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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a movie that needs to be seen, and it needs to be seen in a specific format. The very intimate story of a young soldier and his platoon's temporary homecoming after performing heroic acts of bravery represents not only the latest in a long line of personal stories from director Ang Lee, it's also a technical marvel in and of itself. The big reason for this is because it's the first film to have been shot in 120 Frames Per Second / 4K 3D, and in a very limited fashion, you'll be able to see the film in this cutting edge new format.
Of course, there's been a lot of unfavorable reviews of the new tech, as well as the ever present specter of the last failed experiment with High Frame Rate at the movies, the 48 FPS release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Yet despite the stumbling of Peter Jackson's foray into the format, it hasn't really come into its own until Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. It's because of this, and the following reasons we're about to list off, that make this film a must see in 120 FPS.
How Does 120 FPS Work?
Here's a quick crash course: standard movies are filmed at 24 Frames Per Second, and every other frame is blank in between each frame of film. This is what gives movies their "filmed" look, complete with the blurry effect of any motion that pushes past the 24 FPS threshold. However, if you film an image at a higher frame rate, the clarity of the object in motion becomes clearer to see. So when you start to move up to 48 Frames Per Second (FPS), or even 60 FPS, the action starts to look clearer.
Unfortunately, the side effect of this phenomenon is that at 48 or even 60 FPS, the image looks reminiscent of soap opera broadcasts, as that "filmed" quality starts to disappear and the image becomes more life-like. However, as Real-D's Chief Innovation Officer, Pete Lude, noted in a conversation I'd had with him about the new technological advances that the company had implemented for the production and showing of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, he basically explained why 120 FPS works extremely better than 48 FPS with the following nutshell statement:
When you only go to 48, or 50, or maybe even 60 FPS, you're not getting the full physiological / neurological benefit of the [High Frame Rate]. The brain still knows something's going on. When you start to get to 120 FPS, it seems that is a much more engaging experience for your human visual system.
The work that Real-D has done with 120 FPS owes some debt to legendary visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull, as his Showscan technique also experimented with frame rates, showcasing how much the action clears up at different film rates. Read on to learn about that process.
How Does It Look?
Through studies Douglas Trumbull conducted with the Showscan process, he learned that the threshold of engagement for an audience watching a film is about 70 to 80 FPS. From that point onward, the audience starts to get into what they're watching all the more effectively, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is certainly an engaging, and amazing, visual treat in 120 FPS / 4K 3D. Everything from POV shots of certain characters talking to our main character, to shots of Billy in his environment, all work the way they're intended. There was even a point where I flinched watching this movie, as a weary Billy walks through a crowd of rowdy sports fans, only to have one jump right out at him.
Another reason Billy Lynn looks fantastic in this revolutionary format is the fact that the images are so clear, both in terms of image quality and in 3D presentation. Sharp, stark delineations between the characters and their environment, as well as each other, are noteworthy -- particularly during a sequence at the beginning of the film that shows off Real-D's new advances in film-making and editing: True Motion and True Image. With the former helping ease the 3D viewing experience on the audience's eyes, as well as the latter process governing how many frames per second the filmmakers want to film at, the alignment of 3D components being filmed is the best it's ever been.
Objects fly out at you, and in the case of our introduction to Bravo Squad, the formation of soldiers in front of a hotel front is impressive enough, but seeing a character walk in front of that formation, barking orders, shows off even more spectacular spatial reasoning. Most importantly, the usual problem of a dimmed, grayed out 3D picture are avoided with Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, as it's being shown on the last of Real-D's new advances, the "Ultimate Screen" - which, according to Pete Lude, reflects 85% more light than your standard, traditional movie screen. Put it all together, and you've got a film that dazzles with the most realistic 3D we've ever seen.If you are able to see it. Read on to see why that might be an obstacle.
Where Can I See The Film In 120 FPS / 4K?
Here's the most heartbreaking part about trying to see Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk in 120 FPS / 4K 3D: there are only two theaters in North America that will be equipped to show the film in its intended format. New York fans will be able to see this film at the AMC Lincoln Square, the theater that hosted the film's premiere in said format at the New York Film Festival just last month. Meanwhile, fans in Los Angeles are expected to be the other group that'll be able to see Ang Lee's latest film in 120 FPS, as the Cinerama Dome is the west coast location that will be showing the film as planned.
It's to be assumed that the reason more locations aren't on board with this brand new format is simply because they aren't equipped to show this film in that manner. With the new "Ultimate Screen" required to show the film in proper brightness, as well as a twin 4K projector set-up being required for beaming the film to said screen, the technology requirement is more than likely not cost effective enough for the film to be rolled out in a more robust manner.
Which is why it's so important to seek out a screening of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk in its native format, if you can. Should the film succeed in its limited run, there will be incentive to apply the technology to larger scale films, such as James Cameron's Avatar 2, which is also looking to break into the format and will need all of the screens it can get. Filmmaking has turned a crucial corner with 120 FPS / 4K 3D, as the technology can be used to make better looking films all around, and even better 3D films than anyone is used to. This is the beginning of the future of movie making, and to consciously ignore it would be a truly disappointing thing to do.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk opens in limited release on November 11th, with its wide release scheduled for a week later on the 18th.