In December last year, I went to see Rogue One in the IMAX cinema at the Science Museum in London. Little did I know, none of it was actually shot in IMAX, something I didn’t know until after I’d seen it. I’d already seen Rogue One so I think it would have been a waste of time (and screen-space) if it wasn’t for the preview of Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan's new WWII epic, we were treated to beforehand.
Going in, I had no idea that we would be seeing anything more than a trailer. I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s work so I had already become very familiar with the trailer, I knew what to expect. But there was immediately something different. Shots I didn’t recognise. “Hang on… This isn’t the trailer.” I muttered to myself, realising what I was about to see.
Meanwhile, to my left, I had my girlfriend asking if I could help her with her coat. Or something. Something to do with a coat. I don’t remember because an extended preview of Dunkirk was on the screen in all its IMAX glory. To be fair, she didn’t know it wasn’t just the trailer. I quickly let her know and the coat was no longer a priority.
The sequence played out to a stunned silent crowd. (I assume they were quiet, the sound and the score was pretty overwhelming.) The visuals are some of the most impressive that I can remember seeing in recent cinema. It feels real, and by that, I mean it feels like there’s a minimal amount of CGI being used, if any. Nolan has never been one to misuse special effects but everything in it felt like it was really happening. That’s rare. The prologue lasted about seven minutes, there was minimal dialogue, lots of characters and I was already invested. Needless to say, I didn’t want to see Rogue One after that.
We still don’t really know what to expect from Dunkirk, even after two trailers. It’s been reported that it will have an unconventional and complicated narrative. This was already evident from the seven minutes I saw. There are a number of stories running parallel to each other - on land, sea and in the sky.
Nolan’s past work has frequently included interwoven sequences like this but it feels more significant this time. From what I’ve read, the narrative will be presented as a triptych (I had to google that) told from three perspectives. It’s almost as though the prologue is a microcosm for the film we’ll be seeing. Not only setting up character and tone but the structure itself.
Nolan is undeniably a director with a strong cinematic voice. Even in his weaker films, this is still apparent. He can make unorthodox decisions and make it work. An area where he has been and continues to be unconventional is casting. Believe it or not, there was a debacle over his decision to give the role of the Joker to Heath Ledger. The same thing happened to Anne Hathaway with Catwoman. Now, in Dunkirk, Harry Styles is going to have a major role. That might be the most bizarre piece of casting yet. Harry from One Direction is going to be in a war movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Harry Styles and I trust Nolan. But it is a weird choice.
Jack Howard is a writer, director and actor. He regularly makes content for YouTube, is developing a movie and his sitcom series - 'Jack and Dean Of All Trades' is currently available on the Fullscreen platform.