Saturday, November 26, 2016

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is the Most Botched 3D Release Ever


Full disclosure upfront: I have not seen Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk." I want to, but thanks to a disastrous launch and a studio that seems apathetic to showing the film, I may not get that chance.  I am not reviewing the movie itself.  I pray we are past the days where 3D in a movie is so bad it makes the movie worse (though I know this isn't the case).  We are in a day and age where film makers are continue to push the 3D format to be more immersive, more vibrant, and more embraced.  James Cameron is even looking into glasses free 3D for the upcoming "Avatar" sequels.  While I don't believe the format ever needed saving in theaters (that is mostly reserved for home viewing), Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" did remind people of just how good 3D could be when done properly.  It helped that this was one of the best films to be released in the last decade, but everyone walked away from it with the same thought: skip 2D, see it in 3D.

What was more impressive was that this was a movie that wasn't an action movie, but a drama about having faith in times of crisis.  You wouldn't think 3D would benefit a movie like this much.  If you think that though, you underestimate Lee's ability as a visual storyteller.  Lee himself was so impressed with how much 3D helped 'Pi' that he decided to not only make most (if not all) of his future movies in 3D, he decided to take it a step further and push further formats as well.  Remember when Peter Jackson decided to up the frame rate of 'The Hobbit' trilogy from 24 frames per second to 48?  Well, Lee decided 'Billy Lynn' should be 120.  Also... why not film it in 8K resolution?  All in 3D.  That is a pretty wild combination.  It's difficult to explain why, but if you are someone who is into display settings and resolution, chances are your head just exploded a little bit.  This is such a step away from the norm, only two theaters in America can display the movie in the proper format.

The ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood, CA

What's more, these two theaters had to have major upgrades just to display this one single movie.  I'm stressing that last part because that is the part that is going to make the whole point of this post clear.  Now, the two screens thing is not really the issue here.  Earlier this year I reviewed a version of "Star Trek Beyond" in Barco Escape that was only on 48 or so screens.  Sometimes a format has to start small before it can get big.  What doesn't make sense if you spend a lot of money upgrading a theater to project a certain movie in a certain way and then decide to dump that movie before anyone gets a chance to see it.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg of how badly the release of "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" release has been handled.  I'm going to take this moment to remind my readers that I was on vacation the past ten days.  I was flying to West Virginia on the day 'Billy Lynn' was opening in just a handful of theaters.

The AMC Loews Lincoln Square in New York, NY

It slowly expanded to regular theaters the following week, but in a rare twist, the 120fps, 8K projected, 3D version of the movie was already gone.  One week.  The only two theaters in America capable of showing this movie in the preferred format were ArcLight Hollywood in California and AMC Loews Lincoln Square in New York.  To my knowledge, both these theaters had to have extensive upgrades to show the movie in this format.  Why spend all that money and time for this movie, just to show it for one week?  Granted, neither the box office or reviews were great, but let's talk about that.  First of all, yes, the reviews are not glowing.  I have no idea if this movie is even worth seeing at this point.  But I would like to see it.  And the studios took a chance on their film being a "word of mouth" movie by releasing it in less than a dozen theaters from the get go.  They also opened it during a week where most people need that week or two before they even hear the movie has been released.

You are competing with "Doctor Strange" and "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" after all.  Yet after one measly little week, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" was pulled from these two theaters.  No word on if they will be back or not, but I'm guessing the answer to that is no.  Why bother spending the time and money to upgrade your theaters for this one movie only to pull it before anyone even realizes it's there?  That is pure lunacy to me.  At this point it's not even if people want to see the movie that is the issue: the point of the movie is the format, and you want people to have an extended period of time to be able to check that format out.  This is one of those rare times when word of mouth would carry this particular showing of the movie even if the audience isn't that keen on seeing it in the first place (and, again, with the competition out there you need to give people that time for them realize it's even there).

But, okay, so these two screens are out.  Most people couldn't travel there anyway.  What about the rest of the world?  They are getting screwed over the most.  While there were rumors of the movie initially coming to IMAX 3D, those plans didn't pan out because of commits to "Doctor Strange" and "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (boy, I feel like this OP-ED is writing itself in circles at this point), so that's out of the question.  What about regular theaters?  Well, regular theaters have been getting the movie, but at this point almost all the showings are after 10:00pm, which is when adult movies tend to do the least amount of business.  Not only that, NONE of them are in 3D!  So, to recap, the movie is INTENDED to be seen at 120fps, in 4K resolution, in 3D!  Virtually all of the movie theaters I've seen the movie in (and I've researched California, New York, and Florida for my sampling, so I can safely say most of the country is getting screwed) are showing the film in 24fps, less than 2K resolution, and in 2D.  Almost all showings at a time when their intended audience is asleep.

This is literally the worst release of a movie I have ever seen.

The studio seems to have gone out of their way to show the movie in the worst possible way.  Most theaters can show movies in 4K resolution.  Some theaters are even capable of showing 2D movies in 120fps (and, to be fair, some theaters are doing this).  So why the 24fps?  Why the less than 2K resolution?  Where the heck is the 3D?  Why can't this movie be shown with some of the most basic requirements needed to enjoy it?  When analysts talk about poor box office all I see is a movie showing at times where the target audience is too tired to go to the theater.  "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" isn't just a gimped release, this is a movie that has had it's legs broken, it's skull bashed in, and then shoved onto the streets at night.  Even if you see the movie at all you aren't seeing it anywhere near the format Lee intended it to be seen.

Again, I know the specifications are high and most theaters couldn't project it in the way it was intended to be seen anyway.  But why not just try?  Give theaters a version of the movie that is 48fps, in 4K resolution, and in 3D.  These are NOT impossible specifications to meet for most theaters these days!  But more 3D screens need to be added.  4K needs to be a must.  ArcLight and AMC Loews need to bring the movie back for at least a month or so and give people a chance to experience the movie the way it was intended to be seen (and you upgraded the theaters so... use them).  At this point I have no idea if I'm going to be seeing "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" at all.  The release is too botched and the presentation too compromised for me to even desire to see it at this point.  Maybe it's not the greatest movie in the world, but it comes from a respected director who is trying something new, and the theaters (and studios) need to do a better job standing by this movie.  It is an unconventional movie being released in an unconventional way.  That doesn't always lead to overnight success, but that typically turns heads, which is what theaters need more of these days.

Mashable article for how "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" is being presented in most theaters

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