Is Dunkirk the Best IMAX Experience Ever?
Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! If you followed my blog at all recently, you may know that I loved the movie “Dunkirk,” it’s not perfect, but I even think it has a slightly higher replay value than “Wonder Woman,” which I actually gave a 10/10 in my review for it, by the way, it’s still a 10/10 must see in my book. I originally gave “Dunkirk” a 9/10, which still stands, but the fact is I might watch “Dunkirk” more than “Wonder Woman,” at least that’s what my mind says for now, because “Dunkirk” is a very unique survival story whereas “Wonder Woman” has some cliches, although those cliches are done in a way to make you feel like you’re experiencing something totally new or fresh, kind of like in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Not to mention, despite the villains being better than numerous MCU villains we’ve gotten over the years, they didn’t exactly reach a level of greatness. In my review for “Dunkirk,” one thing I touched upon, was the experience itself. “Dunkirk” is being released in 6 different formats, I only saw the movie once so for now I only got to experience “Dunkirk” in one format. The formats listed are IMAX 70mm, standard 70mm, 35mm, IMAX laser, standard IMAX digital, and traditional digital. By the way, there are no 3D options for this film, only 2D, which can be a plus considering the extra fee you’d usually have to pay for 3D. I did a post last month recommending that you should see “Dunkirk” on film, although today we’re gonna talk about IMAX because when I saw this movie in IMAX, it was a fairly unique experience, and this is coming from someone who often goes the movies and sees a good number of them in the IMAX format. When I went to see the movie, I got to experience it in IMAX 70mm in Providence, RI, IMAX 70mm is suggested to be the highest format possible. Slate has a very informative and excellent video on this whole format comparison and it is almost hard to say it better myself, the link is available below if you want to watch it.
Now if you were planning on seeing “Dunkirk” at some point, first off, do it now while it’s still in theaters, it’s a great movie and deserves to be seen in the theater! Second, one of my biggest recommendations is that you avoid traditional digital projection. Why? Simply because you’ll be missing details or a scope from this movie that you could see in any other format. I’ve gone into depth about this before, but I need to bring it up again. When I brought it up for the first time, I said that you must see this movie on film. While that is true, today I’m going to talk about IMAX, specifically. Yes, even digital! And I actually want to talk about IMAX in depth, which I’ve done before, but this is gonna be informative.
Before we get into projection, I want to talk about one of IMAX’s screens. This is an IMAX digital screen. If a movie is being played and projected to cover the whole screen, the aspect ratio would be 1.90:1. The main purpose for these screens is to retrofit multiplex theaters such as Regal or AMC for “the IMAX experience.” Is it worth the money? To me, only in a number of circumstances. For example, if there’s a big movie out and I want to go to a super enormous IMAX only to find out they have no tickets left for the movie I’m see, that happened to me when I saw “Rogue One” on opening night, or if I want a bigger screen and tuned up audio than what you’d get in a normal theater. The digital IMAX experience is by no means, a terrible experience. It still has the traditional IMAX surround sound which moviegoers love, it still has a big screen, although it’s not as big as other IMAX screens and it’s only slightly bigger than a traditional movie theater screen. To compare, screens under the IMAX digital treatment, have been measured in feet, I have a local IMAX screen which has been marketed to be “eight stories high.” Is that an exaggeration? Possibly, but if you check out the screen in person, it’s pretty freaking huge!
Right here we have the IMAX digital projection system. This has, unfortunately, been cheating many moviegoers over the years. Not only is it small projection by IMAX standards, not only has it been used on small IMAX screens, but it also has been used on IMAX’s big screens as well. We’re gonna be talking about a couple more projectors in a moment, but let’s get something out of the way. The traditional IMAX aspect ratio, AKA, the aspect ratio you’d see while watching documentaries on IMAX’s big screens in museums, aquariums, and a few other places, is 1.43:1, and part of “Dunkirk,” was shot in order to be featured in that format. That means, no matter what you see on an IMAX screen like this, that is if the theater is using digital projection, there will be black bars on the top and bottom of whatever you’re seeing. In fact, there’s even this one movie I went to see in IMAX, in fact, IMAX brought back “The Wizard of Oz” for a week once. I have not seen “The Wizard of Oz” in IMAX anywhere, but it was only available for IMAX digital projection. So I would imagine that if you went to see this movie in a true IMAX theater, some folks might not only be distracted by black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, but also on the sides.
Here we have what most folks, including me would refer to as “true IMAX.” This screen can be completely covered with an image which has an aspect ratio of 1.43:1 and the projectors that bring that image to life are actually the clearest IMAX has to offer. IMAX digital, when showing a movie, can create a 2K image with a dual set of projectors, whereas IMAX laser, an IMAX digital superior, also has a set of two projectors, but can fully project a 4K image. IMAX 70mm projectors can project images at a much higher quality. The contrast ratio is lower than the other projectors, but it’s not really that bothersome to me. I have a 4K TV in my room which has a lower contrast ratio than a 1080p TV I once had in my room, and I never recalled something like that bothering me. Granted it was only slightly lower, but still. In fact, when comparing the contrast ratios of these projectors, they are all not really too far apart from each other. The images you can see on this projector can be shown at a rate of 18K. These projectors have also operated in IMAXes with a 1.90:1 screen. A few years back, the Chinese Theater in Hollywood retrofitted one of their cinemas with IMAX technology including the IMAX digital projection system. Although in 2014, they did a special engagement for Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” which made them one of the theaters to feature the movie in the IMAX 70mm, so an IMAX 70mm projector was hooked up for this occasion. What did it look like on the screen? I don’t know. I imagine it looked nice, but I wouldn’t know if the curtains had to cover part of the screen to truly immerse the audience or what. As of now, they have the IMAX laser system. And I hear that they aren’t the only non-1.43:1 theater to have this. The Empire Leicester Square IMAX in London has a laser projection system as well.
Just an FYI on the traditional IMAX projection systems. The first one I’ll introduce is the Grand Theatre projector. This is an IMAX 70mm film projector, not only that, but it’s also the one intended for the largest of the IMAX screens. The top right picture contains a Small Rotor projector. This projector also plays IMAX 70mm film, although it is meant to be projected towards slightly smaller screens. Despite the screens being smaller, it’s still bigger than the screens you’d find at your standard multiplex’s IMAX digital theater. The last projector, displayed on the bottom is the IMAX laser projection system. As mentioned, this is clearer than IMAX digital. Granted this still digital, but it’s clearer digital.
Another theater I’ve yet to go over is the IMAX dome. These are also referred to as OMNIMAX. I don’t go to these theaters that often, in fact I’ve only been to one twice and they were both on school field trips. Unlike most theaters which has you looking at either a flat or slightly curved screen, the OMNIMAX will allow you to look upward at a screen that is basically showing you images in a fish eye perspective. IMAX screens are never flattened in any of the theaters which IMAX equipment exists. They are either curved or domed. And yes, domed is actually a word, I didn’t think it would be. Although if you don’t want to look at an IMAX screen that looks more like a TV screen or a traditional movie theater screen, OMNIMAX would be a good option. And to my knowledge, pretty much all of the OMNIMAX theaters operate with IMAX 70mm projection equipment. I heard La Geode, a dome in Paris which uses IMAX technology has made some upgrades over the years, but they still have the IMAX 70mm equipment for what I know. If you guys know of an IMAX dome that DOESN’T currently have IMAX 70mm technology, let me know about it in the comments section.
IMAX is also well known for its audible sound systems. IMAX theaters usually have 6 channels of surround sound in, but recently they’ve been installing 12 channel sound systems, both of which sound amazing and they totally shake the whole theater at times.
I know I’m going on for a while about this, but to get to my main point, I needed to talk about IMAX in general. As mentioned before, I saw this movie in IMAX 70mm film. I mentioned in my review for “Dunkirk” that this movie must be seen on film. Honestly, I think it should be seen any way you can see it, but you should seek out ways to see it that aren’t traditional digital projection. IMAX has digital projection, but since it’s technically a one of a kind theater, I wouldn’t say it has traditional digital projection. Let’s start off with the reason that can apply to every IMAX theater in the world, the sound.
I just recently mentioned that the sound is amazing in IMAX regardless of whether you’re in a theater that has 6 or 12 channels of surround sound. I’ve been to the IMAX many times in my life, and I’ve experienced a lot of movies there that really made me feel like I was in the action just on sound alone. There have however been few movies that have done that more than others. These include movies like “Interstellar,” “Night at the Museum,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Jurassic World.” “Dunkirk” is no exception to this. I can still recall when this movie started, it put me RIGHT into the action. After all, this movie, is basically, all action. It’s just one battle/survival sequence for nearly the whole runtime. Now I saw “Dunkirk” in an IMAX with 6 channels of surround sound, so imagine how much more audible this movie would be if I were in a theater that had twelve of these bad boys! I actually live ten minutes away from an IMAX with 12 channels of surround sound, so if I see “Dunkirk” there, just think about what would happen! This is one of those movies where I was also able to believe the sound. There have been movies where I’ve been impressed with sound editing, but sometimes it might either be sounds we’ve heard before, maybe one sound choice doesn’t work, or it just sounds too theatrical. Pretty much all of the sound in this movie, felt real. All of the bombs in this movie, sounded like real bombs. All of the gunfire sounded like real gunfire. There are some other really good sound choices during this movie. If you saw the first announcement teaser and remember all of those soldiers on the boat, the sound in that scene is awesome to say the least and it really built the tension.
Also, no matter where you see it, look forward to how the movie looks. This movie looks GORGEOUS. Not only is the cinematography a thing of beauty, but at times, it can really put you in the movie. This is partially because most of the movie was shot in the IMAX format, which as mentioned, can allow the whole screen to be covered. This at times will allow for a more immersive experience, especially if you’re seeing this movie in a 1.43:1 theater. At times, I felt like I was having all sorts of flyers going around me, the paper kind, not the plane kind. Also at times I felt like i was on a beach. One other example of how the IMAX technology is utilized is during the scenes featuring the fighter pilots. In “Star Wars” one of the best sequences in those movies happen to feature dogfighting in space and it is pretty fun to watch. It’s fast paced, it’s got terrific sound, it’s adventurous. Here though, it’s none of that, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. OK, I take that back, the sound’s actually not bad at all. In “Dunkirk,” it’s absolutely realistic. At times, you might look inside the cockpit of the fighter plane and notice the pilot and it’s just very crammed all over. Then you look outside and it’s almost like you’re the pilot and you’re just trying to concentrate on your enemies. The gunfire from the plane also sounded authentic and it didn’t feel Hollywoodized. Very little of this movie has sequences with black bars. You can look at other movies like “The Dark Knight” and possibly appreciate the IMAX sequences you get, but it takes up about thirty minutes of a movie which is two hours and thirty-two minutes long. “Dunkirk” is shorter than “The Dark Knight,” an hour and forty-six minutes to be specific. Although “Dunkirk” has more footage shot in the IMAX format and covers the screen for about eighty minutes of the entire movie, which means you get more time dedicated to greater immersion.
The only downside I can say I have with seeing this in IMAX 70mm, and this is something I actually noticed when watching “Interstellar” in IMAX 70mm as well, is that while the movie sounds beyond amazing, it might actually prevent you from hearing or understanding some dialogue. This was a minor issue though. When I was watching this movie, there was actually less I could understand. Partially because of the accents, which I’m able to let slide, and also because of the music. Don’t get me wrong, the music was spectacular. I love the work and effort Hans Zimmer put into this movie’s score which was really engaging, but sometimes it was overpowering and I couldn’t hear some dialogue. It’s a minor issue though in my book. I imagine that would probably be different when experiencing this movie in a different fashion. Also, another reason why this is a minor issue to me is because I wasn’t able to connect with any character during this movie.
As much of a disconnection with characters sounds like a negative, to me, it’s a positive. Because from what I gathered, this movie isn’t about the characters, it’s about the event itself, and despite how the movie didn’t take much time to build characters, I still rooted for all of them because their ultimate goal, is just to survive, and I gotta say given the situation they’re in, rooting for them makes lots of sense. I just want to say something, Michael Bay should take notes from this movie. Because if you watch any of the movies from his “Transformers” series, you might notice how he doesn’t make it mainly about the transformers and basically gives human characters more spotlight. In every one those movies, you have either Shia LeBouf or Mark Wahlberg playing their own version of “Mr. Relatable” and the Transformers are essentially there with their own story to provide the movie’s action even though there’s more focal points of the movie with that. If Michael Bay toned it down with the human characters and put in more robot action, these might be better movies. I’m not saying the human stuff is terrible, it just isn’t all that necessary. With that being said, this movie which is a focal point of the post, is “Dunkirk,” it doesn’t have any person’s name in it, it’s just “Dunkirk.” Sure, this movie can be called “Dunkirk” and still work with relatable characters in it, but the take without any sort of character development personally worked for me because let’s face it, war is brutal. War sometimes doesn’t give you much time to sit around and talk or have chats during battle. This movie doesn’t really give any of the characters any time to relax, therefore it doesn’t give you any time to relax, and I felt like I was at war the whole time, partially thanks to the ridiculously cool IMAX experience I had. While we’re still talking about this, the only thing missing was the blood, however the movie is still realistic enough even without blood.
No matter where you end up seeing the movie “Dunkirk,” you’ll probably end up having a good experience, but why settle at good? Standard digital projection at this point may be considered good, but any other format can provide a better experience and when it comes to IMAX specifically, this movie was made for it per se. I’ve seen a lot of movies in IMAX, immersion is a factor that has often applied to the IMAX experiences I’ve witnessed, and it is not really hard for IMAX movies to allow you to immerse into them, but this one, made me feel like I was literally in it, as if it were super immersion. Is this the best IMAX experience of all time? It’s most certainly one of them, maybe not the best to me, but it’s VERY CLOSE, but it could be the best to some people. I personally thought “Interstellar” was the best IMAX experience I’ve encountered, not to mention the best movie experience I encountered. I still remember the beginning of the movie when I heard the Indian surveillance drone flying by. It was almost as if the sound of the drone entered one ear and flew out the other. Also, if you can a place that has IMAX 70mm equipment and it’s being used for “Dunkirk,” go there. There are BARELY any movies played in that format and this is one of this year’s couple movies playing in IMAX film, if you want to know the other one that’s actually going to be “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” On a last note, go see “Dunkirk,” just do it, in fact based recent critical responses, you’re probably better off taking your kids to see “Dunkirk” as opposed to “The Emoji Movie.” Thanks for reading this post, and speaking of IMAX, I’ve actually just encountered some interesting and shocking news concerning IMAX because it involves an alteration that probably nobody saw coming. That, as a matter of fact, is how IMAX plans to calm down a little bit on 3D releases. I might do a post on that, I’m not sure, but we’ll see what happens. Also be sure to stay tuned for more movie reviews, including possibly one for “The Emoji Movie,” a review I don’t want to do, but I’ve been requested to do it, so I may as well get that s*itshow out of the way. Stay tuned for more great content! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!