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Dunkirk (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Christopher Nolan stands as one of maybe our last great filmmakers that have bridged the gap of their visions to big budget mainstream productions. While he gained esteem and clout through making some Batman films, he’s used it to distance himself and become a household name among directors not unlike Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg. His films are original and his name attached to it make the film an event. They are both impressive and success stories at the box office. His latest, a passionate endeavor on the more little known battle of Dunkirk, amazed audiences and critics alike with its bold choice to be primarily shot in IMAX. While nobody’s home is going to accurately replicate that experience, you’ll still be able to enjoy this landmark war film when it comes to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray on December 19th as a standalone or part of the 4K Ultra-HD Christopher Nolan box set.

Film 

Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces.  Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in. The story unfolds on land, sea and air. RAF Spitfires engage the enemy in the skies above the Channel, trying to protect the defenseless men below. Meanwhile, hundreds of small boats manned by both military and civilians are mounting a desperate rescue effort, risking their lives in a race against time to save even a fraction of their army.

When Christopher Nolan took on Dunkirk, many asked if we needed another World War II movie. Then, Christopher Nolan made the film and showed them not to doubt him. Genre or subject matter aside, whatever he or some other filmmaker chooses, we need more Christopher Nolan films no matter what they are. He’s that kind of filmmaker with the likes of the Cohen Bros, where I hear about their next project and whether or not the topic peaks my interest, I know the film is likely to deliver so that point is moot.

Dunkirk both lands as a stunning war thriller and total technical achievement. Nolan is very old school, so of course this was shot on film. Mostly IMAX film, to boot. But, he also doesn’t crutch onto digital effects. And with Dunkirk, he put himself in for one of his greatest challenges of his career. Everything you see here is a total construction of a set, a boat or a prop. Things are accomplished by old school camera tricks, real pyrotechnics and hand built effects. This choice only adds to the pulse pounding thrills and realism delivered.

The most impressive aspect of the film (For me, at least), comes in the form of the aerial dogfight sequences of the film featuring Tom Hardy.  These were shot using actual IMAX cameras mounted to actual planes. The sequences are impressive, wonderfully shot, both engaging and absolutely breathtaking to marvel in. Much of the camera techniques from the sky and from watching on the beach or boat below give you a sense of truly being there in not so much a documentary style perspective, but as almost an eyewitness account point of view.

Christopher Nolan has usually had a theme with time and perspective and Dunkirk is no different. As a matter of fact, this may be the most that has been a strong part of the narrative since Memento. The story is told from three angles with three different given lengths of time: One week, one day, one hour. This provides yet another way to amp up the tension and give revelations on what you may have thought you were seeing or witnessing before. Plus its neat to see the inevitable crossing over of the storylines. It also adds an angle, in terms of entertainment value, to set it apart from many of the war films that came before it or will continue to be released after.

Dunkirk is another masterpiece in the realm of masterpieces for Christopher Nolan. Its also is probably the most cinematic or MUST BE SEEN IN THE THEATER “experience” to be released in 2017. And truly the ONLY way to see this film was 70mm IMAX (If one was available in a reasonable traveling distance to you). Few films will immerse you as much as the cinematography in Dunkirk easily sweeps you in. This is the type of film like Gravity, that many putz’s will wind up seeing on their laptop and going “I don’t see what the big deal is” (Cuz you didn’t see it correctly dumb dumb). Aaron Neuwirth texted me the night he saw Dunkirk and said “Its really sad that in a few months, some people are going to be watching Dunkirk on a phone”. That truly stings, but is quite true. Christopher Nolan is one of the few remaining directors that fully utilizes the big screen and makes it both matter and demand you see it that way.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.2:1 / 1.78:1 IMAX sequence

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Wow, Dunkirk offers a picture quality so lovely it may as well be a painting. That is likely the benefit of coming to 4K after having been shot on 70mm IMAX film.  The picture size changes between aspect ratios, keeping the IMAX footage intact. Details are extremely strong, with the intricacies of the and suds on the beach looking quite discernible. Some slightly out of focus camera shots are even noticeable (Its really just a couple, understandable, “inside the cockpit” shots). The ocean water runs quite smoothly almost to the touch. Damage, dirt and stuff on the boats looks clear to a scratch. Its a remarkable picture and we all probably should be expecting nothing less. I’m hoping and excited for what the rest of the Nolan library will have in store for the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray format.

Depth:  Background and foreground distancing from one another is remarkable. As expected, the aerial sequences are quite three dimensional in appearance just give the look of being huge. Movements are smooth, clean and cinematic in their nature. No distortions with rapid movements occur.

Black Levels: Blacks are well saturated, deep and gorgeous. Shadowing, dark sequences, hair, clothing and other surface still maintain all sorts of details. There are scenes where you can make out what individual parts of Harry Styles’ hair are wet and which are dry. No crushing witnessed on the viewing.

Color Reproduction: Natural colors look absolutely gorgeous and stunning here. Browns are rich, with a good palette and just beautiful. Blues, like many Nolan movies, are very strong. The HDR really works in with lights, gunfire from the fighter planes, and fire. Coloring is this one’s strong suit. If you saw this in REAL 70mm IMAX, you’ll likely remember this, but it is all retained here.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural on the side of slightly colder and keep consistent throughout. Skin color is rather lovely looking and details are strong on facial features from any given distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Audio 5.1 Dolby Digital, French (Canada) 5.1 Dolby Digital, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin American) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), Portuguese

Dynamics: Many were disappointed or worried when this title was announced to be containing its original 5.1 theatrical mix and not a Dolby Atmos track. While, yes, technically speaking that is an improvement any way you shake it, this 5.1 mix should not be discounted. This track is set to loudness levels of an Atmos track and fully immersive in its presentation. The bass heavy mix carries the weight of every explosions, gunfire or score hit that just rocks your viewing area. The intricacies of the sound design is carried here with all the precision I experienced in the 70mm IMAX presentation this past summer. Once you are fully settled into the intensity of Dunkirk, you may likely forget this mix is “merely” 5.1.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Bombs bursting on the beach, bullets ricocheting inside a boat, water bursting, guns firing, plane engines rumbling, Hans Zimmer’s score rolling…the subwoofer is completely exhausted by the time this movie finishes.

Surround Sound Presentation: This is a very precise and well through out 5.1 mix. Sound travel rivals the freeness and cleanliness of an Atmos track. Movement is very fun, logical and accurate. Rear speakers always carry unique identifiers with a good depth and layering. Every environment puts you right in the middle of the action by its lifelike representation from all 5 speakers.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are crisp and clear throughout. Distortions, like the pilot’s mask sound distinct but still provide good audible audio. Even loud, crazy sequences still deliver dialogue clearly.

Extras 

Dunkirk is a 3-Disc set that comes with the 2-Disc Blu-ray edition and an UltraViolet digital copy. All bonus material is found on the 2nd disc of the Blu-ray set. The featurettes also are offered in a Play All mode. Each featurette also has subchapters within it that can be done in Play All as well.

Creation (HD, 22:19) – This first part discusses the background of the story of Dunkirk, the Hitchcock approach to the storytelling, visiting with a veteran, looking over the actual sites and more of the preparation for Nolan’s war epic.

  • Revisiting The Miracle
  • Dunkerque
  • Expanding The Frame
  • The In-Camera Approach

Land (HD, 16:39) – The second part focuses on the storyline titled “The Mole”. It covers all the events happening at the beach with those characters, building the sets and executing one of the most important areas of the shoot. It features some historical touring and such to give background and goes over how it was all reproduced.

  • Rebuilding The Mole
  • The Army On The Beach
  • Uniform Approach

Air (HD, 18:30) – If you thought the aerial sequences were impressive before, just wait til you see how they accomplished this without leaning on digital effects, go-pro or smaller cameras. Yes, mounting actual IMAX cameras on actual planes.  Oh yeah, this one is about the Tom Hardy storyline.

  • Taking To The Air
  • Inside The Cockpit

Sea (HD, 36:57) – This one doesn’t just cover all the Mark Rylance-centric storyline stuff, it covers all the battleship sequences as well. It covers how they recreated the destroyers as well as the big action sequence in the finale.  This is the meatiest and heaviest of the featurettes.

  • Assembling The Naval Fleet
  • Launching The Moonstone

Conclusion (HD, 15:19) – As this one covers post, it goes over the sound and how it all started with the ticking of a stopwatch and how the music would only play a visceral sense of tension in the film (returning to tactics used in The Prestige). The second piece is the filmmakers’ reflections on making the film.

  • Turning Up The Tension
  • The Dunkirk Spirit

Other

  • Coast Guard Promo (HD, 2:02) – Discusses the Coast Guard’s involvement of the film and how they helped to get some footage that “made a huge difference in the film”.

Summary 

Even on a noticeably smaller screen, Dunkirk is still a breathtaking and remarkable achievement. Its one of Nolan and the year’s best in many degrees. This 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray presentation also finds itself with an incredibly beautiful picture and one of the best 5.1 tracks you’ve ever heard. The bonus material is an fascinating and well put together, entertaining journey through the film’s production. This is a clear cut above and one of the best single releases of a 2017 movie this year.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

3 Responses to “Dunkirk (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Clark

    Greta review! I was very disappointed in this film however! I felt that from a technical aspect it was the best film of the year as far as sound, all editing, sound track, all very amazing. Cinematography only got beat out by Blade Runner. Then looking at the story and characters, this film was a total let down to me, great docu-story about history but it fell short as far as character development and arch’s. The story had no back story, therefore i cared absolutely nothing for any of the characters, save for a little Bit Of Care for Mark Riplance. Hence no nominations for any actors or ansamble as of yet. The movie was my least favorite war movie, i expected so much more.

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    I feel bad for those who have become so hard-wired to only accept a rigid format for their films that anything straying outside the norm means it’s impossible for them to care. It’s not as if Nolan was unaware of how he assembled the film and “forgot” to consider the characters. I’m speaking from my perspective, of course, but I couldn’t help but be concerned for all involved in a desperate attempt to escape a horrible situation with their lives, regardless of how much I knew about them.

  3. december

    Great review.
    Not a fan of Nolan’s recent big budget blockbusters but this was a return to the Nolan of old.