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Dunkirk 2017 UHD
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(Dec 19, 2017)
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Dunkirk (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD)
“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.]]>
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In May of 1940, virtually the entirety of the British Army, augmented by troops from France, entered Belgium to counter the German invasion of the Netherlands. The Germans in response engaged and flanked the Allied Army, drove them back to the western coast of France, and placed themselves in a position to capture the French ports before the retreating Allied forces could escape across the Channel to Britain.
The Allied Army, including over 300,000 British soldiers, were trapped with their backs to the English Channel outside the French town of Dunkirk, faced with either capture or annihilation at the hands of the German Army. The shallow water prevented British naval vessels from entering the port to evacuate the troops. Many of the soldiers waded into the sea in an attempt to reach the warships, standing shoulder-deep in water for hours to await rescue.
At home, the British government organized an effort to secure the loan of privately-owned boats with shallow-water capability—pleasure craft, launches, sailboats, private yachts, fishing vessels, ferryboats. The plan was to launch the vessels from the British port of Ramsgate and set sail for Dunkirk to rescue the Allied troops. Some 700 such small craft were secured, and manned by either British naval personnel, experienced volunteers, or the boat owners themselves.
Newly-elected Prime Minister Churchill hoped to rescue perhaps one-tenth of the British Army, 35,000 troops, to continue to protect their homeland against German invasion. In the end, the entire army—some 338,000 Allied soldiers—was evacuated, either by the small craft entering the waters and ferrying the troops in relays to the British naval vessels waiting offshore, or by actually transporting the stranded soldiers all the way back to Ramsgate, a distance of 28 nautical miles.
The civilian rescue of the Allied troops from Dunkirk was one of the most selfless and heroic acts in military history. And the event is recreated in Christopher Nolan’s eagerly-awaited new picture, “Dunkirk,” produced by Syncopy Films and released to American theaters on July 21 by Warner Bros. Pictures.
Director and screenwriter Nolan makes the decision early on to depart from the traditional structure of big-budget Hollywood war movies, from 1960’s “The Longest Day” to 1977’s “A Bridge Too Far” to Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” in 1998—namely, the use of an all-star cast in cameo roles distracting the audience’s attention from the essence of the story, and including long, boring exposition scenes of military officers discussing the intricate details of military operations, in futile attempts to provide historical contest for the viewer.
Instead, Nolan distills the historical background into a tersely-written prologue to the picture, almost a telegram—defeated Allied soldiers are stranded on the beach, waiting for salvation, praying for a miracle. Then, without warning, Nolan throws the viewer by the seat of his pants into the meat of the story.
Epic in scope but intimate in nature, a “Dunkirk” viewing is akin to examining an intricate mosaic, tile-by-tile, and only after memorizing the details drawing back to view the impact of the artwork in its entirety. From the first scene forward, “Dunkirk” is a film filled with details, both a tapestry of humanity and a series of snapshots of life itself during wartime, with each tiny nuance contributing in the viewer’s mind to the epic scope of what is still known to historians as the Miracle of Dunkirk.
Nolan’s screenplay, reportedly decades in preparation, depicts the Dunkirk evacuation from three basic perspectives—from the land, the sea, and the sky. The narration of events on land cover one week, the events on the sea depict one day, and the events in the sky one hour. Individual scenes blend into others, and characters from various segments interact. And with his clever manipulation of time and events, Nolan not so much reinvents the genre of the war movie as redefines it, with a spectacular degree of success.
The juxtaposition of daytime scenes with nighttime scenes is disorienting and sometimes confusing, but suggests well both the suspense and anxiety of the operation and the passage of time—the evacuation of Dunkirk actually lasted about a week, from May 27 until June 04, 1940, while the German Army regrouped its forces.
In the primary storylines, a group of young British troops on the land are trying with increasing desperation to escape to safety back home in Britain, while a British naval commander tries to surmount the problems of evacuation. In the sky, three British Spitfire pilots attempt to somehow provide air cover against the German fighters and bombers attacking the defeated forces below. And on the sea, a kindly and surprisingly resourceful British fisherman sets sail for Dunkirk with his son and a teenaged boat-hand aboard, to provide as much help as he can to the Allied forces.
Among the actors appearing in “Dunkirk,” Kenneth Branagh maintains a still upper lip as the naval commander calmly organizing the evacuation of troops from the shore. Mark Rylance is the philosophical fisherman imparting wisdom and life lessons to his young charges en route to Dunkirk, while also displaying an impressive command of wartime ship-handling. Young Fionn Whitehead is the British army private from whose perspective the land sequences are viewed. And veteran actor Michael Caine is briefly heard but not seen as the RAF flight commander radioing instructions to his pilots.
Actors Jack Lowden and Tom Hardy contribute impressive turns as RAF pilots flying against discouraging odds to provide some protection for their countrymen below. A modern incarnation of the legendary silent film star Lon Chaney, Hardy in particular etches his customarily vivid characterization without revealing to the audience his actual appearance—in “Dunkirk” his face is obscured by a pilot’s oxygen mask until a brief shot at the very end. And in the grand tradition of pop stars trying their hand at war movies, Harry Styles from the boy band One Direction acquits himself with some honor, as a British private who does not.
At 106 minutes, the PG-13 rated “Dunkirk,” despite its epic scope and intimate detail, is among director Christopher Nolan’s most compact films—of his recent pictures, “The Dark Knight Rises” from 2012 ran 165 minutes and 2014’s “Interstellar” ran 169. The shorter running time might be partially attributed to the sparse dialogue written by Nolan to be spoken by the actors—“Dunkirk” is a film of images and actions rather than explanations or conversations.
At the end of the picture, a brief statement is projected onscreen dedicating the film to all those whose lives were effected by the events at Dunkirk. The poignant reality is that—in one way or another, and whether or not we realize the fact—we all were effected by the heroic events which occurred during that historic week. We continue to this day to be effected by those events, in ways we barely realize.
Possibly only the historians and survivors are most aware of why that is. The vastly impressive “Dunkirk” now shows us how it occurred.
The time on land covers a period of 1 week, the time at sea covers one day and the time in the air covers 1 hour. The film is also divided into 3 chapters, opening with “The Mole.” I didn’t fully understand this entirely until later, but there is an important element in the story going forward in these early scenes. The second section is called “The Sea.” It involves the solicitation by the British Navy of civilian water craft to cross the English Channel and retrieve as many British soldiers as possible. Finally, “The Air” which features Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden as RAF Spitfire pilots. All 3 elements will crisscross the various chapters.
It is 1940, a year before the U. S. would enter World War II and just days after Churchill would become England’s prime minister. The Nazis have pushed about 400 thousand British, French and Belgian forces back to the beaches of Dunkirk, France on the shores of the English Channel. The Germans are attacking by land and air and have U-Boats poised in the Channel to go after British ships. Nolan features those 3 battlefields in this intense film.
Well-known actors have key roles, especially Tom Hardy as Farrier, a fighter pilot and Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, a civilian yachtsman. Others are Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton who is in charge of the operation to rescue the English soldier and ferry them the 26 miles across the channel to England. James D’Arcy plays Colonel Winnant, who is charge of the Army and Cillian Murphy is a soldier picked up at sea by Dawson. The rest of the cast consists of unknown actors although Harry Styles is certainly well known as a pop singer.
The most prominent role is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, playing a resourceful soldier of about 19. Nolan was intent on the young soldiers be played by young actors not 35 year old veterans. Perhaps the most important crew member is cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema whose perspective of the events range from being enclosed inside a sinking hospital ship to some fantastic aerial battles between the English Spitfires and the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitts. One minute you feel claustrophobic while soldiers are hiding in the belly of an abandon fishing boat, the next you’re sitting beside Hardy’s pilot protecting his wingman.
The film is short, very short, of dialog. Nolan relies on his young actors as well as the seasoned Rylance and Hardy to deliver messages with their actions, movements and facial expressions. It all works perfectly. I see a lot of movies and this wartime action had me jumping and dodging more times than any horror film I’ve seen. Hans Zimmer is genius with his score than helps the audience understand the harrowing scenes provided by Nolan and Van Hoytema. With only a small number of British ships available to rescue the soldiers, Churchill calls upon civilians to give up their vessels or sail them to Dunkirk to help. They have certain advantages, tactically. They can come in closer to shore so soldiers don’t need to be ferried out to them. They are also harder targets for the German bombers and fighters.
This is most certainly the first film of 2017 to be guaranteed a Best Picture nomination and likely a host of technical awards as well. It is a memorable film, one I plan on seeing again on an IMAX screen. I believe that is the way to go.
Frankly, I thought this film was astonishing! I seemed to have my stomach and fists clenched for a good half of the film. The music here reminded me of the signature piece from Jaws. Some scenes were brilliantly claustrophobic - it was really quite stressful, which is an achievement for any film. There was certainly no end of dramatic opportunities, with German aircraft attacking the trapped soldiers and the ships and boats trying to save them. Some of these scenes are just extraordinary!
The story is told through the eyes of several men trying to escape, a boat crew coming to get them and a Spitfire flight attempting to protect them all. They each have separate timelines, which come together in a remarkable way. The soldiers are almost anonymous, which I thought was an apt way of conveying the situation. The scale of the actual event is not really revealed but the experiences of many of the men involved is. There’s no slow lead up, no unnecessary romantic sub-plot – just a vivid portrayal of men caught up in battle. A remarkable film! Great to see an English film do so well!