Action Blu-ray Review

'Dunkirk' Blu-ray Review: From IMAX to home theaters, Christopher Nolan’s WWII drama remains an engrossing experience

December 19, 2017Ben Mk

As Christopher Nolan's 10th feature film, Dunkirk is a bit of a different beast than the director's previous movies. Unlike Memento, Inception and the Dark Knight Trilogy, for example, Dunkirk is not so much narrative-driven as it is experience-driven, meaning it's less about story and more about being down in the dirt and in the trenches — or, in this case, on the beach, on the sea and in the skies.

An account of World War II's Battle of Dunkirk, the film takes place along three separate timelines and follows three different groups of characters, as some 400,000 British and Allied troops mount a desperate evacuation attempt while German forces close in. On the ground, a British soldier (Fionn Whitehead) and a French soldier (Aneurin Barnard) scramble to board a departing Destroyer, while a British Naval Commander (Kenneth Branagh) does his best to organize the chaos; on the sea, the captain of a small civilian boat (Mark Rylance) and his crew (Barry Keoghan and Tom Glynn-Carney) race towards danger; and in the air, a trio of Spitfire pilots (Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden and Richard Sanderson) contend not only with enemy fire but also diminishing fuel reserves.

Very rarely are any of these characters referred to by name, if at all, and there isn't much need, quite frankly. Nolan, who also wrote the script, keeps dialogue and plot exposition to a minimum, foregoing a conventional storytelling structure and choosing instead to hold his focus on the people and the situation at hand. His efforts give Dunkirk a cinéma vérité quality and, in conjunction with the movie's cinematography and production design, it draws viewers further and further into the plight of its characters with every tick of the film's metronomic score.

From a purely cinematic and dramatic point of view, Dunkirk is nothing short of spectacular, and it serves not only as a powerful reminder of one of WWII's most harrowing battles, but as a stirring tribute to the real-life heroes who were willing to sacrifice everything to fight for that most basic of human rights — freedom.

Filmed almost entirely in 70mm IMAX, Dunkirk translates superbly in its move from the theaters to television screens. The military blues, greens and browns of the movie's color palette are rendered robustly, excellent contrast and black levels add appreciable depth to the 1080p image, and fine detail is ever-present, suffering only slightly when the aspect ratio switches to accommodate the rare scene not shot in the large-scale format. Furthermore, this disc is equipped with an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix, faithfully recreating the tension-building score and the jarring sounds of machine gun fire, explosions and fast-approaching airplanes.

Warner's three-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes an UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD copy and the following extras on their own dedicated Blu-ray disc:

  • Creation (22:19) - A four-part look at Nolan's approach to telling the story of these real-life events, filming on-location on the beaches of Dunkirk, the pros and cons of filming in the IMAX format, and Nolan's preference for practical effects over CGI ("Revisiting the Miracle," "Dunkerque," "Expanding the Frame" and "The In-Camera Approach").
  • Land (16:39) - A three-part look at the filmmakers' efforts to reconstruct the beach at Dunkirk as it was over 70 years ago, the casting of young, mostly unknown actors, and the various techniques that went into the creation of the film's costumes ("Rebuilding the Mole," "The Army on the Beach" and "Uniform Approach").
  • Air (18:30) - A two-part look at filming the movie's aerial dogfight sequences using real Spitfire planes and IMAX cameras and the techniques used to add realism to the closeups of the actors in the cockpit ("Taking to the Air" and "Inside the Cockpit").
  • Sea (36:57) - A five-part look at the ships used in the film, the challenges of filming on the sea and in a water tank on-set, and the real-life little ships that took part in the actual evacuation at Dunkirk ("Assembling the Naval Fleet," "Launching the Moonstone," "Taking to the Sea," "Sinking the Ships" and "The Little Ships").
  • Conclusion (15:19) - A two-part look at the creation of the film's score, the camaraderie among the cast and crew, and the spirit and bravery of those who were actually there on the beach in 1940 ("Turning Up the Tension" and "The Dunkirk Spirit").
  • Coast Guard Promo (2:02) - A brief look at the role the U.S. Coast Guard played in the making of the film.

Dunkirk is available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as of December 19th, 2017. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 5.1 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. The total runtime is 1 hr. 46 min.

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