An IMAX of a recreation
August 4th, 2017
Welcome to an experience where Han Zimmer’s soundtrack is your heartrate monitor and the IMAX cameras tests your Acrophobia and/or Thalassophobia. 400,000 troops are surrounded on the shores of Dunkirk, waiting for a rescue. German pilots’ prey upon battleships like fish in a barrel as the sea engulfs the bombed vessels and passengers to a watery grave. Unbeknownst to both sides, British civilian ships sail towards these dogfights as a last-ditch effort to save their waterlogged veterans.
That’s the idea behind Christopher Nolan’s latest experiment. At 10 minutes, there’s never a moment to come up for air in this non-stop, faithful recreation of one of World War 2’s biggest defeats. Bodies are drowned, planes ballet around each other, and real-life Dunkirk ships from long ago are called to sea to add authenticity to the situation. Yet somehow, the violence is kept at a PG-13 rather than an R for spilling more oil than blood in the ocean. Then there are the dog fights, which are the new standard since the beginning of the Star Wars franchise, both video games and movies. The IMAX camera clings to the wings for dear life whenever the planes tilt the world left and right. Meanwhile, the cinematography embraces wide shots of oceans, beaches, and battlefields. Finally, the sound editing emphasizes the diving planes as death sirens to all the sitting ducks on land and sea as everything turns into Swiss cheese. There’s never a dull moment from beginning to end when you’re literally thrust into the situation.
I can’t say I remember the characters outside of their actors (Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and especially Mark Rylance), but they’re simplicity works in service to the experience while the camera does all the talking without the clichéd exposition, especially for a director whose philosophical speeches can pad a story to nearly three hours. Everyone is part of an expensive re-enactment where the goal is to give a sense of struggled throughout this historical hell. This is Christopher Nolan’s lesson to Michael Bay’s Titanic clone, Pearl Harbor on how to subtlety honor a military without over-compensating with ethnocentrism. It’s also surprising that there’s none of the over-the-top propaganda from the Germans given the time period. It’s concealed behind airplanes, torpedoes and armor piercing bullets as a reverse take on the Wolfenstein formula. They’re still an elite force, but only though incredible sound editing, and visual direction do they show their lack of mercy.
Dunkirk is one of the best experiences of the year whether or not character development is important in this recreation. While they’re not the most developed, they aid the expansive cinematography, ear piercing sound editing, and incredible visual effects to serve the immersion. This might start another clash between Nolan and Serkis for the visual effects Oscar. If you can accept the lack of backstory when modern entertainment focuses more on characters more than story, it won’t disappoint. But if you’re looking for a more character driven narrative, there’s always Hacksaw Ridge to fall back on, but no one can deny that the actions on camera speak louder than Matthew McConaughey did for two hours in space.