Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is no Captain Phillips, but its intersection of international affairs and individual psychology is at least in the same ballpark. So having seen it, I can tell you, no, 3D high frame rate doesn’t really “work” in this genre.
I recognize that I’ve been conditioned by seeing a lifetime of movies a certain way. The 120 frames-per-second rate, the crystal clear 4K projection and the extremely fluid 3D kneecaps the suspension of disbelief. It’s like sitting in a theater and the screen is a window onto what your mind perceives as just more of life. Close-ups of Steve Martin’s enormous sphere of a head all up in your business is fascinating, but good luck concentrating on what he’s saying when you can count his lower eyelashes.
I found it impossible to get oriented, even two hours in. It’s like the first time I tried hard contact lenses. “You’ll get used to it,” the doctor said. Forget that, give me back my glasses, they worked fine.
Out of respect to Ang Lee, who has made some terrific movies in the past, I’ll rationalize that maybe this is all intentional, and that Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is some brilliant, Brechtian exercise in distancing its audience toward some higher goal. After all, Lynn is a returning war hero with PTSD, mostly quiet and observant, and as his mind adjusts it’s as if he’s on another planet. This reading maybe makes HFR an interesting discussion point in the context of this specific film, but also a one-of-a-kind gimmick. I strongly doubt we’ll be seeing it again in a Hollywood movie any time soon.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk has over twice the frame rate than Jackson’s Hobbit did, at 120 frames-per-second (not that I was counting), and it was altogether panned by critics following its debut at the New York Film Festival. (So it ain’t just me.) As such, Sony, the studio releasing the film, offered only traditionally projected press screenings after the festival. Only two theaters – AMC Lincoln Square in New York City and the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles – are exhibiting the film the way Lee envisioned it.