Lee Ang to premiere new film in faster format

NEW YORK • After a four-year absence from theatres, Lee Ang will return in autumn with a searing film about young American war heroes that may land him in the Oscar race.

However, the movie, billed as a cinematic leap forward because of the digitally radical way it was shot, has faced a major question.

Because few commercial theatres have projection systems that are technologically advanced enough, will anyone even be able to see Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk with all of Lee's bells and whistles? At the very least, New Yorkers will.

The New York Film Festival said on Monday it would host the world premiere of Lee's film on Oct 14 in a theatre - a small one, with only 300 seats - rigged with projectors capable of playing the film in 3D, 4K ultra-high-definition and at the extremely fast speed of 120 frames a second.

No film has ever been shown publicly that way before, according to the festival and Sony Pictures, which will release the film in the United States on Nov 11.

It may sound like technobabble, but Lee's blend of visual formats is a major departure for movie exhibition, particularly when it comes to the speed.

Films have been presented almost exclusively at 24 frames a second since the 1920s. To a degree, that rate gives cinema its otherworldly quality - the blur when cameras pan from side to side, for instance.

To achieve a sharper picture and limit the eye strain that can affect 3D viewers, some film-makers are experimenting with higher speeds.

Peter Jackson tried 48 frames a second with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012; James Cameron is considering higher-speed cinematography for Avatar sequels. But no mainstream director has pushed as far as Lee, who has a history of embracing new technology.

"I thought Billy's journey, which is intimate and epic, and told almost entirely from his point of view, lent itself particularly well to the emotion and intensity that this new approach fosters," Lee said in a statement. He added that technology "should always be in service of artistic expression, to make it strong and fresh because story and drama matter most".

Mr Marc Platt, one of the film's producers, said in an e-mail that "movies today need to give audiences compelling reasons to escape their devices and that means taking risks".

The film is considered a risk partly because the hyper-reality lent by the cinematography technology could be unsettling to viewers.

"Test subjects who have seen some footage have commented that 40 minutes after seeing battle footage, they're still shaking," Mr Ben Gervais, a production systems supervisor on the film, told Variety in April.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, an adaptation of Ben Fountain's novel, is about a hero in the Iraq War (played by Joe Alwyn), who is whisked back to the US with fellow veterans after a harrowing battle.

They go on a victory tour that ends with a half-time show at a Thanksgiving football game. The cast includes Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel and Steve Martin. Sony and its partners spent a little under US$40 million (S$54 million) to make the movie.

It is expected that the specially outfitted theatre, which is at AMC Lincoln Square, will play the film when it begins its theatrical run shortly after the end of the New York Film Festival.

Moviegoers elsewhere will have to make do with whatever local multiplexes can provide. There are theatres, for instance, that can play a movie at 120 frames a second, although not in 3D. Even Imax theatres can play 3D movies at a maximum of only 60 frames a second.

Mr Kent Jones, the event's director, said in a statement that Lee's film "moved me deeply - in the grandest way, as a story of America in the years after the invasion of Iraq, and on the most intimate person-to-person wavelength".

By telephone, he added: "We are used to seeing 3D focus on spectacle. This is precisely the opposite. It's all about the faces, the smallest emotional shifts."


•Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk opens in Singapore on Nov 10.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Lee Ang to premiere new film in faster format'. Subscribe