“Please give this a chance. Have an open mind. Enjoy the show.”
That plea, made by the director Ang Lee before the first New York Film Festival screening of his film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” was not typical at a premiere. But then, this was not a typical premiere.
The film was the first feature to be screened in the combination of 4K resolution, 3-D and 120 frames per second. That is a higher frame rate than any previous film, and the last time a director experimented with that, Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” films, moviegoers and critics alike balked at the uncomfortably realistic images.
Mr. Lee said that he had put the finishing touches on the movie the day before and that this would be the first time it was shown to an audience. This one happened to include members of the cast (Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund and, in the title role, the newcomer Joe Alwyn) as well as film reporters and critics all together.
Unlike most of the other highly anticipated titles at the festival, this one didn’t play at Alice Tully Hall because that theater is too large to get the correct distance between the dual laser projectors and the screen. Instead, a roughly 300-seat theater at the AMC Lincoln Square on the Upper West Side was chosen.
The first three rows were off limits because they would not provide an acceptable 3-D viewing experience. And a new screen, the RealD Ultimate Screen, was installed in the theater expressly for this premiere and the forthcoming run of the film. It was engineered to increase the brightness of 3-D movies by 85 percent over a standard screen.
As the lights went down, stars and critics donned their 3-D glasses, not quite knowing what to expect. The film’s first few minutes seemed to be an adjustment period as viewers got used to the feel of such high-res images. But the audience seemed to settle into the story, based on Ben Fountain’s novel of the same title, about an Army soldier who participates in a football halftime show while also reminded of his traumatizing combat experiences in Iraq.
“It felt different than a movie,” said Jane Raab, a television producer who was in the audience. “It felt like a kind of virtual reality.”
In a question-and-answer session with the director and cast afterward, Mr. Diesel described watching the movie as “such a heavy experience.”
He continued, “The technology allows you to come into the story in a unique way. And you just realize that you’ve been overwhelmed by the drama.”
Some critics put it differently.
In a review reminiscent of the critical response to “The Hobbit,” David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the new film had “the somewhat alienating hyperreal sharpness of many outsize hi-definition flatscreen TVs.”
And Mike Ryan at Uproxx wrote, “To be honest, the visuals are so distracting, I’m not entirely sure if there’s a movie of merit in there or not.”
But Owen Gleiberman at Variety offered a positive take, writing, “In ‘Billy Lynn,’ the way that everything we see is so alive, so there, seems to have given Lee and his screenwriter, Jean-Christophe Castelli, the freedom to create a movie of unusual, glancing intimacy and formal fluidity, one that’s willing — far more than most movies — to live in the moment, and to lure the audience inside that moment.”
The festival showed the film several times on Friday, holding a ticket lottery for the limited seats. New York and Los Angeles audiences can see it in its full frame-rate, highest-resolution 3-D format starting Nov. 11. The film will also be released nationwide in various other formats, all director-approved.