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Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Home Video
4K UHD Released: 12/19/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/12/2017

One of my daughters is currently doing well in her World History class (and let's hope that continues) and is thus interested in history. (Although precedents show that fad will most likely end soon.) While discussing this newfound love of history, she was surprised to learn that I don't know much about World War II. (Wait a minute, does she think that I was alive then?) I'm part of a generation where it was assumed that an elder would tell you about the War, thus it wasn't covered much in school. Having said that, it is a good thing that I knew about the rescue at Dunkirk, because the film portraying this event certainly assumed that I was already up to speed.

In late May, 1940, German forces had swept across France, forcing British, French, and Belgian soldiers to flee. Because of this, over 400,000 troops found themselves stranded on the beach at Dunkirk. They couldn't go backwards due to the German soldiers and they couldn't move forward because of the sea. The British Navy attempted to rescue the men, but they had trouble getting close to the beach due to the shallows and the frequent bombings by German planes. All seemed lost, until a call for help went across the English channel and everyday British sailors answered that call.

Dunkirk comes from Director Christopher Nolan, who became a household name (sort of) with his Dark Knight films. What you may not know is that the London-born Nolan is very British, and it took this very British story for him to tackle his first non-fiction feature. While the above synopsis is an over-simplification of the siege at Dunkirk, it does capture the overall essence of the plot. Therefore, it's interesting to look at how Nolan has decided to tell the story. He has decided to break Dunkirk up into three intersecting stories. "The Mole" encompasses a week and focuses on the men stranded on the beach and their attempts to escape. We watch as a young soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) tries and fails many times to leave that accursed shore. "The Sea" examines the day in which Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), accompanied by two boys, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan), crossed the English Channel in a pleasure boat in order to be a part of the rescue. "The Air" shows us the hour-long dogfight between two British pilots -- Farrier (Tom Hardy) & Collins (Jack Lowden) -- and German planes. (We get on-screen titles announcing each of these segments, but it's somewhat confusing, especially given the fact that "The Mole" refers to a long, pier-like structure on the beach and not the animal or a spy. How were we supposed to know that?)

Nolan's approach to the material has it's pros and cons. Each segment is an integral facet of the overall tale. The men on the beach are the crux of the story, and we watch them weigh their fates as time is running out. The scenes depicting the day-sailors who are on a suicidal rescue mission show the indomitable British spirit, and they also depict one of the most moving parts of the film. The battle taking place above the sea shows how British fighters attempted to keep German planes from bombing ships and the beach. In the beginning, the shifting back and forth has a very organic feel, but, as the film progresses, most audience members will decide that one of the threads is their favorite and they will itch for the movie to switch back to their point of interest. And, about half-way through Dunkirk, you begin to realize that Nolan is “Tarantinoing” the story and playing with time. On the one hand, this is necessary, as each part takes place over a different period of time, but it also feels uncalled for. The story here is harrowing enough and we don’t need any cinematic trickery to make it any more suspenseful. Many of the scenes take on a decided sense of tension without any manipulation of time. If anything, this approach will no doubt confuse some viewers -- “Hey, how can Cillian Murphy be there when he’s somewhere else?” Perhaps the man who made Memento couldn’t resist playing with time.

That issue aside, Dunkirk is a gripping film which tells a story which the world needs to know. Although, it still doesn’t go deep enough into some of the hows and whys here. Again, if I hadn’t known the story going in, I would have been lost during some of this. The movie is a technical triumph, and the dazzling visuals become all the more impressive once you learn that Nolan and company did everything they could to avoid using visual effects, and even incorporated some of the actual boats which were involved in the rescue. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Dunkirk is that it’s only 106-minutes long. I had assumed going in that it would be several hours, but by keeping things within a reasonable length, Nolan is able to capitalize on the suspense and give the audience relief before they go completely numb. This is how a World War II movie should be made.

Dunkirk implies that pilots carry chalk on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The framing her switches between 1.78:1 and 2.35:1, vacillating between IMAZ and 65mm film, and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. This is due to the image being well-balanced, and we don’t get an image which shifts from dark to light. The depth is excellent and we clearly see that the actors are separate from the backgrounds. The level of detail is very good, as the image is never soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. Warner has delivered some questionable audio in the past, but really? -- A Blu-ray Disc-level audio track on a 4K UHD? Given the length of the movie, I doubt that the audio was scaled back due to the space taken up by the video. The audio is serviceable, as we are offered nice subwoofer action and surround sound effects which properly portray the planes flying by, but one can’t help but wonder if a DTS-X or Dolby Atmos track wouldn’t have brought more to the experience.

All of the extra features for Dunkirk are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. These extras are divided into five chapters, and sub-chapters. (There is an option to play all of them.) "Creation" opens with "Revisiting the Miracle" (8 minutes) has Nolan and others involved with the film giving an overall of the true story. "Dunkerque" (5 minutes) has the crew discussing the location scouting and how they chose where to shoot the movie. "Expanding the Frame" (4 minutes) provides an overview of how the film was shot in the IMAX format, as well as 65mm. "The In-Camera Approach" (6 minutes) shows how Nolan prefers practical effects rather than visual effects. "Land" starts with "Rebuilding The Mole" (6 minutes) where we learn how the long pier-like structure seen in the film was created. "The Army on the Beach" (5 minutes) features some comments from the cast and breaks down how so many actors were involved. We haer from the costume designer in "Uniform Approach" (5 minutes). "Air" has "Taking to the Air" (13 minutes) takes us on location to see the antique planes which were used in the film, and the challenge of shooting the dogfight scenes. We see that the actors were really inside of a moving plane doing their scenes in "Inside the Cockpit" (6 minutes). "Sea" gets going with "Assembling the Naval Fleet" (4 minutes) takes us on the water to see how antique ships were used as stand-ins for the British ships. "Launching the Moonstone" (6 minutes) takes us to Weymouth to see where the story of the civilian rescuers began. "Taking to the Sea" (14 minutes) introduces the challengers of shooting a film which has so much action on the open water. "Sinking the Ships" (7 minutes) shows how real ships and stunt work made the scenes of disaster convincing. "The Little Ships" (6 minutes) introduces us to the owners of the real boats which were used in the rescue. "Conclusion" brings us "Turning Up the Tension" (7 minutes) has Nolan explaining how the music was used to created a heightened sense of suspense. "The Dunkirk Spirit" (8 minutes) has the cast & crew giving their final thoughts on the movie.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long