4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Kenneth Branagh,
Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy
Director: Christopher Nolan
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1, DTS HD MA 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1, 1.78:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: December 19, 2017
“All we did was survive.”
One could point to many major turning points in World War II, but perhaps none are quite as definitive as the rescue of some 300,000 British and 100,000 French soldiers who had retreated to Dunkirk from the onslaught of the Axis powers. What could have been a resounding defeat instead saved the British army, giving the nation and Winston Churchill the confidence and manpower to regroup and begin bringing an end to the war.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk does a fabulous job at brining the scope of this history to the big screen. Unlike most of his movies, which are character-centered and often fascinated by individual obsessions, this takes a much broader view. The event was large. We don’t get to know many names. There are only a few readily identifiable actors. This story is about the resolve of a nation, and Nolan refuses to make it intimate by creating a couple of fictional characters (a la Jack and Rose) through which to tell the story.
The film focuses on three aspects of the campaign, and tells you up front how long each one took. This allows him some freedom of timeline, although he doesn’t abuse the privilege. The most standout example is a skirmish that is eventually told from multiple points of view.
After being driven back to Dunkirk in defeat, the whole British army was practically at stake. They didn’t have what was necessary to stand and fight and win, so the objective became to bring the men home. Home was practically within eyesight, and everyone from the army and navy to simple civilians sailing through a dangerous war zone were deployed to make it happen.
There is action galore, but this is not an action film. This is a suspenseful retelling of history where the outcome of the entire war was possibly at stake. The fighting takes place on land, at sea, and in the air, as noble battlers faced oppressive odds to give the men a fighting chance at making it home.
As mentioned, the point of view is somewhat distant, like a god’s-eye view of war, but there is emotion as well. There is death, destruction, and triumph. In the end, the soldiers came home ashamed of their defeat, but found instead a nation who was grateful and resolved. They lost the day, but lived to fight again, and by doing so, kept Britain and the rest of the west free.
Nolan may be our greatest contemporary filmmaker, showing uncanny promise with his cheaply made debut Following, then making what I still consider the best movie of the millennium Memento. You can’t dismiss him for helming a few Batman pictures, because those were all great movies in their own right. Inception was as imaginative and original as anything I’ve ever seen, and Interstellar delved into the reality and fantasy of Einstein’s greatest theory (relatively speaking).
With Dunkirk, he delivers a different kind of entertainment…big and dynamic, but also devoted more to event than individual. It was the right choice, as instead of another Pearl Harbor, he’s crafted a modern war film as great as Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line, but with a voice that makes it unique and not just another imitator.
One of my co-workers, a huge Christopher Nolan fan, recalled seeing Dunkirk on the big screen with her husband, who remarked afterwards that this may be the greatest movie ever made. Not that it was his personal favorite, but he was able to recognize what a complete achievement in filmmaking the movie represented. It is definitely another supreme achievement from Nolan, who has yet to make a major misstep in my opinion.
Simply spectacular…Nolan is one of the few modern directors still devoted to film (not digital), and as usual, films many of his sequences using high definition IMAX cameras (hence the changing aspect ratio). This 4K transfer has to be seen to be believed, as it gets you so close to the action as to defy comfort. Images are super sharp and crystal clear, and coloring, thanks to High Dynamic Range, is simply stunning.
This is one of the best uncompressed audio offerings of the year…you want to be in battle? You’re there. The dynamic range is explosive and comes from all directions with power and clarity. Dialogue is well balanced throughout. Hans Zimmer’s score is occasionally a little much, but the overall audio effect is breathtaking.
There is a full disc of featurettes on the history and production, including plenty of cast and crew interviews, totaling nearly 2 hours. There is also a standard Blu-ray and digital copy disc included.
Dunkirk is an amazing achievement for both film and 4K Blu-ray. For sight, sound, and sheer power, this is one of the best offerings of the year.