Review of the 7 minute IMAX Preview of Dunkirk

"A good trailer would have been much better"

After months of waiting Rogue One was finally released and it’s great. Fans loved it, critics liked it and the Internet is ablaze once again with infinite Star Wars chatter. There’s not much point discussing it at the moment because an article would just get lost in the maelstrom so it’s good I have something else to talk about, something shown just before Rogue One captured everyone’s attention. Having spent a fortune to trek down to London to see the film at the Empire cinema in Leicester Square (and by trek I mean I sat on an overcrowded train for a little over an hour) I was privileged enough to witness the 7 minute preview of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming war epic Dunkirk and I was a little disappointed.

Now I should stress that there are two points I need to make before I go any further. Point number 1: while it may say this is a review in my hastily written title this is more of a general collection of thoughts, a recollected reaction if you will, rather than a proper review. I mean how can you review 7 random minutes of out of context footage? Point number 2: While the preview shown at the cinema was 7 minutes long I probably only saw 6 minutes of it, and don’t think it’s because I turned up late. Quite the opposite in fact as I was the very first to arrive to the screening. However during the preview some latecomers arrived and I had to stand up and shift over to the aisle while they trundled past me, popcorn in hand to find their reserved seats. They then preceded to eat said popcorn with their mouths open until their fat salted hands reached the bottom of the ridiculously sized buckets causing me to miss a fair amount of Tom Hardy’s dialogue. Now that’s out of the way let’s proceed.

The preview cut between three locations featuring characters that will no doubt come together later in the movie. We saw Mark Rylance as a civilian loading up his small boat with supplies before heading off to aid the evacuation, soldiers on the beach waiting for said evacuation and Tom Hardy as a Spitfire pilot taking part in a dogfight above the sea. Even though I said I was a little disappointed I still liked the footage but when it ended I wished that I hadn’t seen it. Not in the sense that it was full of spoilers, because it wasn’t, but because I don’t think the preview was great at marketing the film. Nolan loves to preview his films in IMAX cinemas before they’re released and previously this has been a great tactic. The Joker heist from The Dark Knight was a great preview presenting the tone of the film and introducing Heath Ledger’s Joker and the ‘Bane on a plane’ sequence from The Dark Knight Rises was even better. These worked because they were scenes with a beginning, middle and end from the beginning of the movie whereas the Dunkirk preview threw the audience right into the middle of scenes that are from the middle of the movie. I understood the tone and tension of Dunkirk but the bits of the out of context scenes I saw just didn’t work as a preview meant for marketing purposes. I understand that Dunkirk isn’t as easy to preview in this style because there is no separate prologue action sequence like his other previewed films and so I have to ask why they bothered to make this preview in the first place when a good trailer would have been much better.

Despite my misgivings of the concept of the preview the film itself looks absolutely beautiful. Nolan’s a master filmmaker and whether it’s a Spitfire dogfight or simply someone loading life jackets onto a boat the film looks stunning. While it may sound weird I’m a huge fan of how expressive David Fincher can make one colour, namely grey, but Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema are giving him a run for his money in that department with a captivating sense of World War 2 griminess that reeks of the time period and location. The acting is solid throughout but it’s difficult to tell with the limited dialogue especially with the soldiers on the beach who silently march across a beach to the sea (the jury is still out if One Direction’s Harry Styles can act), Mark Rylance is once again magnetic in his limited screentime and Tom Hardy is yet again sporting a British accent spoken through a mask that muffles every line of dialogue as the Spitfire pilot. I guess it just must be a Nolan thing.

The editing and cuts to the different storylines were a little jarring but I put this down to the lack of context given to why we are seeing these scenes together; in the final film we will no doubt better understand the geography of the film and how the pieces fit together. Think of it like the third act of Inception, if we were given 7 minutes of quick editing between the dream levels with no context the audience would be scratching their heads but in the finished film when we know the context for the action it works perfectly. I have a sneaking suspicion that the scenes will play out differently than they do in the preview and the scenes were edited in this way purely for the purpose to make something that can be shown independently that shows off the different plotlines.

However the best thing about the Dunkirk preview was Hans Zimmer’s score which resembled a sound effect more than music. Zimmer has previously used the ticking clock motif in other Nolan films like sci-fi epic Interstellar but never has it resembled an actual ticking clock more than in this preview. It works wonderfully creating insurmountable tension that builds as it plays over the entirety of the seven minutes to a climax at the end of the preview when German planes seem to begin their bombing run on the crowded beach. I’m incredibly excited to hear more of Zimmer’s music for the film especially so after being underwhelmed by the score for Batman V Superman which only had one great piece of music – Wonder Woman’s theme – which felt more Junkie XL inspired than Zimmer.

To conclude, like I said at the beginning, I was a little disappointed. I was expected to be blown away but instead received a taut seven minutes that would be great as part of a film but by itself as a preview it just didn’t quite work. The film looked and sounded fantastic but the preview did nothing to make me more excited for the film but then again it didn’t make me less excited either. If you didn’t get to see the footage then don’t worry, you’ll watch it how it is supposed to be seen next July as part of a complete film, for now just watch the trailer, it does a much better job of selling the film.

Are you excited for Dunkirk? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about movies on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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