There was so much to love about Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk that we decided to take a closer look. In this article four of our writer’s each picked out an individual aspect of Dunkirk that they believe made the film so remarkable.
Oliver Rowe: And the Oscar for Best Sound Editing goes to…
Dunkirk’s sound design, soundtrack, composition and sound editing was a technical marvel and is one of the main reasons why the film is so inescapably gripping.
The great Nolan regular Hans Zimmer made use of what are known as Shepard tones in the phenomenal soundtrack, where several audio tracks octaves apart rising at different times are performed at once, creating the illusion of an ever-rising pitch and intensity. Add to this the sound editing, where these sharp moments in the score are blended into, and then suddenly seem to become the screeches of the Stuka and Merlin Spitfire engines, and the result, even if it was subconscious to most, was exhilarating.
The gunshot sound effects also sounded as deadly as they must have felt, and that the audience never sees the location of the shooters only adds to the feeling of being completely surrounded by an approaching enemy. This is perfectly demonstrated by the grounded boat, allowing the rare moments of peace as the ship creaks to be shattered by bullets ripping through the hull. The soldiers’ piercing cries a consequence of this.
Indeed in dialogue terms, Dunkirk is actually quite close to a silent film, allowing for some real visual storytelling to take to the center stage, and this provides just another sensory overload for audiences to be receptive to. It serves to heighten the empathy by pure and unrelenting terror. Nolan rarely gives the characters or the audience a chance to say anything, because, put simply, the sound design and visuals are the real stars of the film.
George Storr: This is Nolan’s best film yet
Christopher Nolan is a hugely accomplished filmmaker. As both a writer and director he has created and occupied worlds that have engrossed fans and critics alike. Despite his already gleaming filmography, Dunkirk may be its best entry yet.
Inception stands out for its sheer imagination as well as its ability to wow critics and the Academy. It’s a fantastic showcase of Nolan’s writing and it claimed Oscars for its aesthetic value and sound design.
Elsewhere it seems a bold but fair claim to say that Nolan revolutionised the superhero genre with his treatment of Batman. His dark, gritty re-imagining of the hero made audiences take notice of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego once again, rather than allowing the character to slip further from the public imagination.
The skills amassed and honed on these films and beyond have allowed Nolan to produce his best work in Dunkirk. While the likes of Inception and The Dark Knight Rises depend on a central character or two, Dunkirk is carried by Nolan’s minimalistic writing and directorial savvy.
He marshals so many aspects of film making so perfectly his unconventional decision to avoid a ‘central character’ feels natural from start to finish. Yes, big stars are present, but they don’t dominate.
Beautiful individual shots, set design, and sound are stars of this film as much as Tom Hardy is, if not more so.
Gareth Wood: France’s experience falls by the wayside
It’s inevitable in a film like this that historical accuracy does at times take a back seat to the necessity of the story. It’s also inevitable that a British film would choose to focus on the British side of the story. To a small extent this is regrettable but like other aspects of this film, Dunkirk does place the events it depicts in a wider historical context. The only French character in the film, played by Aneurin Bernard says little but his actions go a long way towards helping Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles’s characters to survive, ultimately at the greatest cost to himself.
As a metaphor for what happened to France it’s as subtle as other aspects of this film, but is it too subtle? The suggestion that France was simply abandoned is hard to ignore, from Fionn Whitehead moving past the French barricade and on to the beach to French soldiers being turned away from the boats. Contrast that with Kenneth Branagh’s ‘I’m staying… for the French’ line all you want, but it doesn’t convey the fact that, of the more than 300,000 troops lifted from the beaches, nearly a third were French. This perhaps is Dunkirk’s only failing.
Arran Byers: Dunkirk proves CGI is dying
Computer generated armies running at each other or landscapes are created using the 0’s and 1’s of a computer’s mind are the bread and butter of film-making. However, cinema goers are tired of these soulless and unimaginative films.
And Dunkirk is further evidence that people crave realism, in their stories and in what they see.
Pearl Harbour, Michael Bay’s interpretation of the Japanese attack on Pear Harbour in 1941, was a festival of computer generated battle scenes. This event was much like Dunkirk; men scrambling to survive amidst unbelievable tragedy around them as the crushing abyss consumed the sinking steel coffins.
However, Dunkirk used real sets and let the events speak for themselves. The claustrophobia of the sinking ships, the carnage caused by enemy planes and the fight for survival against the man next to you was perfectly captured. Even having the real Spitfire’s and imitation ME-109’s in the film brought the real feel of war to the screen.
Some, including a spectacularly ignorant review from The Guardian, have criticised the film for not showing the true scale of Dunkirk. By not having a CGI flotilla of a thousand vessels or hundreds of CGI Luftwaffe fighters ever present some think this film is not worth it £150 million budget. But why should it spend the budget on CGI when the disaster of Dunkirk and the fear of those on the beaches can be encapsulated by realistic, personal sets and acting.