Wednesday, August 02, 2017

I didn't need to see Dunkirk in IMAX (or even 70MM)

By now, you've heard that you just HAVE to see Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017) in IMAX 70MM. And maybe you do. But I certainly didn't. 

According to this helpful article in Entertainment Weekly, "IMAX provides more of any given image for a viewer to see — ideal for films with vast, natural settings like Dunkirk." I saw Dunkirk in IMAX 70MM at AMC Lincoln Square 13 & IMAX (!) in Manhattan and can attest that "more" certainly doesn't mean "all." The image is so immense that you have to dive your head down to see the bottom of the screen and then sit back to take in the upper extremities. And the volume was so loud that it distorted the high end in several scenes of dialogue. Sometimes more is more and that's an annoyance.

But even if these imperfections were eliminated, the captains of industry will ensure that ideal conditions are forever receding in order to keep us spending money on the same thing. Can't visit all the parks at Disney World in a week? Then you'll need to go back. Think the recent reissue of Sgt. Pepper is perfection? Guess you haven't heard the white hot stamper currently going for $699.99 at the evocatively named Better Records. Did you see the face of Elvis at the IMAX 70MM of Dunkirk? Then you'll see the face of Jesus in IMAX with laser. Yes, it's not enough to see Dunkirk in plain ole IMAX because with IMAX laser projection, "a laser light force is used instead of a standard lamp, which broadens the color palette (blacks look darker, for instance), amplifies contrast for highlights and shadows, and brightens the image." The Entertainment Weekly article reports that the IMAX with laser presentation nearest to me is in Reading, MA over 200 miles away. But the IMAX site itself claims that AMC Lincoln Square 13's IMAX is indeed with laser. 

So hey - maybe I did see it in laser which would justify the $27.54 [sic] I spent on my ticket, right? Maybe I did see even more of the image, perhaps the most ever - endless colors and bottomless blacks as the IMAX laser advertising copy screams. But this pursuit of more and most and deeper feels like an unnatural impulse in my lifelong passion for cinema. I want to see more films not more of the few hungry dinosaurs on the block. If you want to chase after lasers or early pressings of Pepper, it's your time and money. Me, I'd trade my Dunkirk experience for a chance to see Larry Clark's rare Passing Through, missing from Lincoln Center's 1977 series starting Friday.

As for Dunkirk itself, perfectly fine. A sort of reverse Voyage of the Damned, it features an amazing score by Hanz Zimmer built on suffocating rhythm patterns rather than motivic development. And Nolan builds an unbearable sense of disorientation such that we don't know where or even when we are for a large part of the film, ping-ponging between disparate times and locations. But the last quarter becomes quite conventional as the various narrative strands congeal and the score heaves with pride. See it, by all means. But see some other damn films too, kay? Maybe something lacking vast, natural settings like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant or a Nathaniel Dorsky film.

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