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« NYFF: The Lost City of Z | Main | Top Ten: Loving those "20th Century Women" »
Wednesday
Oct192016

A Brief Jog Right Past "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk." Get Me Outta Here!

a belated finale NYFF moment with your host, Nathaniel R

Before the world premiere of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk the great director Ang Lee appeared and asked the crowd at the NYFF screening to "keep an open mind." He was speaking about the new technology he used to shoot the 3D movie about a Texas soldier named Billy Lynn (played by talented newcomer Joe Alwyn) on leave from Iraq who is used as a patriotic prop at a football game's halftime show. The movie is shot in 4K (much higher clarity than usual) with a "revolutionary" 140 frames per second as opposed to the standard for decades upon decades now which is 24. As a cinephile without much technical savvy and who doesn't get too caught up in aspect ratios or film stocks or whatnot, I thought "no problem, Ang!"  I always attend movies with eyes wide open and the mind ready to join the party should the movie engage it.

Unfortunately as soon as the movie began I felt as distant toward everything onscreen as I feel when talk turns too technical; I'm there for the art of cinema, the pleasure of acting, and the skill of storytelling and as long as they're there, who cares what equipment was used to deliver it?!  I've come to stomach 3D glasses though they're one barrier between myself and the screen that I'd prefer were thrown in the fire, but as it turns out high speed frame rate is one "advance" that is an absolute backtrack and the only technological advance I've ever seen that had me thinking "if this is the future of cinema I'll lose the obsession for movies in no time." I've never felt less engaged with an Ang Lee movie, continually pulled out of it by this process which curiously makes everything flat, small, and cheap even though you're supposed to feel "immersed" and it's incredibly expensive. There's material in the film -- Alwyn's wet eyed closeups, a few savvy if obvious political notes, and the dehumanizing spectacle of the halftime show itself -- that is far more appealing in theory and in brief moments than the movie ever makes room for due to the odd "reality" presented. Supposedly high frame rate is much closer to how our eyes actually see but it's rather like looking at a shallow stage play without the electricity of live theater and with weirdly unsatisfying "acting" apart from the leading man who seems to be existing rather than performing. There's not a single shot in the movie that wouldn't have been more beautiful and inviting and emotionally satisfying in 2D with 24 frames per second. We go to the movies for heightened pleasure not for recreation of actual reality. Actual reality is outside the theater doors and free of charge and less beautiful and carefully constructed and emotionally direct than the best movies and stories always are.

As someone with a deep love for Ang Lee who has made at least five films which the world would be a significantly less wonderful place without (Brokeback Mountain, Sense & Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Lust Caution, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) I felt like weeping for this techno-turn which has so distracted this great humanist storyteller from his chief skill set. Life of Pi was, despite the Oscar, one of his least engaging efforts and Billy Lynn is even less interesting to look at and sit with. Deep love for Ang Lee demands that I give the film one more shot but I'll try to see it in a less awful format... ironically and ideally the kind of format that's the furthest possible from Ang Lee's intent that I can find. Will any theaters be showing this at a smaller frame rate and in 2D?

Initial Grade: The content C ???; the high speed frame rate / 3D: F
Oscar Chances: Tough to say. Only two movies can apparently show this in its full intended format which is a format that is a crime against the cinema.  So perhaps if people see it in more appealing traditional ways, they'll like it? I cannot say. But at the moment, I can't imagine major Oscar play unless the wider swath of Hollywood REALLY wants to inflict this new and gross technology upon us.

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Reader Comments (19)

Life of Pi was amazing, how dare you sir!

Disappointing to hear the "technological advances" are that bad. It looked pretty awful in The Hobbit clips that I saw. Who would've thought a movie meant to show off technical achievements but based off a satirical novel would be a dud?

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

No duh 140 frames per second is a crime against cinema. That's almost 2.5 times more frames per second than the human eye can even process. We are not HUMMINGBIRDS, Ang.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Thanks, now I understand the impact of this new technology a little bit better: "a shallow stage play without the electricity of live theater".
God, I hope AMPAS doesn't encourage this horror (sorry, Ang).

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGena

So it seems that my hunch about this film was dead on, which makes me glad that I never had too much of an interest in seeing it.

And Life of Pi sucks balls.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Basically it's this years Memoirs Of A Geisha.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDON

Geisha was entertaining trash.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

As someone who *is* into the technological side of things and has time and time again spoken of the way celluloid lends film a texture and a warmth that digital is unable to recreate (literally, since digital can't completely replicate the color black, for instance), the thought of this high frame rate thing has been horrifying. It was terrible in THE HOBBIT (no doubt further impeded by the material that gave it a distinct British Christmas Day Fantasy Special vibe) and this one seemed like an odd choice to go even further with it.

Considering, as you say, only two cinemas can play it (and I'm not even they're going to show it that way very often since it is so expensive), I doubt Hollywood is going to be chomping down on the chance to make high frame rates happen.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I saw the high frame rate used in one of those endless hobbit movies and it made the images look like video

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Yes, I concur with all the comments about HOBBIT movies. I finally saw the last one in the high frame ratio, and it looked like a movie made with the budget of an old "Doctor Who" episodes from the 60s. I had hoped that Lee would use it better (as the only thing worth seeing LIFE OF PI for was the middle section with the technical 3D visuals on the big screen), but alas it seems like it isn't to be.

Nathaniel, I am assuming the charts will be updated soon, but I really want to know now: do you still think this will be Kristen Stewart's first Oscar nomination, or is the role/film not worthy enough?

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

This makes me sad. I, too, love Ang Lee and can't stand the high-frame ratio trend. (And I didn't much care for Life of Pi, either.)

Nathaniel, have you seen his earlier Taiwanese films? The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman are positively delightful.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Maybe this meand Kristen Stewart will be nominated for Certain Women instead.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Stu isn't being nominated for anything this year. Worst actress to have critical allies. This is why we can't have nice things.

October 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

In maybe a moment of smugness, I am now posting what I wrote on my FB feed on 10 January 2015:

"That's it, I am over Pater Jackson's Middle Earth (just in case he decides to take it further). THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES wasn't as mind-numbingly boring as DESOLATION OF SMAUG was, but it was still dull. It's an easy target, but I am convinced that the blame squarely lies on the decision to split it into three films - I haven't read THE HOBBIT but I am guessing there is enough plot for one, maybe two, films, but not three.

"I also now know that I do not like HFR. The film looked like 80s episodes of "Doctor Who' at some stages, and old BBC Shakespeare adaptations shot on video at others. I hope it dies a natural death (which, given that Jackson seems to be the only major director using it, seems probable)."

October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

lylee: The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman are wonderful.
They need to be more talked about.

October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIngrid_Essex

James Cameron is trying to push HFT too. At least he has been talking about it at the time of Hobbit.

October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAgent69

"Life of Pi" was great.
And I'd really like to see "Billly Lynn" in its 120 frames per second (I've heard that it's 120 not 140) but I'm afraid that it won't be possible. :(
That being said: trailer and the information that Simon Beaufoy is no longer credited screenwriter made me sceptical of this movie. And I love Ang Lee!

October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

nathaniel, you are being kind. the film is ghastly. just ghastly.

October 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPHIL

Jumping in to defend Life Of Pi. That film was amazing in big screen 3D.

October 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

More dialogue and back story than any war scenes. After all, it is called "long half time walk" not " long time in Iraq". Great acting by these lesser known actors. Long movie, kind of drawn out, and not a very climactic ending. Normally i probably wouldn't like this kind of movie, but it actually kept me in gauged throughout...

January 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBilly

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