the soldiers' gunfight in Iraq. The marching band on the field sounded realistic enough that my neighbors probably thought I was having band practice in my apartment. The launch of pyrotechnics also sound quite real, and should bring a cheer to Atmos aficionados as they boom skyward. The firefight sequence is quite enjoyable as well, with explosions that will rock your home theater with some booming LFE that still manages to sound crisp and clear. It's an amazing aural experience – but it's only about 15 to 20 minutes of the film. The rest of the track is serviceable enough, but there's just not a lot happening in the movie. Much like deciding whether to pick up this 4K version in order to experience the high frame rate at home, audiophiles will have to decide if this chunk of the movie is worth the upgrade. As I said in my video review above, I think perhaps the only version of this title worth getting is the 4K one, so it certainly gets my vote.
In addition to the Atmos track, both English and French Audio Descriptive Service tracks are available, along with Dolby 5.1 tracks in French, Portuguese, and Thai. Subtitles are an option in English, English SDH, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.
Note: The bonus materials in this section appear only on the standard 2D Blu-ray included in this set.
'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' seems very much like a situation where a talented director got so caught up in the visual process he was providing for his movie that he forgot to tell a really good story. This is also one of those rare situations where I can't recommend the film itself, but the presentation – at least this 4K version – is interesting and unique enough to recommend checking out. For many, this release's technical specs will mean it's a must-have for their home library. I'm not going that far, but will say, at the very least, this one's worth a look.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.