Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk UHD Blu-ray Review

War, Money, Oil, and Brawls

If or when Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk functions as intended, the satirically tinged stare down with post-9/11 American war policy has bite. Steve Martin, playing a Texas billionaire and owner of a professional sports team, offers a pithy $5,500 to war vets for rights to their story. They turn him down. Harshly.

Then the dry, derivative platitudes. Soldiers, sitting in that billionaire’s stadium, wait as a line of football fans slather the Iraq veterans in praise, thank them for their service, and move on to munch nachos. The blank disinterest on the face of Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is telling. He know he won’t be remembered as the game progresses. The American sports spectacle inevitably overwhelms those fans.

That portion of Billy Lynn is sensational – brutal, honest, open, and sincere. Following Lynn, wrestling with media fame after a journalist’s camera captured a slice of heroism, the unwelcoming, fallacious homefront never feels genuine. The commentary blitzes the faux thankfulness. Barely removed from the battlefield, Lynn is forcibly trotted onto a stage, set behind a pop music act and fireworks. People cheer, but it’s not clear for who.

Lynn, though, isn’t enough of a character; he’s a convenient framing device…

For the rest of Billy Lynn, Ang Lee’s foreign perspective of America’s militaristic drunkenness feels utterly out of sorts. It’s hindered by a confrontation with a cartoonish Texas oil tycoon, meant more for Looney Tunes, not an attempt at war commentary. Earlier, Lynn steps headlong into family drama, his catatonic father immobile in front of conservative TV news. He’s merely background staging, unfortunately.

Worse, the squad’s confrontation with stadium staff. This begins a bizarre shoving match which leads to a contemptible fight to close the film. Billy Lynn attempts to pull in comparable scenes, drawing an odd, inconclusive synergy which purports to represent PTSD. Fireworks and gunshots. Firing fog machines and explosions. Fist fights and close quarters kills. Lynn, though, isn’t enough of a character; he’s a convenient framing device and pantomime for the needs of this story’s observations. His realization of being used as propaganda has no conclusion. That’s where Billy Lynn collapses, neither an evocative personal story or effective commentary, both too muddy and too indistinct.

Video (UHD)

Much can be said for Billy Lynn’s technical acumen. The cover art comes slapped with a sticker touting “hyper real,” a rather absurd proclamation. Shot at 120fps, brought down to 60fps for the home, Billy Lynn’s technical achievement isn’t meant to ascend reality, rather be reality. But, marketing always wins.

What 60fps does is almost appalling to cinema. While many badmouth 3D as a distraction, it’s difficult then to shrug off the uncomfortable motion and weird sped-up effect which Billy Lynn presents. It makes cinematography dull and erases the sensation of viewing through a lens – there’s purpose in feeling distant to cinematic material. Billy Lynn draws on technical acumen more than narrative weight. Shame the 24fps version isn’t an option on UHD.

Personal feelings aside, Billy Lynn in 4K is what 4K needs to be. Fantastic, natural color brings depth and life to these images. The green of the uniforms, the saturation of a football stadium, and brightly lit browns of the desert; all of them produce spectacular range.

In terms of fidelity, the format has its live action king. Close-ups douse the frame in firm, well realized facial definition. Texture on uniforms and suits lavishly pour forth. Mediums shots produce the same. Scanning a full stadium crowd, Billy Lynn continues to astound with its detail and clarity. In Iraq, sand grains and dust look individually defined.

Brilliant shadows and contrast reveal the best of HDR. Minimal noise stays locked to the background.

Video (3D Blu-ray)

Even without the aid of 60fps, the film still looks sensational. While lessened, Billy Lynn holds together at 1080p. The loss of deep color lends the film a more artificial look in comparison, while remaining exquisitely defined. In close, alluring fine detail pops from the frame.

Noise is a touch more prominent than in 4K, but the encode on Sony’s part feels invincible. Scanning a stadium full of people at kick off, nary a single block of compression shows. Brightness and clarity bring Billy Lynn to life on either format.

Although shot in 3D, the effect feels archaic. People feel like cut outs, lacking depth. The pre-game scene in which the soldiers receive a small standing ovation surrounds the team with fans. Those fans appear as cardboard standees.

Little use is made of the format. The design and cinematography exist as much to create a sense of space, yet much of this feels artificial. Close-ups of characters staring into the camera don’t elicit the feeling of “being there,” nor do they add any immersive quality. It’s adequate, if mundane.

Audio

Why the Blu-ray unnecessarily restricts itself to DTS-HD 5.1 draws on corporate conspiracy theory – put Atmos on both, unless the downgrade is purposeful as to make the pricier format appear superior. Note the final score does not reflect the Blu-ray, which while competent, isn’t near the faultless quality of the UHD’s Atmos offering.

From the outset, Atmos mixing begins to worth with stadium ambiance, shifting to an Iraq marketplace with equal perfection. Sound streams in from all directions, from ambient conversation to stellar use of sharp foley effects to shock Lynn. Billy Lynn follows this line of total reality. Not a bit of sound is missed with the intention of surrounding audiences identically to the lead character.

For an audio climax (occurring partway through), the halftime show intercuts with an astounding war scene. Both feature top-end, reference level dynamic range and intensity. To the beat of Destiny’s Child, subwoofers bounce off the floor. To the impact of rocket launchers, subs rattle the walls. Gunfire pops from each direction and firework displays pan the length of the soundstage. Billy Lynn’s focus on reality creates a dynamic and raw aural spectacle.

Extras

It’s a packed set holding the UHD, Blu-ray, and 3D Blu. Extras spread between two of those. The single featurette on the UHD explains and examines the 120fps tech, strangely presented in 24fps.

On the Blu-ray, six deleted scenes run 10-minutes. Into Battle and Onto the Field is the first of the featurettes, nine minutes exploring the premise with multiple interviews, including the source novel’s author. With a focus on first timer Joe Alwyn, Assembling a Cast discusses the casting process for a little over 11 minutes. The challenges of the key scene come in with Recreating the Halftime Show. That runs a bit over six minutes. For training actors, peek at The Brotherhood of Combat, a four minute look into how the actors were made to bond before the shoot.

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