A Case to see Dunkirk in 70mm


The film industry is currently going through huge changes.

It is becoming more common for films to be made by and for streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon, and as this happens, big film studios are relying more and more on guaranteed box-office earners such as franchises, reboots and sequels to try and earn the money that is now going to streaming. Thankfully, this Summer brought a few rare movies that defy all these pre-requisites; one of them is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

This is an article that will attempt to explain to a casual filmgoer why it is worth paying the extra money to see Dunkirk in 70mm at your nearest IMAX. It’s expensive, and truth be told even if you decide to see it in 35mm it is still a fantastic movie; but 70mm does add more to the spectacle.

This is probably the best place to start – the spectacle of Dunkirk. Nolan has proven himself time and again a film director that specializes in making movies with huge cinematic displays and action pieces, be it his Dark Knight trilogy or Inception. But if these are the movies that led to this reputation, it is Dunkirk that cements it.

Dunkirk is not just a film; it’s an experience. I can already feel readers rolling their eyes at this statement but it’s not one made without cause – from the opening frames to the end credits you are completely immersed in the slow-building dread and tension. Nolan works again with longtime collaborator Hans Zimmer, who composes a score that creeps up and frames the general sense of fear and unease in a wartime setting, through soundtrack perfectly encapsulating the sensation that these soldiers could die at any moment. Clearly everyone, especially the sound design and the production crew, did an incredible job putting this film together.

It is worth noting that Dunkirk is not a typical movie, and because of this it won’t be to everyone’s taste. The choice to not follow any one specific character, and to not go particularly in depth with any of the characters we meet (their backstories, wishes, goals, reasons for going into war, who they have back home, etc), is one that though admittedly wouldn’t suit this film, does still create some emotional distance. As it’s about the environment they’re in, not the individuals, we don’t get to know them, (this is emphasised by some interesting editing choices which again will leave some viewers enthralled and others potentially frustrated), but once you accept that this isn’t a film about people, but about an event, it becomes clear Nolan has succeeded in creating a completely immersive cinematic experience.

This doesn’t mean 3D. It was shot on film (Christopher Nolan’s preferred medium), in 65mm, nearly double the size of the regular 35mm films we are used to seeing. Simply making the screen bigger doesn’t sound like it should make such a huge difference but it really does – the wider aspect ratios and the choice to shoot on film means there is greater detail shown in each shot, therefore a more captivating movie where each little detail is perceivable and creates a greater sense of action in the viewer. It is immediately apparent that Nolan made this film with the goal of taking us cinema-goers into a situation that we may have no experience of and making us feel like we’re there.

And it is for this reason you should see it in IMAX on 70mm, first and foremost it’s how the director intended it to be seen. Going further than previous filmmakers to ensure that people have an opportunity to see it in this format, (Warner Bros are proudly proclaiming Dunkirk to be the most widely released film on 70mm in 25 years) Nolan not only ensured the release of his film in 70mm, but sent out actual prints of his film to IMAX cinemas to show, a noted difference to other filmmakers who usually compress their movies shot on film to a digital file to be projected.

I believe as a filmgoer that if you are going to spend your hard earned money on a film, it is one that should, like all great art, move you, stay with you, temporarily transport you through great visual storytelling.

Yes, Dunkirk achieves this even in 35mm – but to no-where near the same extent. Dunkirk is a movie that is so epic in scale it deserved to be made in 70mm, and it deserves to be seen in 70mm format.

Dunkirk is not a sequel. Dunkirk is not a franchise. Dunkirk is not a reboot. Dunkirk is a fantastic film that needs box-office support, so that we can have more films that are not sequels, franchises or reboots, and we can fully explore more of the artistry and storytelling in the film industry. This isn’t to say that all these pre-requisites don’t deliver good films – they can. But as superhero fatigue sets in, and we await a reboot of Jumanji, and a Transformers Bumblebee prequel and another four Avatar sequels are currently in the making, we also need more films like Dunkirk.

Whereas previous films would have you pay the same amount of money for a cinematic experience that doesn’t have as much skill or soul behind it, this deserves every penny.

So go to your nearest IMAX with the knowledge that you’re in good hands. Pay for your ticket. Sit back. Relax (in preparation for how non-relaxed the actual film is). And allow yourself to be transported. It’s worth it.

By Elle Jepson