“Dunkirk” aims to keep movie tradition alive

Ian Jett

When moviegoers pile into theaters next Thursday to see the WWII movie Dunkirk, they will have a unique opportunity on how to see it: 70mm film.

Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar) is one of the few directors to shoot his movies with 70mm film. Nolan joins Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight) as two of the well-known directors to try to shoot scenes in all their films on 70mm.

Other directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, JJ Abrams, and Zack Snyder have shot scenes in their respective films with 70mm film but they – like most other directors -- largely work in digital. Tarantino and Nolan are the two who use it almost exclusively. Thomas Anderson did, however, release Inherent Vice in the film format.

The Hateful Eight was shown in 70mm in an exclusive “roadshow” event. The official website described it as a paid homage to older films.

“The exclusive 70mm Roadshow engagement of The Hateful Eight pays homage to and recreates the grand film exhibition style popularized 1950s and ‘60s and that brought audiences to theaters with the promise of a special event.”

Nolan has spoken with those other directors about using 70mm film to see what are the best techniques to use.

“I got in touch with Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, we spent a lot of time talking about what can be done to save film,” said Nolan in an interview to Little White Lies. “In the last few years, photochemical process has come under threat from electronics companies and studios. As photochemicals come under such pressure and such threat from economic forces – those not wanting to deal with it from a business or an industrial point of view – filmmakers have had to stand up and be counted.”

Nolan has shot parts of his past movies with 70mm film but Dunkirk will be his first movie he shot entirely in the format. Also note 75% of Dunkirk was shot using IMAX cameras.

70mm film is what Hollywood directors used to film their movies with before the industry switched to digital for what Nolan feels is a way to make more money by the studios.

“There’s been an aggressive fight against photochemicals by companies who make money by change. They make money by selling you new equipment and building new equipment,” Nolan notes. “The studios saw an opportunity to stop paying as much for release prints and follow more of a television model where you’re broadcasting films rather than physically shipping them. But all of that’s irrelevant.”

Though Nolan shot Dunkirk on 70mm, the film will still be shown in regular theaters but seeing it in 70mm would make it look even better.

“We also had 35mm projection for IMAX reduction prints – it wasn’t really practical to have an IMAX projector on set,” Nolan adds. “They looked very good, but the 70mm stuff was absolutely beautiful.”

Dunkirk opens nationwide July 20th. Click here to find where you can see it in 70mm.