Ang Lee is known for making quality films. Unfortunately, every director is known to have a bad day. For Lee, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk wound up being an outright disaster. Wanting to present one of the most immersive film experiences possible, he filmed Billy Lynn in 3D, at 4K, and a frame rate of 120. It’s basically unwatchable in its native state. With next to no theaters even equipped to play it as it was meant to be seen, it was downgraded to 2D and the standard 24 frames per second. Not even the formatting could cover up the fact that he simply chose the wrong material to approach such an ambitious undertaking. The fact of the matter is, war may be hell, but so to can be filmmaking. And the real culprit, is Jean-Christophe Castelli’s mediocre adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel and his sleepwalking cast.
Billy (Joe Alwyn) may be an Army specialist who was caught on film saving a wounded Sergeant Virgil “Shroom” Breem (Vin Diesel) during a firefight, but he’s still just a 19-year-old boy. With the rest of his unit — deemed the “Bravo Squad” in the news — he returns home to Texas where he finds himself trying to deal with his own PTSD and newfound fame. Bravo Squad is scheduled to be part of a Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving halftime show, and the stage is set for the extravaganza. But behind the scenes, the unit is dealing with their newfangled reality, while film producer Albert Brown (Chris Tucker) is negotiating the rights to their movie.
I have to admit, I was a little sad when the 2D standard 1080p Blu-ray disc arrived. I was hoping to give the 4K presentation a firm shot at redemption, especially since it plays at 60 frames per second. Alas, even with the 4K 3D 120fps picture downgraded to 2D 1080p at 24fps, it gets the job done. Unfortunately, there are only a few moments where the picture is as good as it should be. Detail is as crisp as expected, but with this being a digital production, sometimes blacks aren’t as dark as they could be. Thankfully, colors generally pop more than anticipated, even if skin tones waver into pinkish hues. The best scenes are any taking place outside in the blazing Iraqi landscapes and during the big halftime show.
Also downgraded for the Blu-ray disc is the audio. The 4K comes equipped with both Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks. Here, we get a standard 5.1 DTS-HD track. The 2D disc really feels like Sony dropped the ball. However, the titular halftime show and the Iraqi war sequences manage to get the job done. It’s never as immersive as a 7.1 track might have been, but things still blow up real good when they do. Also included is a 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio Description track and subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish.
A collection of “Deleted Scenes” kick off the special features. The only one that really could have changed the film for the better is the first, “One Nation, Nine Heroes” (3:41) which is an alternate opening giving the unit their dues. Character introductions could have helped immensely, because you never once really care about any of the squad throughout the movie. Something that should never happen when based on true events. The rest of the scenes are: “Family Dinner” (1:27), “Old Enough to Die For My Country” (1:25), “What You’ve Seen” (1:38), “We’re Just Messing with You” (1:13), and “Get Ready” (1:16).
Four featurettes cover the production (“Into Battle and Onto the Field: Stepping Inside Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” 9:21), cast (“Assembling a Cast” 11:29), halftime show (“Recreating the Halftime Show” 6:27), and the extremes Lee put the boys through as they had to endure a boot camp to prep for the shoot (“The Brotherhood of Combat” 4:24).
Had as much time been spent on punching up the script as Lee put into attempting such a visually immersive picture, perhaps the technical merits could have stood up to scrutiny. As it stands, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a vague mess that never knows whether it’s trying to get a point across or simply aiming for satire. The meta bits certainly don’t help. We’re basically watching a filmed version of the making of the film. The cast do what they can with the material, but even they are left high and dry with Lee trying to deliver a feast for the eyes that next to no one even saw.
A colleague informed me that he blind-purchased the 4K pack out of mere curiosity, and I honestly can’t wait to at least see — as close as I can — to what Lee meant the film to look like. The 2D presentation manages to be as good as you’d expect, especially being a Sony disc — they’re always top tier — but the film certainly feels like a missed opportunity from start to finish. Only the most hardcore war film fans will find the film worth sitting through, anyone else will be bored to tears wondering what all the fuss was about.