I’m still not sure if Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (TriStar, 11.16) has been entirely or partially shot in 6K at 120 frames-per-second. Let’s assume “entirely” until someone in authority states otherwise. I for one am tingling with anticipation at watching an Iraq War Catch-22-like satire at 120 fps all in. Even if the process is just being used for the battle scenes, I’m there with bells on.
Collider‘s Steve Weintraub recently spoke with Billy Lynn (and Equals) costar Kristen Stewart about Lee’s process. Her answer suggested that Billy Lynn‘s HFR will be a different deal than the 48 fps projection that Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit (Warner Bros., 12.14) was projected at in some venues, and which was met with scorn.
“The way Ang described it is he feels so disconnected from movies that he watches that he just wants to feel like he’s closer, and that he’s done this with Billy Lynn. He’s somehow achieved that, so I can’t wait to see it,” Stewart said. “Usually if you do that without whatever process he’s doing — [and] I have no idea [what that is]– it makes it look like reality TV, it makes it crisp in a way that actually detaches you. [But] he messes with depth of field. Usually the way a lens works, you control where the focal point is, [but] in this case everything’s in focus. So when you watch the movie you can decide, almost as if you’re there in person, what you want to look at, which has just never been seen before on film.”
Every person on the planet with functioning eyes, even those wearing high-magnification lenses, is processing life at 120 fps. That’s how our eyes make reality look. But replicate a semblance of this in a feature film, as Peter Jackson did with The Hobbit, and people freak out. They want the familiar bath of 24 fps. I loved the Hobbit‘s 48 fps process, if only because it relieved me of having to pay attention to the plot and the performance.
I was told a long time ago that the human eye can’t really tell the difference between 48, 60 or 120 fps. I think this information was passed along during a test screening of Showscan, Douglas Trumbull‘s 60 fps IMAX process that began to show up in the early ’80s.
“The maysayers have two complaints about HFR photography. One, it doesn’t look like the cinema they’ve known all their lives. And two, it’s too vivid and detailed and video-like, and therefore not filmy or painterly enough.
“But for inherently empty and intentionally synthetic tentpole films — lame, insipid, FX-driven, comic-book-based — 48 fps is a Godsend. Empty crap is far more tolerable when you can at least delight in the clarity and the specificity. 48 fps is needless, I feel, when it comes to any kind of quality-level fare, but it’s exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to movies that are torture to sit through.
“In throwing out the bathwater of 48 fps, the naysayers are also throwing out the baby of HFR cinema by any calibration. This is their greatest sin. Because everyone will be cool with HFR at 30 frames per second (the frame rate used by Todd AO in the mid ’50s), and it will work with any film of any mood, focus or attitude. If everyone is saying ‘no’ to 48 fps, which I strongly disagree with, let’s at least talk about 30 fps. It’s a significantly better thing than 24 fps (smoother, more fluid, less pan blur), and yet it looks cinematic.
“The critics, columnists and commentators who’ve trashed the 48 frames-per-second (i.e., HFR) presentation of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey should be ashamed of themselves. They are simply about blocking the doorway, and to me that’s reprehensible.”