dunkirk in imax

Christopher Nolan has had a long-standing love affair with IMAX, using the grandiose cinematic format in many of his films — but he promises that Dunkirk will push the boundaries of the technology beyond anything you’ve ever seen.

It’s going to “give the audience the most visceral experiential two hours that they can hope for,” Nolan said of his World War II epic, which is based on the true story of the thousands of Allied soldiers who were trapped and surrounded by the German army on the beach of Dunkirk.

In an interview with Fandango, Nolan said that Dunkirk is a game-changer for the IMAX format. Nolan shot almost the entire film in large format film photography, whereas his previous films, like The Dark Knight Rises, only had various action set pieces shot in the format. Nolan said:

“Very few people have ever done that before, and no one has ever shot as much IMAX as we’re doing. Most of the film is IMAX. With every film we’ve learned more and more how to maximize our ability to use those cameras, and we found ways to get those cameras into very unusual places for a camera that size, but the image quality speaks for itself. I think it’s going to be an extremely exciting presentation, particularly in those IMAX theaters.”

Dunkirk documents the real-life event which shaped many British schoolkids’ lives — though the event hasn’t had nearly as much press over here in the States — of the entire British army overcoming the odds on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, during World War II. The German army has taken over France and surrounded the 400,000 men on the beach, with their backs to the sea and their home only 26 miles away. “The enemy is closing in, and there’s a choice between annihilation and surrender,” Nolan says, retelling the story that clearly inspired him as a child (in the Fandango interview, he spends some time fanboying over the planes that were used during the battle).

Well-known as a visual director, Nolan seems to be prioritizing visuals over most else in this film, noting that the plot will not be driven by dialogue:

“It’s the kind of film where the visual aspect of the film is dominant right from the get-go. There’s dialogue in the film, but we really tried to approach the storytelling very much from a visual point of view, and an action and suspense point of view. Trying to create suspense visually — a visceral sense of what it would be like to be confronted by this awful paradoxical situation.”

This prioritizing of style over narrative may hinder him (he has been criticized before for his clunky handling of emotion and characters, or anything that’s not visual style) — I personally think the bigger he goes, the more his films suffer. Nolan is an ambitious guy, but his ideas can sometimes become bloated by blockbuster budgets. However, Dunkirk was lauded at CinemaCon as one of the most stunning films that was screened footage at the conference, and seemed to deliver on his promise of a “visceral” experience. The 5-minute prologue screened at theaters in front of Rogue One also earned buzz.

Dunkirk will feature over 100 minutes of IMAX material, and was shot in IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. It, however, won’t take the title of the first feature film shot entirely in IMAX — that honor goes to Avengers: Infinity War, which will be released in 2018.

The cast of Dunkirk includes Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden and Barry Keoghan.

Dunkirk hits theaters July 21, 2017.

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