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Movie review: Dunkirk



(non-spoiler review)

Overall – 9/10

The Story

400,000 men

933 ships

26 miles

9 days

When they couldn’t get HOME, HOME came for them.

Dunkirk is about the evacuation of Allied troops who were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk by Germany’s advancement into France.  The film follows three different storylines:

  1. Land – Soldiers trying to escape France on land.
  2. Sea – A civilian captain whose ship is called into service to go save soldiers.
  3. Air – A trio of plans fending off German planes and bombers.

These three storylines weave in and out throughout the film.  It is constructed like as puzzle (you’ll understand when you see it).  Unlike other World War II films such as Saving Private Ryan and Letters from Iwo Jima, Dunkirk is more about retreating from disaster and surviving than a story about victory in war.  It is also unique in that it brings in how civilians contributed in the rescue of these soldiers.

The story stands on its own but the way Nolan uses both sound and visuals enhances it to another level.  He made some very bold choices in this movie, from choosing mostly unknown actors, to shooting on IMAX, to using the score in some non traditional ways.  All of these bold choices pay off in my opinion.  Never once did they distract, rather they enhanced the story.  It was the fastest two hours ever.

You have probably heard that this movie was shot a bit different than most.  I break that down below.  But for you non-geek, not caring, “just give me the bottom line type people”, I give it a 9/10 and put it up there with the quality (not type) of films like The Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, and Schindler’s List.

For the Geeks – Elements of the Film

I will not lie, I have a lot of bias when it comes to Christopher Nolan movies.  I have enjoyed each one that he has made.  In my opinion he is a fantastic story teller, and Dunkirk is no exception.  The story itself stands on its own, however, the way in which Nolan tells it grabs you and throws you into it from the very beginning.  Between the score, sound design, and picture, Nolan has really created a work of art like no other.


I love movie scores.  To me, the score inform the audience of the emotion they should be feeling at the time.  There are two living composers whose scores are ALWAYS exceptional.  The first is the maestro himself, John Williams.  Number 1b is Hans Zimmer.  Just when I think Zimmer can not outdo his last score, he does.  His score for Dunkirk is on a whole other level.  Immersive, intense, riveting are all words that come to mind.  Add that to the overall sound design and this film captures you and does not let you go until the end.  I have never heard sound design like this before.  Absolutely amazing.

Picture Format

Most movies these days are shot digitally.  Nolan shot this on film but not just any film.  For 70% of the movie he used 15 perforation 70mm film (15/70) on an IMAX camera.  Because IMAX cameras are so big and noisy sometimes it’s logically impossible to use it.  So for scenes in smaller areas he used a Panavision 65mm camera.  For reference, most movies shot on film use 35mm film.  Because most theaters do not have IMAX projectors that run 70mm film anymore (in fact there are only a little over 30 left in the world) Dunkirk is being projected in many different ways.  I’ll try to break them down into plain english…

Film or Digital

Dunkirk will be projected in both digital and film, but because Nolan shot this on film I would HIGHLY recommend you see it at a theater that is showing the film version.  I have seen both formats and I can tell you film blows the digital version away.  Film has a grit and a presence about it that just does not translate to digital.  Team Film!

Film – IMAX 70mm, 70mm, or 35mm

Since Nolan shot this on film with an IMAX camera, clearly that’s the best way to see the film.  However, there are only two theaters in Texas that have 70mm IMAX projectors and they are in… Dallas (cue the shame bells!).  So your next best bet is to see this on a non-IMAX 70mm projector.  There are only two theaters in Houston that have this option, AMC Gulfpoint and Edward’s at Greenway Plaza.  I am not sure of any theaters in Houston that are showing a 35mm version on film.

Digital – IMAX with laser, IMAX (digital), and regular digital

IMAX with laser is a new technology and there is only one theater in Texas that has such a projector and it is in Austin (MORE SHAME BELLS).  There are only a few theaters with digital IMAX.  These IMAX projectors will not show as much as the IMAX 70mm film projectors, nor will the picture be as quality as any of the film projectors, but it will still be really good.  If you have to settle for non-IMAX regular digital, you’ll still really enjoy this film, so don’t let that keep you from seeing it.  The other formats just enhance what is already a fantastic story!

Great, so where should I see it?

Below is a format guide that will show you the difference of each format, where you can find theaters that will be showing that format, and order I would recommend.  If you live in Houston, choices 1 & 3 are out unless you wanna travel.


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