I remember that. And I decided to drive three hours to Nashville, so I could see the closest IMAX 70mm print available to me.
And I enjoyed myself.
I enjoyed the drive with my wife. I enjoyed that I was able to do such a thing. I enjoyed hanging out with my best friend, who lives there and gave us a place to crash as always when we visit and who went with us. I enjoyed the visit to Fat Bottom Brewing for a beer and the Hattie B's Hot Chicken, all enjoyed before our 10 PM screening.
I didn't enjoy one thing though.I didn’t enjoy that I don't think whole feature films should be shot in that tall, constrictive IMAX format. It is lifelike and immersive. But it is majorly hard to deal with when we don’t usually see movies in such a way. And it’s much better when movies, like say Nolan’s "Interstellar," use it sparingly…and to great effect.
I mean, “Dunkirk” is quite a cinematic experience of a film, but being that close to something that large is disorienting, and made even more so by the fact that this film is deliberately meant to be disorienting, even punishing, without projection size as a factor.
True IMAX film projection is meant to be visually astounding, but it isn't necessarily the best for storytelling. Certain movies, films you might see on space or the natural world in a museum, are at their best in this format...
...World War II epics are really not, despite what "they" say.
To be sure, Nolan is known for going big when most others are fine with the small. Starting with “The Dark Knight” in 2008, Nolan has made five feature films, all at least partially filmed with IMAX 70mm cameras and each one upping the previous one. With “Dunkirk,” he has truly gone for it. Nearly 75% of the final movie was shot in that massive full IMAX frame.
Both times I’ve seen it, however, what I saw was a visually perfect representation of the horrific nature of war. Cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema’s work is masterful both full and tall as well as cropped and wide.
Long story short: The regular 70mm film print I saw a few days later was the better movie experience for me. Because I could actually see it and even hear it. And therefore I could make more sense of what I love and don't love about it.
[Fitting Brief Review of Dunkirk starts now]
"Dunkirk" stars a few English actors you've seen (Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh), but it keeps them nondescript, even nameless.
Dialogue is few and far between.
What little story there is focuses on a young British soldier trying to escape the beach (Fionn Whitehead), a RAF pilot (Hardy) providing coverage over the English Channel for the stranded troops and civilian and military ships below, a middle-aged father (Rylance) who volunteers his boat, himself, and his son, to come to aid and rescue, and the Navy Commander (Kenneth Branagh) in charge of the evacuation.
Bombs, planes, guns, bullets, sinking ships, death, survival, fear, triumph: THAT is what you get in a circular rotation for a scant 107 minutes. But what an hour and forty-seven minutes that is!
There is a particular sequence where a pilot has been shot down, crashing into the Channel, and his escape from the aircraft is mirrored by a group of soldiers trapped in a ship while German bullets penetrate the hull at random, water rising, clock ticking.
It looks and sounds better than anything you'll likely see this year. Hans Zimmer's score is at once jarring and beautiful, playing nicely into the sound design that features this seemingly constant ticking clock alongside plane engines and gushing water and explosions and gun fire. So uninterested in dialogue is Nolan this time that it is sometimes inaudible (and this time it seems purposefully so).
It twists its own genre in ways I don't really want to hint at for that I hope you'll see this movie. But in twisting the war movie genre in such a way, it may very well turn you off in terms of storytelling. There are true triumphant moments in “Dunkirk,” but they don't feel the same as we're used to. But even that is not all bad.
What I mean to say is that I can't anticipate what or how you'll feel. This film is moving in a wholly unique way that I simply wasn't prepared for.
Most war movies, especially World War II movies, focus in on characters in such a way as we come to know them as people. Then, most die and some survive. (see Saving Private Ryan). Here, well, again, I don't want to spoil anything, but Dunkirk is a picture about survival. No Germans are even seen. No backstories are told. People die only at a distance. And, by the end, the war has only just begun.
Yet, there are heroes in this film. They simply aren’t delivered in the usual way. There are small details and moments that director Nolan hones in on that fully exemplify sacrifice and heroism on, ironically, a massively large scale. On a movie meant to be so big, meant to be seen on such a gigantic screen, I found that its smallest moments, the little unexpected moments of heroism, are the best it has to offer.
Any method of projection will give you that. Just don’t wait or the DVD.
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Screened on standard 70mm film at Regal Pinnacle in Knoxville, TN, on July 24, 2017.