Upon being announced that the 7 minute sizzle reel for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk was going to be in select IMAX theaters, I was one of the people who thought that they were heading into a presentation that would consist of merely a trailer, if we were lucky. Yet there we all were, sitting in the auditorium, when the IMAX logo had kicked in again for some strange reason, and then some studio logos that looked oddly familiar. Sure enough, we were being treated to the Dunkirk prologue, and in classic Nolan fashion, it delivered more than expected.
So, what was shown? We start with a ticking clock, which is tense enough as it is. But considering it's accompanied by the image of two soldiers carrying a compatriot on a stretcher, running down the beach of Dunkirk in order to make an outgoing transport boat, the stakes are already life or death. Fighting through crowds, facing obstacles such as a massive gap on the bridge already teeming with men, and only a gangplank to cross, this sequence could be tense enough. However, this is only one of three stories that are told, as the ticking of the clock increases in speed and volume.
Parallel to this story, we see Mark Rylance's character clearing out his own personal boat, as the British Navy has requisitioned it for further evacuation duties. Fine China is removed from the boat, in favor of more life-jackets to accommodate any soldiers that find themselves afloat in the water. Rylance's on-screen son, and another boy, both rather late-teenage looking, jump onto the boat once they're loaded up, with the son asking his friend, "You do know where we're going, right?"
The third, and final, Dunkirk story we see unfold is that of two fighter pilots, one of which is a clean shaven Tom Hardy. After a routine fuel check, the action starts, as a German fighter is trying to blast his airborne compatriot out of the sky. Hardy, with his usual charm and authority, navigates the skies to keep an eye on this nemesis, with the end result being minor damage to his own plane, and the crash landing of the German fighter into the sea.
With these three stories in motion, they all intertwine, as the action cuts between the three legs of the presumed opening of the film, all leading up to one, intense moment we've seen in the trailers. Before a sharp cut to the Dunkirk title card, we hear the ever growing drone of a German Stuka, making a low altitude approach to gun down and/or bomb the men just waiting to evacuate from Dunkirk's port. We don't see the final result, but history tells us that it's going to be something less than pleasant to watch.
In just seven minutes, Christopher Nolan shows off his economy of story, as well as his film-making prowess. As a matter of fact, most World War II films wish they could sustain that much action in their entire runtime, much less the seven minutes Dunkirk has now shown the world. While there's a minimum amount of dialogue, the action carries things along as if this were a silent movie. Even if you were to turn off the dialogue that's included, you'd get the same effect, right down to the "post-credit" reveal that Tom Hardy's fighter has stalled out, and is about to go down.
If anything, the seven minute extended look at Dunkirk is meant to serve two purposes: it shows off the visual language of Christopher Nolan's approach to World War II action, and it displays the scope of both the 70mm photography and full IMAX presentation of some key sequences of the film's photography. That having been said, we've got more than enough story beats in the previous two trailers released conventionally, and with all of this information a picture is starting to form. That picture tells us that Dunkirk is a big contender to be one of the best theatrical experiences of next year, if not one of the best films overall.
We're only a couple of months out until Dunkirk storms theaters everywhere on July 21, 2017; with rumors of an early launch in 35mm, 70mm, and IMAX 70mm being rumored for July 17th. If there wasn't another trailer between today and that weekend, we'd be perfectly happy; but having said that, we'll keep a close eye on the material that's released between now and then, in hopes that not too much more is revealed.