For director Ang Lee, “Life of Pi” was only the beginning in pushing cinematic boundaries.
The two-time Oscar-winning director (“Life of Pi” and “Brokeback Mountain”) is back four years later with the harrowing drama about war and remembrance: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which assaults the viewer with immersive, hyper-real battle footage unlike anything ever depicted on screen, shot by two-time Oscar winner John Toll (“Braveheart,” “Legends of the Fall”) for the first time at 4K 3D 120 fps.
“Billy Lynn’s” will debut October 14th at the New York Film Festival in all its visual glory at the AMC Lincoln Square. They will have to convert a screen in order to show it at 120 in 3D. Christie provided a full sneak peek at NAB with its dual projector laser system, but it’s unconfirmed if they will perform the same upgrade for New York.
It’s also unclear what kind of similar, full-blown, special engagement Sony plans for the November 11th commercial release, but one suspects at least one LA engagement to wow Academy voters with this Oscar contender.
However, there are more than 10,000 screens worldwide that are currently equipped with 4K laser projection that can show 120 2D (three-dimensionality without glasses) or 60 3D (which also delivers Toll’s super-sharp imagery).
Lee chose this specific format for its flexibility: the best option from which to create the multiple formats that will be shown in commercial release.
Based on the Ben Fountain novel, “Billy Lynn’s” concerns an Iraq war hero (Joe Alwyn) plagued by flashbacks of battle while being honored with his squad at a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving half-time show.
And it’s the intensity of battle vs. the war between reality and perception back home that Lee and Toll juxtapose at the higher frame rates, going beyond the 48 fps half-measure that Peter Jackson had available for “The Hobbit” trilogy.
What is it like getting shot at or to shoot at others? And why can’t these soldiers leave the war behind? “Billy Lynn’s,” therefore, becomes a meta-experience that’s more like perceiving reality, and all the more visceral without eye strain, motion sickness, motion blur or other distracting artifacts.
But will viewers and the Academy find Lee’s graphic hyper-reality too disturbing?
“When I left this incredible experience at NAB, I was trembling and terrified, as though I was actually in that experience,” said VFX legend Doug Trumbull (“2001: A Space Odyssey”), a long-time proponent of higher frame rates. “We saw the future, and I am enormously grateful that Ang Lee made this happen for us all.”
Indeed, imagine what visual eye candy James Cameron can now deliver at these higher frame rates with his upcoming “Avatar” sequels.
For under $40 million (split between Sony and its partners), it’s worth gambling on the audacious Lee, and to get viewers into theaters for original storytelling and big screen spectacle.