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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 2/14/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/10/2017

Style over substance is something with can often happen in the arts. You may have an author who throws a ton of purple-prose at the reader to hide the lack of a quality narrative. Or, you may have a song which is loaded with production effects to mask its unoriginality. But, I think that we see this phenomenon the most in film. Directors will go to great lengths to deliver artsy shots and excessive camera movement in order to distract us from the fact that the movie has little to no story. Sometimes, this effect can work, simply ask any Terrence Malick fan, but typically the audience catches on that all of the pretty pictures are just a smoke-screen. I was very surprised that Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk fell into this category.

The year is 2004 and the War in Iraq is in full-swing. Young soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is being hailed as a hero, as his act of bravery in defending his team was captured on video and went viral. Billy and his squad, which are inaccurately labeled "Bravo" by the media, are now stateside and have being doing a congratulatory tour. They now find themselves in Dallas, as special guests for the big Thanksgiving Day professional football game. They meet the team's owner (Steve Martin) and are treated as VIPs, and they are asked to appear in the big halftime show, featuring Destiny's Child. However, Billy keeps thinking about his time in Iraq and his family, who are begging him to use his "hero" status to find a way to avoid going back to the war. Meanwhile, the fast-talking Albert (Chris Tucker) is trying to score a movie deal for the soldiers.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is based on a novel by Ben Fountain, which I have not read. I mention the story's origin because feels more like the outline for a screenplay instead of a truly fleshed-out tale. We meet Billy and his squad. We learn that Billy comes from a humble background in Texas and that he's close to his sister (Kristen Stewart). We get some moments from Iraq, where we see that Billy got a lot of advice from the zen-like Sergeant Breem (Vin Diesel), and eventually we get to the see whole event which turned Billy into a national treasure. But, other than those moments, the movie is simply filled with scenes from the present, in which Billy walks around the stadium, looking anxious. We see his meeting with the team owner, we see him encounter civilians, and we see him have a rendezvous with a very friendly cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh), but it all doesn't add up to much.

As noted above, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk comes from Ang Lee, a two-time Oscar winner who has shown that he can work in multiple genres. His works are often character-driven tales which are loaded with emotion. (Was there a dry eye during the last few minutes of Life of Pi?) But, his latest film is incredibly cold and distant. Again, we get a little bit of backstory on Billy, but that is the only character with any development. The movie doesn't seem to know what it wants to be about, so it jumps all over the place. I had thought that it would be more about PTSD, especially with all of the pyrotechnics at the halftime show, but this is only hinted at. The movie seems to think that Billy's decision whether or not to go back to Iraq is a big deal (and it certainly should be), but there is no emotional weight to this subplot. There is definitely an emphasis on the fact that the people around the soldiers at the game don't understand what they have gone through, but, again, this goes nowhere. (Oddly, there is a brief deleted scene included in this set in which a woman asks Billy how he is truly doing, which actually works.)

Now, Ang Lee making an unemotional movie would already be worth discussing, but Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk amps things up due to the technology involved. Here is the message which appears at the film's opening on the 4K UHD release: "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 king, unique, and immersive experience." And there is no doubt that this doesn't look like any other theatrical movie which I've seen. In fact, it looks like a live TV broadcast. (If you are old like me, it will remind you of things which were recorded "live on tape" in the 70s.) Did it make the film more immersive? It certainly didn't for this movie. Apparently, the intention was to make the viewer feel as if they are there, but, for me, I was distracted by how unusual it looked. And, to be perfectly honest, the visuals looked more like a home movie than a leap forward in theatrical film technology. An Ang Lee movie featuring cutting-edge technology sounded like a win-win, but the result was an underwritten film and an odd-looking movie.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk needs to find a better movie for Garrett Hedlund on 4K UHD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc features a 2160p HD transfer. As noted above, the movie definitely has a unique look. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The depth, even in this 2D version is notable, and the detail remains strong, even in the background. The colors look very realistic and true and the image is never overly dark or bright. The clarity of the image is truly amazing...but it still doesn't look like a movie. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos 7.1 track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a well-balanced track in which the actors are always audible, while the explosions from the battle sequence and halftime show rock the subwoofer. As Billy moves through the stadium, we get some very nice stereo and surround effects which detail what is going on around him.

The 4K UDH contains one extra feature."Technology as Art: Changing the Language of Cinema" (5 minutes) has Lee and Editor Tim Squyres explaining why they chose the 60 FPS technology and how it lent itself to the material.

This set also includes a Blu-ray 3D. The film has again been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at average of 2.5 Mbps. Unlike the 4K UHD, the version of the movie included here looks more like a traditional film. The depth is very good and the image is rarely blurry. The movie does a nice job of separating foreground objects from the background and the colors look very good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. While this track doesn't have the range of the 7.1 track, it still delivers the goods on the surround and subwoofer effects.

The other extra features in the Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk set are found on the including Blu-ray Disc. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. This includes an extended opening which introduces us to the characters and shows some of the other stops on their hero tour. This scene would have actually been helpful to the story. The rest of the scenes here are new, but most are simply additional moments from existing scenes. "Into Battle and Onto the Field: Stepping Inside Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" (9 minutes) contains comments from the cast and creative team, including author Ben Fountain, who discuss the story and themes. From there, Lee and his cohorts talk about the technical approach to the material. "Assembling a Cast" (11 minutes) contains footage from Alwyn's audition, as well as interviews with the cast. "Recreating the Halftime Show" (6 minutes) takes us onto the set to see how the massive spectacle was pulled-off. "The Brotherhood of Combat" (4 minutes) takes us behind the scenes to see the actors receiving military training.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long