Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk UHD & 3D Blu-ray Review

An experiment that ultimately fails 3.5 Stars

Ang Lee’s experimental Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will likely be remembered more for it’s use of extreme high frame rate and 3D cinematography more than anything else. The story is not all that engaging, with the technology often removing the viewer rather than immersing them in the plot and lives of the characters. It’s an interesting experiment, but one that probably isn’t well-suited for the material.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)
Released: 18 Nov 2016
Rated: R
Runtime: 113 min
Director: Ang Lee
Genre: Drama, War
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Mason Lee
Writer(s): Ben Fountain (based on the novel by), Jean-Christophe Castelli (screenplay)
Plot: 19-year-old Billy Lynn is brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. Through flashbacks the film shows what really happened to his squad - contrasting the realities of war with America's perceptions.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: 53

Disc Information
Studio: Sony
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 53 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, UltraViolet
Case Type: 3-disc UHD keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 02/14/2017
MSRP: $45.99

The Production: 2.5/5

When Billy Lyyn’s (Joe Alwyn) attempt to save Sgt. Virgil “Shroom” Breem (Vin Diesel) from a gunfight in Iraq is caught on camera, the video goes viral, with Billy and his platoon Bravo Squad whisked back to the States for a victory tour and to bury their comrade in arms, Shroom. Their tour culminates in their participation in a halftime show with Destiny’s Child during a professional football game on Thanksgiving Day (the movie hints that the team is the Dallas Cowboys, but never fully recognizes that fact), having been invited by team owner Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin), who rolls out the red carpet for them by including them in a pre-game press conference, catered lunch, and reserved seats. The squad is joined by film producer Albert Brown (Chris Tucker), who is trying to negotiate a movie deal based on the incident. While in country, Billy visits his family in Texas, including his speechless and wheelchair-bound father (Bruce McKinnon) who sent him off to war as part of a plea agreement to keep Billy out of jail, his mother (Deirdre Lovejoy) who worries he’s not eating enough, and his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) who is still recovering from a major car accident that eventually and inadvertently caused Billy to destroy her ex-fiancee’s car. While at the stadium, during the pre-game press conference, Billy meets one of the team’s cheerleaders, Faison (Makenzie Leigh), who immediately takes a liking to Billy. The movie switches between the events listed above, often as flashbacks spurned by Billy’s PTSD, as he remembers the actual events of that fateful day in Iraq, while he struggles with life back home, the commercialization of war and patriotism, and the brotherhood of his squad.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is based on a novel by Ben Fountain that was known for its sharp satire. This movie adaptation, directed by Ang Lee and written by first timer Jean-Cristophe Castelli, plays the story straight with very brief glimpses of satire. As a straight-forward drama, the film often comes off as flat, and found myself not really caring about Billy, his family, or anyone on his squad. The real problem with the film is it too often felt (and looked) like a live drama for television, with actions that felt over-rehearsed and scripted. Ang Lee’s experimental use of 120 frame-rate 3D at 4k resolution compounds that issue with its striking but out of place clarity. Lee says he shot the movie in this ground-breaking format to give it more reality, but the pristine image gives away much of the film’s flaws and artificiality. The performances by its lead actors are very strong, especially newcomer Joe Alwyn as Billy, who is definitely troubled about his lost innocence during the event that he is being celebrated for. Garrett Hedlund is an actor that I haven’t been all that impressed with prior to this film. He was passable as Sam Flynn in TRON: Legacy, and completely miscast as the two-handed Hook in Pan (where I thought he came off doing a bad impersonation of Christian Slater), but here, as Sgt. Dime, Bravo Squad’s leader, he was very believable even though he was rather unlikable as a character. Kristen Stewart is another actress that never impressed me in the Twlight series, but as Billy’s sister, she emotes a great deal of love for her brother and guilt for him having to serve. Chris Tucker is unbelievably restrained as producer Albert Brown that most would not believe this is the same actor who got his start as Ruby Rhod in The Fifth Element and Carter in the Rush Hour movies, two of the most annoying characters of 1990s cinema. Steve Martin as team owner Oglesby is one of the weak links, and just isn’t convincing in the role (one of his best dramatic roles was in Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon, where he played a Joel Silver-type movie producer). Makenzie Leigh tries her best to read her lines and emote, but the role is so under-written that she comes off as nothing more than a pretty face. The rest of Bravo Squad are also under-written, essentially stereotypes of soldiers we’ve seen in hundreds of other films.

The real star of the film, though, is the technology. Ang Lee and cinematographer John Toll shot Billy Lynn at 120 frames per second in 3D at 4k resolution. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the 48 fps used by Peter Jackson on The Hobbit, so much so that I saw the last film in the series in standard frame rate 3D. Having watched the movie twice in its entirety (once in 4K UHD at 60fps and a second time on 3D Blu-ray at 24 fps) and sampled the 2D Blu-ray, the movie works best as a whole, unfortunately, in 1080p 2D at 24 fps. It’s still not a good movie, but its flaws are not as blatantly obvious.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: 4/5

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the first movie to be released on the 4K UHD Blu-ray format in 2160p at 60 frames per second. As much as I disliked the movie and am not a fan of high frame rate cinematography, the disc does show off the true capabilities of a UHD display. Colors are vibrant and natural, with accurate flesh tones and excellent gradations of greens and browns in the camouflaged uniforms. But it is the detail that is off the charts on this disc, revealing pores and subtle muscle tones in the actors’ faces, even in medium shots. The textures of the AstroTurf in the stadium and the fabrics of the costumes and uniforms are also exceptional.

As Sony has often done with new releases that received a theatrical 3D release, a 3D Blu-ray version has been included in this set. Unfortunately, due to technical limitations of the format, the 3D version is presented at 24 frames per second. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the lower resolution and frame rate soften the image slightly, making the movie appear less hyper-realistic and more film like with more subdued colors. The 3D is used to provide more of a sense of depth, and does it exceptionally well, particularly when the soldiers walk out on to the field for an impromptu game of catch, but also during the press conference and the halftime show. There are maybe one or two instances of popout, the more memorable being during the impromptu tossing of footballs at the camera, and some of the extreme closeups have the appearance of just barely piercing the screen.

Audio: 5/5

As with all of Sony’s UHD releases so far, Billy Lynn includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that contains a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core. When compared to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track included on both the 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs played back on a 5.1 configuration with front heights and Pro-Logic IIz enabled, the Atmos track has a punchier low-end and much more immersive and active surrounds, more noticeably during the halftime show (a sonic treat) and the firefight in Iraq that utilize the heights, even in Pro-Logic IIz. Sounds and even dialogue are more precisely placed, with PA announcements seeming to come from above and actors speaking across the entire soundstage.

Special Features: 3.5/5

The bulk of the special features can be found on the 2D Blu-ray, with an exclusive feature on the UHD disc.

Technology As Art: Changing the Language of Cinema (2160p; 5:25): Director Ang Lee and Editor Tim Squyers discuss shooting Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in 3d at 120 frames per second. Although the featurette is in 2160p, it was completed at 24fps, so the clips do not show the benefits of high frame rate. This is exclusive on the UHD disc (although portions are included on the subsequent featurettes on the 2D Blu-ray).

Deleted Scenes (1080p; 10:18): A total of six deleted scenes are included, most are from the promotional tour that occur prior to where the movie begins now or scene extensions. One Nation, Nine Heroes (3:41); Family Dinner (1:27); Old Enough to Die For My Country (1:25); What You’ve Seen (1:38); We’re Just Messing With You (1:13); and Get Ready (1:16).

Into Battle and Onto the Field: Stepping Inside “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (1080p; 9:21): Director Ang Lee, Executive Producer Brian Bell, Director of Photography John Toll, Editor Tim Squyers, and members of the cast discuss making the movie and the challenges of shooting in a high frame rate.

Assembling a Cast (1080p; 11:29): A look at the casting process, including screen tests and interviews.

Recreating the Halftime Show (1080p; 6:27): A look at designing and shooting the main set piece of the film.

The Brotherhood of Combat (1080p; 4:24): A look at the bootcamp and preparations that cast members of Bravo Squad had to endure before making the movie.

Digital HD Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy through Ultraviolet. If redeemed through the Sony Pictures site and you have a Sony UHD display, you also get access to a streaming UHD copy.

Overall: 3.5/5

Billy Long’s Long Halftime Walk is a difficult movie to recommend. One the one hand, it is a terrific demo disc to show off the full capabilities of your UHD display and UHD Blu-ray player. On the other hand, it’s not a very good movie, period. Hence, the mediocre overall rating.

Published by

Todd Erwin

author,editor

18 Comments

  1. I feel like it's impossible to fully experience this film with the choice of it in a higher frame rate in 2D, or a regular frame rate in 3D, rather than both at the same time. For what it's worth, I suspect that no presentation would make you like the movie if you didn't like it already, but I'm not sure that the mood the film creates can be reproduced with just HFR without 3D, or just 3D without HFR.

    I saw "The Hobbit" moves in HFR (which was 48fps for those movies), and I hated every second of it. It didn't look natural, and it looked less real to me; every motion had an added jerkiness that I had never felt in 24fps. It was as if every action was slowed down at the beginning, and then sped up at the end, almost the way that a glitching computer might freeze for a moment and then play back at an accelerated speed. It was a not a pleasant experience. Each year, as the latest Hobbit title came out, I would decide to give HFR another chance, thinking that it must have been just me, or the theater I saw it in, and that it couldn't be as bad as I remembered. And each time, it was.

    For "Billy Lynn," I had a wholly different experience. I was lucky in that I live near one of the only two theaters in the country that was showing it as Lee intended – in 3D, at 4K resolution, at 120fps. I was curious about the technology, but not terribly interested in the movie itself, so I went with a little bit of trepidation. Everything was better than I expected. I actually enjoyed the movie far more than I had expected. HFR at 120fps had none of the herky-jerky, slowed down and then sped up look at that it did to me at 48fps. The clarity and brightness of the image onscreen was unlike anything I have ever seen before. There were numerous times where I forgot that I was watching a movie, and felt that on some level, I was actually present for the scenes taking place. The only thing that I'd count as a negative was the scene transitions – because I got so wrapped up in each moment and my suspension of disbelief was so total, whenever the film would cut from one scene set at one time and place to one in a different time and location, I found that extremely jarring. It was as if the illusion was so real that the act of cutting away revealed the artifice.

    This being a Sony release, I'm sure it looks very good, but I'd be hesitant to judge the look and feel of this specific film based on either of these disc versions, which are incapable of reproducing the film as Lee intended.

  2. Josh Steinberg

    I feel like it's impossible to fully experience this film with the choice of it in a higher frame rate in 2D, or a regular frame rate in 3D, rather than both at the same time. For what it's worth, I suspect that no presentation would make you like the movie if you didn't like it already, but I'm not sure that the mood the film creates can be reproduced with just HFR without 3D, or just 3D without HFR.

    I saw "The Hobbit" moves in HFR (which was 48fps for those movies), and I hated every second of it. It didn't look natural, and it looked less real to me; every motion had an added jerkiness that I had never felt in 24fps. It was as if every action was slowed down at the beginning, and then sped up at the end, almost the way that a glitching computer might freeze for a moment and then play back at an accelerated speed. It was a not a pleasant experience. Each year, as the latest Hobbit title came out, I would decide to give HFR another chance, thinking that it must have been just me, or the theater I saw it in, and that it couldn't be as bad as I remembered. And each time, it was.

    For "Billy Lynn," I had a wholly different experience. I was lucky in that I live near one of the only two theaters in the country that was showing it as Lee intended – in 3D, at 4K resolution, at 120fps. I was curious about the technology, but not terribly interested in the movie itself, so I went with a little bit of trepidation. Everything was better than I expected. I actually enjoyed the movie far more than I had expected. HFR at 120fps had none of the herky-jerky, slowed down and then sped up look at that it did to me at 48fps. The clarity and brightness of the image onscreen was unlike anything I have ever seen before. There were numerous times where I forgot that I was watching a movie, and felt that on some level, I was actually present for the scenes taking place. The only thing that I'd count as a negative was the scene transitions – because I got so wrapped up in each moment and my suspension of disbelief was so total, whenever the film would cut from one scene set at one time and place to one in a different time and location, I found that extremely jarring. It was as if the illusion was so real that the act of cutting away revealed the artifice.

    This being a Sony release, I'm sure it looks very good, but I'd be hesitant to judge the look and feel of this specific film based on either of these disc versions, which are incapable of reproducing the film as Lee intended.

    On the other hand, the film "as Lee intended" is the cinematic of a tree falling in the woods with no one there to hear it. Hardly anyone was able to see if "as intended", so I don't think you can imply only those people who saw it in the "whole hog" version are able to fairly judge it…

  3. I purchased Billy Lynn solely on the recommendation of Robert Harris. I knew from reviews that it wasn’t going to be a very good movie (or, possibly, it was going to be a bad movie – which it was) but, based on Mr. Harris’ review of the technical aspects of the release, I was more than willing to make a blind buy. Luckily, there was a freezing issue on the disc which allowed me to return it for a refund, because I wasn’t the least bit impressed by the picture quality, regardless of the 60fps presentation. To my eyes, it simply looked like VIDEO…like I was watching a videotaped presentation of a very bad play on TV. I mean, sure, it was probably the best looking videotaped presentation I’ve seen, but that ain’t saying much. For the first time ever I was happy that there was a defect on the disc, because I could never imagine watching it again.

  4. You can see Billy Lynn's and The Hateful Eight on Blu-ray–but you can't experience them the way you could in their optimum theatrical presentations. I didn't care for either film, but the experience, limited as it was in scope, was central to their being produced. The discs can't replicate that. (And the 120 fps Billy Lynn's was something to experience, leaving the Hobbits in the dust.)

  5. Colin Jacobson

    On the other hand, the film "as Lee intended" is the cinematic of a tree falling in the woods with no one there to hear it. Hardly anyone was able to see if "as intended", so I don't think you can imply only those people who saw it in the "whole hog" version are able to fairly judge it…

    Good point, allow me to rephrase. I think anyone seeing any version of the movie can comment fairly on how it is as a movie.

    However, what struck me as being slightly unfair was the judgment that it was a failed experiment or an experiment that didn't work for the movie, based on a viewing of the disc – anyone seeing it on disc won't be seeing "the experiment" portion of the movie, so I don't think it's fair to say those aspects didn't work if you're not able to view those aspects. Saying that Lee shooting the movie in 4K 120fps 3D didn't work doesn't seem like a fair comment to make if it's made in reference to a version that's not that.

  6. I have to wonder if this film is getting flack because it portrays average American civilians as self-centred, ignorant, decadent, pleasure-chasing consumers. Meanwhile guys, who would have had no future in their own country, are out "protecting" the "American Way of Life". It makes me think the film is disliked because it may bring up uncomfortable truths and makes people, at some subconscious level, feel like they are looking into a mirror.

  7. That's an interesting idea – I don't know that I had ever considered it. I do like that as a theory, but for this specific movie, I don't know that I buy it. I don't think the film has really gotten a lot of flack – I don't think it's gotten a lot of anything. Sony's release plan essentially guaranteed that very few people would even have the chance to see it, and the promotion for it (at least in my area) was basically non-existent.

    I also think the movie has a dumb title. Should it matter? Probably not. But if I hadn't known that this was the Ang Lee movie where Lee was trying out new technologies, I wouldn't have been drawn to the movie by the title or poster alone. I don't think Sony effectively communicated what the movie was going to be about, so I don't think people rejected it based on subject matter – I don't think Sony got it into enough people's minds for it to even count as a rejection. I think most people were unaware of the movie, and those that did at least hear the title probably thought it sounded stupid and never gave it another second's thought.

  8. That is true enough. I never even heard of the film until its release on BD/4K UHD. I think it got low distribution in Canada and zero promotion. With the kind of treatment it got up here, I would have thought it was a Canadian film. :laugh:

    The title is weird in that you have to see the film in order to get the context of the title. The title makes sense once a person has viewed the film; however, I agree that it certainly wasn't a very good selling feature of the film. The film, itself, also sort of takes on and reflects the ennui possessing the characters. I suck as a film critic, but the ennui of the main character in this film almost becomes palpable in the actual film making. It is not a very visually striking film. in fact, in a lot of ways, it is pretty pedestrian in shot set-ups which is kind of unusual for Lee. Makes me think that filming at 120fps 3D resulted in some technical limitations on how he could move the camera or arrange shots. The 3D version of this film is also one of the few that caused me to get a headache after awhile, even though the 3D seemed technically well-done.

  9. Edwin-S

    It is not a very visually striking film. in fact, in a lot of ways, it is pretty pedestrian in shot set-ups which is kind of unusual for Lee.

    I think that's the difference between seeing it as Lee shot it, in 120fps at 4K in 3D, and every other format that it's been offered in. When I saw it theatrically with 120fps/4K/3D, it didn't strike me as being pedestrian. Instead, it had a greater illusion of reality than just about anything I had ever seen. What might seem pedestrian or uninspired at a lower frame rate and in 2D seemed like "wow, I'm actually sitting next to these people" when seen as Lee intended. At least, that's how it played for me. The actual scenes were so realistic and lifelike, and I was so drawn into it, that when he'd cut to a different scene, I found those cuts to always be very jarring, just because it shattered the illusion that I was watching something real.

  10. Wow. That sounds pretty amazing. It would be interesting to see the film in that format, but I don't think there is a theatre in Canada that could show it that way. I watched the 4K 60fps version. It certainly looked much different from the 3D version; however, I'm not sure I liked the look of the film at 60fps. It looked too much like the same sort of picture you get when motion interpolation is active on a TV set.

  11. Edwin-S

    Wow. That sounds pretty amazing. It would be interesting to see the film in that format, but I don't think there is a theatre in Canada that could show it that way. I watched the 4K 60fps version. It certainly looked much different from the 3D version; however, I'm not sure I liked the look of the film at 60fps. It looked too much like the same sort of picture you get when motion interpolation is active on a TV set.

    I can understand that – I felt that's what The Hobbit at 48fps looked like and I didn't like it. To me, Billy Lynn looked a little better. I think the 4K vs 2K is less important than the frame rate and then having that combined with the 3D. Combine the higher frame rates with the 3D presentation, and together, it's really something. They're no longer motion interpolation soap opera effect looking people – they're just people. I think I liked the look of the HFR/3D combo better during the sequences set at home than the sequences in the war; there was something about having those quiet moments playing out as if they were just real people chatting a few feet away from me that added to the intimacy of the story.

    All of that said, I wouldn't want every movie to be made in this format. But I like the idea that filmmakers can have additional options for how to tell their story besides a standard 24fps, 2D, 2K master that most films are limited to nowadays.

  12. bujaki

    Josh, that's the title of the novel on which the film is based on.

    I know – but I still think it was a risk putting the movie out with that title, and one that didn't pay off. There are plenty of movies that discard the original titles of the novels they were based on.

    For instance, I think "Arrival" is a much stronger title for that film than "The Story Of Your Life" (which is what that book had been called). The combination of the visual of the vertically-oriented ship floating in a field, along with the word "Arrival", was all it took to sell me on that movie. My appreciation of the title grew after seeing the movie, when it became apparent that the title could have multiple meanings beyond the sudden unexpected appearance of spaceships on Earth.

    Meanwhile, there's no combination of the words "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" and the generic soldier standing in front of fireworks imagery on that poster that would have increased my interest in seeing it – the only reason I was drawn to it was because of the HFR 3D technology Lee was using, and I wouldn't have known that from the poster. Heck, the poster I saw doesn't even mention that the movie is available in any kind of 3D. If I hadn't known about the movie already, the title wouldn't have sold me – if anything, as someone who's not really a football fan, I probably would have actively avoided a movie whose title tied it so close to football. But obviously it's not a movie about football and I would have missed out on a good moviegoing experience if I had just gone by the title or poster.

  13. Edwin-S

    I have to wonder if this film is getting flack because it portrays average American civilians as self-centred, ignorant, decadent, pleasure-chasing consumers. Meanwhile guys, who would have had no future in their own country, are out "protecting" the "American Way of Life". It makes me think the film is disliked because it may bring up uncomfortable truths and makes people, at some subconscious level, feel like they are looking into a mirror.

    No, I think that has nothing to do with it. "WALL-E" is a brutal condemnation of the kind of consumers you mention and it was a huge hit.

    Mocking/pointing out the tendencies you discuss isn't new – it's been done many, many times in movies and TV.

    I didn't like "Billy Lynn" because it's boring and lacks coherence. It rambles and goes not much of anywhere while it embraces all sorts of cliches…

  14. Josh Steinberg

    Good point, allow me to rephrase. I think anyone seeing any version of the movie can comment fairly on how it is as a movie.

    However, what struck me as being slightly unfair was the judgment that it was a failed experiment or an experiment that didn't work for the movie, based on a viewing of the disc – anyone seeing it on disc won't be seeing "the experiment" portion of the movie, so I don't think it's fair to say those aspects didn't work if you're not able to view those aspects. Saying that Lee shooting the movie in 4K 120fps 3D didn't work doesn't seem like a fair comment to make if it's made in reference to a version that's not that.

    I agree there. I have no idea what the movie would be like when shown "as Ang Lee intended" – I wish I'd had a theater that exhibited that way closer than 250 miles away!

    I find it impossible to believe that the "intended" presentation would've made it a good movie. All the technical innovation in the world ain't improving that movie! 😀

  15. Josh Steinberg

    That's an interesting idea – I don't know that I had ever considered it. I do like that as a theory, but for this specific movie, I don't know that I buy it. I don't think the film has really gotten a lot of flack – I don't think it's gotten a lot of anything. Sony's release plan essentially guaranteed that very few people would even have the chance to see it, and the promotion for it (at least in my area) was basically non-existent.

    I also think the movie has a dumb title. Should it matter? Probably not. But if I hadn't known that this was the Ang Lee movie where Lee was trying out new technologies, I wouldn't have been drawn to the movie by the title or poster alone. I don't think Sony effectively communicated what the movie was going to be about, so I don't think people rejected it based on subject matter – I don't think Sony got it into enough people's minds for it to even count as a rejection. I think most people were unaware of the movie, and those that did at least hear the title probably thought it sounded stupid and never gave it another second's thought.

    I agree with these remarks. A) The film has a dumb title that is difficult to memorize (I keep describing it to friends as THE LONG HALFTIME WALK OF BILLY LYNN). B) It wasn't well-promoted. I only heard of it when I saw a listing of upcoming 3D Blu-ray titles, at which time I found this to be an Ang Lee film, and jumped on it. This is by no means a bad movie. I found it entertaining, well-modulated, well-acted, and the 3D was good, although it has no "forward effects," really. But I think I will actually watch it in 2D next time around.

  16. Bob Cashill

    You can see Billy Lynn's and The Hateful Eight on Blu-ray–but you can't experience them the way you could in their optimum theatrical presentations. I didn't care for either film, but the experience, limited as it was in scope, was central to their being produced. The discs can't replicate that. (And, indifferent as I was to the movie, the 120 fps Billy Lynn's was something to experience, leaving the Hobbits in the dust.)

    In the case of TH8, the Roadshow experience can be replicated, but for some bizarre reason QT doesn't want the people not fortunate enough to live near a theater that showed it to be able to experience it. I enjoy most of QTs films, but I find him to be a very petulant person.

Leave a Reply