Dunkirk strips away film conventions to produce a visceral experience. See this film on the biggest IMAX screen you can find.
True IMAX films are usually 45 minute pieces, more intense than regular feature-lengths, taking advantage of the size and spectacle of such a transformatively large screen. Dunkirk feels as if Nolan weaved together three IMAX experiences into a riveting documentary thrill ride.
“You know, we very rarely speak in chronological terms; we very rarely tell a story from the beginning chronologically to the end,”
“We’re trying to disturb the natural rhythm of these war movies. We’re trying to disturb the established rhythm of the blockbuster.” – Nolan
Dialogue and any distraction are kept to a minimum. In war, there’s no time for trivial things. The souls on the screen were fighting for their country’s survival, and now their own. Surrounded by the enemy, several hundred thousand soldiers are in race to escape. Their only hope is the brave civilian fleet called into action to rescue them.
Some might criticize the lack of character development; Titanic this is not. Personally, I feel that avoiding traditional character development makes the experience stronger. We are given glimpses of many characters, but there are no side stories that could detract from the expertly woven tension pulled tighter than any string in Zimmer’s score.
The slight distance from the ensemble helped me feel involved with each situation equally and also insinuated danger as no character was too important to die.
Dunkirk is similar to Zimmer’s composition style. Simple ideas magnified, with no clutter to reduce the power or relentless pace.
Zimmer’s score is constant, but stays further out of focus than previous Nolan-collaborations. It pushes forward, rising like water rushing into the broken hull of a sinking ship. Pulsing with tension, rarely breaking, but exploding gloriously when allowed to shine a light of hope.
The instrument choices were often visually evocative, imitating the visuals. Whether flying high in the clouds, or clautrophobically underwater in the hull of a sitting duck ship, Zimmer’s sound locked tight with the sights.
The ticking clock as percussion was used beautifully in Interstellar’s ‘Mountains’, indicating the same pressure of time tightening a noose around the characters’ fate. The delicate tone is a welcome relief from the torrential tide of taiko drums we hear in nearly every blockbuster.
Compared to Interstellar
Insterstellar had many cinematically stunning pieces that I’d love to go back and experience, but the stiff dialogue, ropey plot points, and sappy ending scare me away from submitting to its two-hour-49-minute runtime. Dunkirk feels like a direct reply to those criticisms. It highlighted Nolan’s strengths and avoided his weaknesses.
I have to say that a noticeable chunk of the dialogue was very difficult to understand. Not in the way that Interstellar’s dialogue was mixed lower than usual, but the EQ felt mid-heavy and near distorted. I’m not sure if that was intentional or simply a problem with my local cinema’s audio setup or speakers. Either way it was disappointing.
Overall, Dunkirk is a masterful achievement in experiential film-making. If you go to the cinema to be blown away, I can’t recommend Dunkirk more.