- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2017

Director Christopher Nolan’s riveting look at a pivotal campaign during World War II that was nearly a disaster for British forces gets a breathtaking ultra-high definition upgrade for home entertainment owners in Dunkirk (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 107 minutes, 1.78:1, 2.20:1 aspect ratio, $35.99).

Specifically, during nine days in 1940, 400,000 British and French soldiers were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, with their backs to the sea.

They were waiting for a desperate evacuation operation that called upon 800 small boats from the South Coast of England to retrieve them. The event could easily have ended in total annihilation or surrender of the troops to the German army.

Dunkirk” is told from three perspectives — a yacht captain (Mark Rylance) and his two sons going to Dunkirk while dealing with a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) aboard; a Royal Airforce Spitfire pilot (Tom Hardy) taking on a daunting mission to protect the ship convoy from the German Luftwaffe; and a soldier (Fionn Whitehead) frantically looking for a way to get out of Dunkirk.

Despite viewers knowing the outcome, the story creates a stomachache’s worth of suspense and anticipation.

Some dazzling aerial combat sequences really add to the mix, and they are perhaps some of the finest every created in cinema.

Some might find the performances a bit too stark and lacking emotion, even overshadowed by some of the eye-popping footage, but it’s that British “stiff upper lip” fortitude that helped make this miracle happen.

I also applaud Mr. Nolan from making a PG-13 film that allows younger viewers to learn about this pivotal moment in history. He could have easily added scenes of carnage and picked up an R rating for showing the horrors of war.

4K UHD in action: This version of “Dunkirk” — with its 2160p mastering scanned in 4K from the IMAX source along with the color correction and high dynamic range tweaks supervised by Mr. Nolan — is a great reason to upgrade a home entertainment system.

Specifically, 70 percent of the action arrives in a full-screen presentation loaded with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Mr. Nolan and cinematography also shift aspect ratios from1.78:1 to 2.20:1 on occasion to further add tension and focus to the proceedings.

I’ll just gush that from the first minute of watching a soldier walking down a deserted street to hearing a bullet whizzing by him like a freight train, it’s nearly impossible to not visually and aurally feel part of this desperate struggle and rescue mission.

Moments that pop from the screen include the sheen from the stained yacht doors as they open, the fine detail on the wool-Iike jackets worn by some of the soldiers, the stitching on a pilot’s leather gloves, and being able to count near every bolt holding a Spitfire together as it flew by.

Best extras: Viewers get a 109-minute collection of 16 featurettes on a separate Blu-ray disc that covers nearly every aspect of the production.

They include: using large IMAX cameras to shoot aerial scenes; portraying the historical events with care and accuracy; assembling the naval fleet; rebuilding the mole (a pier where the soldiers waited); using practical effects whenever possible; and finding real vintage planes to pilot in the dogfights.

The segments are loaded with interviews of cast and crew including: Mr. Nolan; actor Kenneth Branagh (who plays Commander Bolton); stunt coordinator Tom Struthers; producer Emma Thomas; historical consultant Joshua Levine; production designer Nathan Cowley; cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema; editor Lee Smith; costume designer Jeffrey Kurland; special effects supervisor Paul Corbould; mayor of Dunkirk Patrice Vergriete; and a trio of the surviving Dunkirk veterans (Robert Halliday, Arthur Taylor and Vic Viner).


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