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Thoughts about 120 fps / 4K / 3D
BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK premieres in New York and Los Angeles

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: - Date: 18.11.2016

The image was terrifically bright

Many years ago I toyed with a Super 8 projector and noticed that at a very fast frame-per-second rate -- say 64 fps -- the projected image became much more vivid and dimensional. When Douglas Trumbull developed Showscan, I thought it would turn out to be the next Cinerama; I was disappointed when no groundbreaking feature film was ultimately presented in the process. I was intrigued when Peter Jackson used his considerable clout to try out 48 fps with THE HOBBIT, but the film's complex visual design and multitude of effects shots simply did not come off to best advantage in the screening I saw; it looked strangely stylized and artificial. After reading Trumbull's description of MAGI, I became excited all over again with the idea of high frame rate. Such promise. But judging by what I saw at the screening of BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK the other day at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square in Manhattan, the promise remains as yet unfulfilled.

The movie has a strange look to it. It isn't a vivid film look; it's a softer in tone, hi-def video look. One critic compared the picture's visual quality to a telenovela. While no telenovela has anywhere near as immediate, bright or indelible an image as BILLY LYNN, the comparison has some merit. This almost doesn't look like, well, a movie. Which is actually more than a little offputting in feel. The exterior scenes shot in bright sunlight have the strongest this-is-real, this-is-happening effect; many of the interior scenes feel much more subdued and diffused. A lot of the faces -- there are many close-ups -- seemed plasticized and unnatural. I was never unaware of the 120 fps rate, but it's hard to evaluate its effectiveness. Ang Lee told The New York Times, “It’s just good to look at. You look at it, you just get it.” But I don't know -- I don't know whether I got it. It isn't that I was expecting something as visually dramatic as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or even McCABE & MRS. MILLER (to cite two films notable for their striking cinematography off the top of my head), but for the most part I wasn't terribly impressed or moved by way the picture looked or felt.

I will say that the image was terrifically bright -- probably the brightest I've ever seen in a theatre. Even given the 3D glasses, there were a lot of lamberts. I believe the house had installed a special (flat) screen in addition to the powerful projectors. The 3D worked fairly well (I have mostly given up on 3D because of poor illumination and bad post-conversion jobs). The Dolby Atmos was okay, but not so immersive as I had expected.
More in 70mm reading:

Ladies and Gentlemen, This is MAGI Cinema

The Future is Now

Internet link:



This is based on an acclaimed novel, and it's possible a lot of the story works better on the printed page. At any rate, there's little suspense or surprise in the narrative, or in the way it is told. The picture's pointed thoughts about the corrupting power of the media and what is lately allowed to pass for support for the troops aren't new or even particularly trenchant. While some of the war sequences are involving and well staged, the scenes aren't quite as intense or gripping as they might be -- actually, as these need to be, given their importance in the way the story is structured. The performances are mixed. I don't think Joe Alwyn has ever been in a feature film before; he has a fresh quality, but I didn't always believe him (and I never believed he was a Texan). Much of the picture rests uneasily on this guy's shoulders. Most of the actors playing the soldiers seem to be overplaying (Garrett Hedlund is considerably over-the-top as the squad's Sergeant), though Vin Diesel has effective moments as the colorful Shroon. [The camera just likes this guy.] The cast includes Kristen Stewart (one of the few performers clearly wearing makeup, though for a plot-related reason) Chris Tucker, Dierdre Lovejoy, Tim Blake Nelson and Makenzie Leigh. Steve Martin plays the weaselly owner of the football team hosting the soldiers at the Thanksgiving Day game; please forgive me, but during some lengthy close-ups, I could sometimes think only of how the actor now slightly resembles W.C. Fields in his later years.

There was almost no ballyhoo for the film at the theatre. Oh, there were two large vinyl posters for the picture (an image of one is attached), and when I purchased my ticket, I saw that the letters "HFR" followed the film's title in its listing on the wall behind the booth... but there was nothing visible to explain what this meant, or that there was anything remotely special or different about the picture or its unusual manner of exhibition. This surprised and disturbed me; it was as though the theatre was keeping this a secret. I would hope the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood is making a bigger deal of this.

I didn't love the movie. The future isn't here yet. Let's keep hoping that someone uses this tool in an unforgettable way.

B. Baker, New York

It was the sharpest, brightest and noise-free presentation I have ever seen

Double page advert in New York Times. Click to see enlargement

Yes, I saw it today, which is how I knew about the screen change. I’m not sure whether the 3D, screen brightness, incredibly sharp focus, lack of any visual noise, high frame rate or the resulting hyper reality was the factor, but I felt eyestrain throughout most of the film. It was the sharpest, brightest and noise-free presentation I have ever seen by a huge factor.

It was more like watching a stage play than watching a movie.

One thing I was surprised about was that in spite of the fact that very high quality lenses had to of been used due to the incredible sharpness, the bokeh (the quality of the out-of-focus components) was very poor – as bad as a $100 DSLR lens.

The film itself was interesting and had some good performances, but I didn’t find it compelling. It did raise some interesting issues about how we treat our veterans. I think if I had seen it as a ‘normal’ 35mm presentation or regular 2D digital presentation, it wouldn’t have made a huge impact on me.

I think some people will think this technology is the greatest thing they’ve ever seen and others will think this is the worse thing that’s ever happened to cinema. It’s definitely a different approach to cinematography and will require its own vocabulary. IMO, it’s quite different than the way the HFR "Hobbit" film looked. While it was hyper-real, this was not “soap opera” effect – it was something else entirely.

It does lend itself to certain genres of films, but I’m not sure which ones. It would be great for documentaries and concert films. Judging by the way the cheerleaders looked in the film, it might be great for erotica although it will reveal every pore and every flaw in an actor’s face. IMO, it would be terrible for fantasy films because it would reveal every flaw in makeup, masks, prothesises, set design, etc. I would like to see a film using the same process, but in 2D.

Because the theatre switched screens, I did not see this in Dolby Atmos – it was standard 5.1 or 7.1.

Martin Brooks
Forest Hills, NY

The picture was quite good

Yes, saw it Friday at AMC Lincoln Square in 3D, $16 for senior and I could pick my seat from a monitor. The 3D glasses from Real had a tint on the inside lenes, one greenish, one redish but when you look at the front, they are just grey.

The 3D effects were very minimal, just one football appeared to be headed towards the audience but nothing else in the picture appeared to be made for 3D. I believe it is just a marketing ploy for higher prices and would look fine in 2D.

There is one startling image of Steve Martin's face that fills the screen for a minute or two that appears incredibly "clean" due to the digital cameras/projection/3D? I don't think it would look the same in 70mm, probably more natural.

The picture was quite good but parts seemed to be manufactured for on screen action, like the security guards angrily pushing the vets off the stage at half time.

Douglas Trumbull was not credited on the titles at the end nor was the digital camera used credited.

Dennis Furbush
New York, USA

Nonetheless, it was impressive

I saw BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFWAY WALK in Ultra HD 120 frames per second at the Cinerama Dome. I was impressed. I was reading the comments from others in your bulletin who saw it in New York. I really enjoyed the look and feel of the movie in that format. It was advertised in Los Angeles extensively with huge advertisements in the Los Angeles Times. Ang Lee had a Question and Answer session after one of the showings. The film was ONLY presented on the center portion of the great Cinerama screen (the sides of the great screen covered by the famous blue curtain). Nonetheless, it was impressive. The use of the center portion of the Cinerama screen is almost exactly the dimensions of an IMAX screen. The Dome can transform the huge Cinerama screen into an IMAX presentation with ease. Just to show you that Cinerama is MUCH better than IMAX. I saw BILLY LYNN as a satire and it felt like that. The sound was immersive to me unlike the New York commentaries that felt that the sound was one dimensional. The sound in the Dome is always immersive and multi-dimensional.

David Granadino
Los Angeles
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