Filmmaker Ang Lee’s latest foray into forward-thinking filmmaking promises viewers nothing less than a brand new cinematic experience, one that the “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” director believes actually verges on being an entirely new medium. Lee previously utilized 3D technology for his 2012 “Life of Pi” — earning a Best Director Oscar along the way — and his desire to keep pushing boundaries to deliver new breakthroughs to both the industry and his audience has only increased since then.
For his “Billy Lynn,” based on the novel of the same name by Ben Fountain, Lee decided to push into a new realm, one that went far past 3D technology. Lee also utilized 4K resolution (2K is the current standard) for the film, along with a mind-blowing new frame rate of 120 frames per second (the current standard is 24fps, and when Peter Jackson amped up the frame rate of his “Hobbit” series, he only pushed up to 48fps). The result, Lee promised a crowd of journalists who assembled this morning for an intimate chat the day of the film’s official world premiere at the New York Film Festival, is a film that immerses its audience unlike any other film.
“Everything I believed since [my] childhood, about movies, was being challenged, very much, by ‘Pi,'” Lee explained early in the talk. “That we create dimension on a flat surface, for example. And we deal with flickers [on the screen] that we get used to. A lot of the art is about compensation, which is the craft. And that was all under challenge while making ‘Pi.'”
Those challenges only made Lee want to go further. “Billy Lynn” offered that.
The feature follows young solider Billy Lynn (newbie Joe Alwyn, who returns home for a so-called “victory tour” after a gut-wrenching battle during the Iraq War is televised to the world, turning him and his squad into instant heroes. As Billy wrestles with his war-torn memories, he’s also thrust into a sense-smashing Super Bowl Halftime Show, a mish-mash of overstimulation for the ages. Lee is confident that the material and the medium suit each other perfectly.
“It’s been very difficult, it’s humbling,” he said of his process. “If you do watercolor [paintings], you deal with watercolor, but if you do oil, you do oil. You have to react to the medium. It’s really like a relation with a different medium. It’s still movies. You’re still telling stories. But I think it’s important for the viewer to think about, is that a new medium?”
Producer Marc Platt chimed in, “The material is particularly suited to the kind of technology that Ang has been exploring and that he tried to bring to it.”
“When you take the frame rate from 24, with the flicker, all the way up to 120, when you explore 3D in a way that’s never been explored before, the way it is manipulated moment to moment, in ways that might not be perceptible to you consciously, but unconsciously, [you] are communicating nuisances in the story,” Platt continued. “The third ingredient being the resolution — we’re used to watching films in 2K, it measures the amount of information pixels — [this is in] 4K, which is more pixels than you’ve ever experienced, it allowed Ang as a filmmaker to tell a story where the reality of a kid, when it’s at its most hyper-real, can be at its most hyper-real: 120, 4K, 3D.”
In short, “he’s manipulating the technology to tell the story,” as Platt put it.
Despite Lee and Platt’s obvious desire for all audiences to see the film as intended and created — in 3D with 4K resolution and a frame rate of 120 frames per second — it’s simply not possible at this juncture. When asked about how many theaters are actually equipped to deliver the film in this state, Lee and Platt admitted what has been rumored: There’s only two in the United States, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles. Other theaters will show it to the best of their ability in regards to frame rate, dimension (some theaters will get 2D, some 3D) and resolution (2K is the standard, but theaters that have 4K will show it that way).
One thing, however, is crystal clear: Lee wants audiences to see it as he envisioned.
“It’s very clear to me, our eyes like seeing details. The information is actually pleasing and relaxing,” he said. “There’s a beauty in it. You find beauty in sufficiency. I think that’s how your head works. At least my head! It’s a beauty I cannot describe.”
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” world premiered at the New York Film Festival and will be released in theaters on November 11. Watch the trailer here: