“Dunkirk” opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.
What We Thought:
I’ll cut right to the chase, Dunkirk is my favorite film of the year. I actually saw it twice within 3 days in two different ways and I’ll discuss both of those in this review.
The first time I watched the film it was in IMAX digital. It was the most visceral movie theater experience I’ve had in years. The size of the film, especially in IMAX, is huge. Nolan pans the beach of Dunkirk with thousands of soldiers waiting to board ships. Then there are the scenes with the British Spitfire planes and they are pretty jaw dropping. The sky is enormous. The planes do aerial tricks and dog fight with German planes. Nolan transitions from wide blue sky backdrops to inside the planes with Tom Hardy and the other actors.
Then there are the scenes on the water. The story of Dunkirk involves British civilian boats coming from England to France to rescue the troops at Dunkirk who can’t get to destroyers and Naval ships because they can’t get close enough to the beach. I don’t want to keep using the word huge, but it’s the best way to describe some of Nolan’s scenes. There are huge ocean wide shots of ships of varying sizes between England and France. It focuses on one specific boat with Mark Rylance who picks up Cillian Murphy, a British soldier who survived a torpedo.
The IMAX screening was an experience. Hans Zimmer’s score surrounds you and physically moves your body. There’s a ticking clock you hear and feel throughout the movie. At times you are in awe of the scope of the movie, then at times you feel claustrophobic inside a plane or boat with water surrounding you. To say it is intense is an understatement.
Then I saw it on 70 mm film. You wouldn’t think seeing a movie just days later would allow you to have a different experience, but with Dunkirk you get just that. The movie is just as intense the second time, but not in the same way. The IMAX version makes you feel everything in a sensory overload type of way. The 70 mm screening, you get the intensity through the film’s story and action and Nolan’s direction. I don’t know if it was the change in theaters, but Zimmer’s score seemed different. Not bad, just different. It wasn’t as encapsulating. It could have been the position of the speakers or where I sat, but it didn’t feel as pulsating.
But the action of the film fills that intensity. On 70 mm film, the coloring of the film is more realistic. Digital movies look too clean and flawless to me. Nolan’s use of actual film makes the soldiers look like actual people. You see the coloring of their skin tone, the blood and dirt and oil on their faces. You see the intensity of the action around them.
When you drop down from an IMAX screen to a regular movie screen you lose some of the size of the film, but again the 70 mm makes up for it. There is a scene where a pilot is trying to escape his downed plane in the ocean. It’s a very claustrophobic scene, but with the 70 mm film, the water looks more real. It’s green and feels authentic. You feel that pilot’s drama, his need to escape his sinking plane. You may lose some of the scope from the huge IMAX room, but you feel a different, more realistic intensity in the smaller environment.
Nolan uses time jumping to tell his story. The beach of Dunkirk is one time frame with the planes and boats being different. It all tells one story and some of it overlaps. Some people had a hard time with it and didn’t like it, but I did. I don’t feel like it hurt the film or the story. To me you see different perspectives and points of views from different characters. You see the struggle of the soldiers, the drive of the fighter pilots to protect their own and the passion of boat crews to rescue their boys.
Dunkirk is an amazing experience. If you see it in IMAX, it’s a sensory consuming watch. If you see it in 70 mm, it’s a beautiful, epic war picture. If you plan on seeing the film, I recommend doing it both ways like I did.
Cast & Crew:
- Director Christopher Nolan
- Tom Hardy
- Kenneth Branagh
- Cillian Murphy
- Mark Rylance
- Fionn Whitehead
- Tom Glynn-Carney
- Jack Lowden
- Harry Styles
- Aneurin Barnard
- James D’Arcy
- Barry Keoghan
Recommended If You Like:
- Old Hollywood Filmmaking
- Christopher Nolan
- War Films