I believe that three of the most important elements to make any decent film should be Story, Dialogues and Emotional connection with the characters. Without any or all of these, it is highly unlikely that you make a good film.
And that belief was shattered yesterday when I walked out of Nolan’s latest ‘Prestige’ magic trick. Dunkirk is an artistic masterpiece. It is visually stimulating and nerve wracking to sit through. Without any blood and horrific mutated bodies that lie scattered around in a typical war film, Dunkirk relies more on tension built through screenplay, amazing cuts and THE BACKGROUND SCORE!
How many times can some other artist outshine Nolan in his film? Well, Hans Zimmer does the impossible here. Background score is usually an accompaniment to a film to enhance a sequence. But in Dunkirk, it is more about showcasing how great Hans Zimmer is, using visuals from Nolan. GOD!
Words fall short to describe the magic created by Hans Zimmer. Without his background score, Dunkirk would have been half the film it is and it would probably have been a bore. And herein lies a great lesson to all wannabe film makers: Get the right Music Composer for your film to enhance the impact of a scene! It would be right to say that his background score in this film alone raises the tension in the scene up a notch and makes the audience sit at the edge! I mean using the sounds of the old spitfire plane and tick tock of a clock to compose your background score is pure mastery at an altogether different level! I can go on and on about Hans Zimmer for a hundred more pages and I still wouldn’t do justice to express how good he was. Just experience it and you would understand.
I first went to the movie Everest (a 1998, 40 minute film) back in 2003/04 when Prasads IMAX was opened here in Hyderabad, India. It was a ‘made for IMAX’ movie. And looking at Dunkirk made me realise just that again: It was made for IMAX! It should have been released only in IMAX format as no other format can do justice to the visual extravaganza (but that would have probably meant that many who don’t have an IMAX theater close by to miss out on Dunkirk) Though I did not watch it as an IMAX presentation (as PRASADS at Hyderabad sadly doesn’t have an IMAX anymore), I chose to watch it on the gigantic screen at Prasads as it has 4k Christie Digital Projection system which is better than the 2k resolution offering that we get at most other multiplexes in the city that I live in (And if you live in Hyderabad, I would suggest you to watch the film only at Prasads large screen because it covers most of the big screen and the film is bright and still breathtaking with 4k projection). And when I watched it there, I wished I could have watched it in IMAX and realized why Nolan wants it to be watched in IMAX theaters, in the way Nolan intended it to be.
Coming back to the film itself, some of the shots in the film are stunning to the say the least. Nolan’s tricks with IMAX cameras by strapping them to wings of planes give plenty of orgasmic imagery. One of the best parts in Christopher Nolan’s film are the dialogues that he writes. They are philosophical, intriguing, intellectual and impactful. And I missed them in this film as it is almost a silent movie with minimal dialogues. Nonetheless, it is clear right from the outset that Dunkirk wouldn’t rely on dialogues for the film, it relies on the breath taking shots, editing and music. And that’s good enough for me to get hooked on and sit tensed in a theater as one gripping sequence follows another.
Nolan in one of his interviews told that he intends to transport the audience back through time to 1940 Dunkirk. He wants to drop the audience right in the middle of it. And that is how it is. From the first scene, you are right there. With bombs being dropped off planes and sinking ships and frightened faces, we really are transported to wartime Dunkirk.
But the sacrifice Nolan had to make, to bring such a tone to the film is its story and emotional connection with characters. That for me was a huge drawback as I failed to connect with the film to a great extent. Sure the scenes were amazing and tense, but the Nolan punch, the one that strikes at the heart was absent in Dunkrik. And this makes the film closer to being a great documentary than a great film. As far as a film goes, I wouldn’t rate it as phenomenal or even close to where his other movies stand. But Christopher Nolan does take away the brownie points for converting the story of defeat, of mere survival, of an escape into a beastly tale triumphant ordeal. How many filmmakers can do that?
Is Dunkirk Nolan’s best? (I ask this because people seem to be saying so here and there) I wouldn’t give an yes. Agreed that there is unparalleled visual and audio mastery but there is something amiss in this film that makes films lovable: strong characters that audience form an emotional bond with. It is the way it was intended to be made and I acknowledge that. British critics are calling it his finest work though but I would disagree. They are driven more by the emotional appeal that it carries for it being something closer to home in Britain.
But the theme of Dunkirk is universal. It is not limited to Britain or France. It is a great example of human spirit and that probably saves this film from being just a ‘visual work of art’. I might have sounded confused with this review of mine where I swung some contradictory takes in the same breath but that is how I feel about this film. It is great in parts where visuals, background score and editing are concerned. And falls flat in its story or Emotion, thus making you feel a bit empty as you watch the film. But on the whole, I still believe that there was mastery at work here. And for that I strongly recommend you to watch this film, especially if you live in a city that has IMAX in it: Bengaluru, Mumbai, Noida, Chennai have them and I envy the movie buffs of these cities.
In other cities I recommend you to watch in screens which have 4k Resolution or at least Dolby Atmos. Because only in those formats can we truly enjoy the artistic value of what Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer have created.
On the whole, I did like the what I was offered in Dunkrik. I wanted to be stunned by the visuals from Nolan and background score from Hans Zimmer and I was. I enjoyed the experience and it was very different from what we are (or I am) used to. Make up your mind to watch such a film where there will be minimal dialogues, story and emotion, more of a documentaryish film, and you will enjoy this cinematic visual masterpiece.
I’m going with 3.5/5 for this film on the whole and 5/5 for the background score and visuals.
PS: I wish Prasads at Hyderabad get the IMAX laser projection system and restore Hyderabad to its former glory of “one of the largest IMAX screens in the world! :’( :’(