Tuesday, July 25, 2017

So what did I think of "Dunkirk"? It was extraordinary.

Last night I saw "Dunkirk" at the cinema. It was, quite frankly, amazing.

I saw a 70mm projection version at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville, so it was a big, rich, visual feast.


The film itself

The film is just so immersive. You feel as if you are present. It is cold, wet, stressful, anxious and horrifying. I spent 90 minutes feeling on edge, waiting for the next disaster to occur. If you have ever read a history book, then you know how the big-picture story unfolds. But the human lives focussed on in the film are each an individual tragedy unfolding in real time, and that sense of being there, of experiencing it as the soldiers, sailors and airmen experienced it, is visceral.

The music is also extraordinary. There is a constant motif of a ticking watch, perpetually reinforcing the sense of time running out for the men on the beaches.

It really is an extraordinary experience to see this on the big screen. Go and see it, you won't regret it.

What I expected

I expected lots of tanks, and ground battle. Nope. Not a single shot of a tank.

I expected a lot of big-picture, grand strategy, theatre of war in peril stuff. Apart from the very ending, there was none of this. It is an intimate film. Even the scenes with thousands of men lined up on the beach were focussed on individuals, if that makes sense.

I expected to love the Spitfires. And I did.

I expected lots of "stiff upper lip" officer types. Leaving aside the fact that Kenneth Branagh doesn't seem to have any lips at all, there was a refreshing lack of stereotypical British officers.

Really, check it out, he has no lips at all.  Source.

What I didn't expect

I didn't expect to viscerally feel cold, and out of breath, and feel my heart pounding.

I didn't expect that there would not be a single German shown onscreen until the closing two minutes of the film. How interesting is that for a WWII film, no over the top Nazis as baddies?

I didn't expect the music to be so integral to the experience.

I didn't expect to be so sensorially affected, so involved in the raw, animal, survival instincts of the film. I actually found it hard to fall asleep last night when I got home.

Modelling and "Dunkirk"

I did come out wanting to build a Spitfire model. It is a joy to see these majestic aircraft flying during the film, they truly are a sight to behold.

Overall, there aren't that many outstanding modelling "Oh I want to make a diorama of that" moments in "Dunkirk". When you watch "Saving Private Ryan" for example, there are several scenes which would be perfect for a diorama: the Tiger showdown on the bridge at the end, the opening D-Day landing sequence has many vignette moments. "Dunkirk" doesn't really have these, maybe because you are so close to the characters and their experience of the moment it is hard to see that bigger-picture moment. It's certainly not a criticism, it's just not what I expected.

Reading a little online about the film last night after I got home, I did encounter a couple of online comments which are indicative of the rivet-counting mindset in the modelling world which, quite frankly, does my goddamn head in.

One person pointed out: "I think you'll find that the crane visible behind Harry Styles in this scene is a 1970s container crane". Wah wah wah.

Pictured: Oh My God crane historians are horrified.

I'm sure there is someone out there who is outraged because the BEF didn't use that sort of belt buckle until 1941.

Some others are saying that the film was ruined for them because the Messerschmitts are not true BF109s, but a Hispano Buchon made to look like a Bf109.

Yeah, it's slightly wrong around the nose. Who cares?   Source.

The film is "ruined" because the snout of one plane looks a little wrong?

[Expletives deleted]

Get. Over. It.

Compare this to 1960s war films where they used handy Patton tanks with a little cardboard bolted on as "Tiger" tanks.

It's a visceral, epic, storytelling of a harrowing moment in history. I'm willing to cut them a little slack.

I will admit, there is a scene at the end of the film where a Spitfire, out of fuel and gliding, manages to do some pretty unrealistic things. It's a little reminiscent of the final battle in the film "Fury", where an entire battalion of elite German troops are unable to take out one immobilised Sherman tank. There are also a couple of moments of aerial warfare in the film where I thought "I don't think a bomber took ten minutes flying in a perfectly straight line to bomb a ship".  Time is a little slippery in the film, deliberately so, but this felt a little off.

But you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief. It is entertainment. If you are such a pedant that these little niggling issues "ruin" the film for you, then you are beyond help. Any of these films, "Dunkirk", "Saving Private Ryan", "Fury" - they are amazing epic motion pictures about a historical period that we modellers all find fascinating, full of the equipment we love to build. Be thankful that movie studios produce these, that it's not just all mindless action flicks and rom-coms. Take inspiration where you can, enjoy seeing WWII come to life, and step past the little inaccuracies and be thankful we don't often see stuff like this any more:

That is most definitely NOT a Tiger tank in the 2014 Russian film "White Tiger". Source.

Goddamn rivet counters.




  1. Thanks for the great review. Was going to wait for it on dvd but after your review you have convinced me to see it on the big screen.

  2. This was the first movie I have seen at a movie theater in over 20 years. I went to see it on an IMAX screen and I am glad I did. It was absolutely nothing like I thought it would be, and it was awesome to watch. I agree with everything you said above. It did require the ability to suspend some beliefs at moments, but it was surreal. Very few movies where I feel like I was a part of the action. In addition to what you mentioned above, one scene where I was disappointed (but that's not really the word I am looking for) was the scene with the 3 Spitfires in a left banking turn in formation. The turn was too perfect and was too obvious that it was CGI. But I can overlook that as the story just pulled me in and would not let me go.