Thursday, February 23, 2017

Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Three-time Academy Award winner Ang Lee brings his extraordinary vision to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, based on the 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, has been hailed as a hero and brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle. 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 Iraq conflict with America's celebration back home. In his film, which also stars Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, and Steve Martin, Lee dramatizes war in a way truly never seen before, using new technology to shoot and project portions at a framerate of 120 frames per second for the first time in film history.
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Based on the book of the same name by Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk tells the story of a nineteen year old soldier whose heroics in Iraq have caught the attention of the public. During his rescue of his Sergeant Virgil "Shroom" Breem (Vin Diesel), Billy (Joe Alwyn) was caught on camera which provides a welcome image that both the US military and the general public celebrate. Billy and the rest of his squad are sent back home on a publicity tour that is set to culminate at the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving home game during halftime.

There's a bit of culture shock for the returning squad who are met with a limousine to take them to the stadium along with their own personal liaison from the team's owner Norm Ogelsby (Steve Martin) and a film producer (Chris Tucker) who is trying to sell the rights to their story so that a film can be made about them. At first, all of the attention is a nice diversion for the squad, but the more time they spend in the company of well-intentioned but oblivious civilians, the more they begin to chafe against the expectations being placed on then. 

Even Billy's visit to his family is full of acrimony as his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) is vehemently against the war and isn't afraid to constantly say it, even against her family's wishes. It doesn't help that she knows that Billy only joined the army in the first place after he got in trouble with the law after destroying her boyfriend's car when he broke up with her after a car accident left her scarred. Kathryn feels guilty because of it and she tries to convince Billy to return to Iraq with his squad when they leave. To make matters worse for Billy, he meets a cute cheerleader named Faison (Makenzie Leigh) who he immediately has a connection with.

All of this drama is just the set up for the big halftime show where the squad is expected to become part of the show along with Destiny's Child which also triggers different reactions from the squad which ranges from a post traumatic breakdown from one of them and memories of the war for Billy. Faced with a jingoistic public and a dismissive Ogelsby who seems more interested in making money off of the image of the squad than the actual members of the squad themselves. Sgt. Dime (Garrett Hedlund) turns him down flat once the offer from Ogelsby ends up being $5,500 per person instead of the $100,000 that they thought they would get. Ogelsby tries to sell Billy on the idea of his story being an American one that is owned by everyone, Billy angrily tells him off and preserves his dignity. The question of will he return to Iraq with is his men is the harder one for him to decide.

Although much has been said about the film's technological breakthrough in filming the movie at 120FPS, the film itself is a pretty basic story albeit with a lot of flashbacks that keep the story-line in flux throughout the movie. The acting across the board is excellent, but it never really comes together satisfactorily. Part of that is due to an unfocused story and also because there are too many flashbacks which start to drag on after awhile. It takes until the end of the movie to finally see what happened to Billy and the squad that earned them this trip home. A more linear plot would've helped build the momentum of the movie and offered more of a payoff at the end as well.

One entertaining part of the film was seeing the squad become more antagonistic towards the public the more time they spent with them and their empty platitudes. Billy in particular seems caught between the two worlds as he longs to have a girlfriend but also wants to be there for his squad. Ironically, when he half-jokingly suggests running away with Faison, she's immediately repulsed as she (like the rest of the public they encounter) only sees him as a symbol and not as a man. His only value to her is his continued participation in the war to maintain his status. The squad quickly realized that there really isn't anything to come home to as it seems as if they are in different universes. One thing that film does well is show the shabby treatment that the troops receive once they come home. Instead of understanding, only empty promises and platitudes await them. 
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
3D Blu-ray (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)                               4K UHD (5 out of 5 stars)
This 4K Ultra UHD release includes both the UHD and the 3D versions of the film which you can't get anywhere else. A 2D Blu-ray and a digital copy is also included which completes the entire package nicely. I'm torn on which version I like best between the 3D and the UHD discs. Both are excellent in different ways. The 3D version (which is usually my favorite one) offers a nice amount of depth (especially during the stadium halftime sequence), while the UHD comes the closest to replicating the intentions of the filmmaker with its 60 FPS (a first for UHD) presentation which looks super sharp. There are instances of it being almost too sharp as that much detail doesn't do favors to a couple of actors during their many extreme close ups that director Ang Lee wanted to have. While the movie isn't as good as these transfers, people may still want to hold on this set just to show off the 4K disc.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk's 3D and 2D presentation both offer the same DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless mix, while the UHD version includes a Dolby Atmos track.The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is decent but not spectacular. It never seems to truly capture the atmosphere - whether it's in the field with bullets whizzing by or in the stadium itself. The UHD's Dolby Atmos track however is a marked improvement over the 5.1 mix as it offers a far more immersive experience. The war scenes pack a punch and the halftime show sounds fantastic. Directionality is superb, and the dialogue is crystal clear. I have no problem declaring the UHD version the winner here. 
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
All of the extras can be found on the Blu-ray disc as the 3D disc has no extras and the UHD has "Technology as Art: Changing the Language of Cinema." Also included are "Billy," "Making the Deal," "Brotherhood," and "Family." There's also some still photos included in the "Cast and Crew" tab. In addition there's also:
  • Into Battle and Onto the Field: Stepping Inside Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - A look a tthe process of adapting the book for the screen while trying to keep the themes intact.
  • Assembling a Cast - A look at how the cast was assembled and the key qualities that were looked for for each role. 
  • Recreating the Halftime Show - A look at how the big halftime show was created for the film. 
  • The Brotherhood of Combat - The cast had to do boot camp training for the film and this featurette gives us a closer look at their experience and how it bonded them. 
  • Deleted Scenes - "One Nation," "Nine Heroes," "Family Dinner," "Old Enough to Die For My Country," "What You've Seen," "We're Just Messing With You," and "Get Ready."
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
I liked the film but I think it could have been a lot better with a stronger script and a more linear approach to the storytelling. The cast does a great job in their roles and I appreciate the effort by director Ang Lee and cinematographer John Toll to try something new with the 120FPS, but something was lost in the pursuit of that. This UHD set offers some great video and audio presentations but the extras could have been better. I'm going to keep this film more for its technological innovation than the film and for the excellent 4K and 3D transfers.

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