You already know you want to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, but do you know how you want to feast your eyes upon the film critics are already hailing as the best of 2017 thus far? Thanks to the English auteur’s dedication to pushing the boundaries of contemporary cinema with blockbuster hits (and technical marvels) like Inception (2010), and The Dark Knight (2008), Dunkirk is debuting in select theaters in pristine IMAX 70mm — but where can you view the film the way its creator intended, and what does seeing it in this format mean for you as a moviegoer? Check out EW’s theatrical primer for Dunkirk before it opens Friday.
Why is everyone so excited about Dunkirk‘s format?
For starters, Dunkirk is being touted by Warner Bros. as the most widely released 70mm film in 25 years. Recently, films like Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) also screened in 70mm (the latter did not show in IMAX), with both filmmakers capturing stunning images (and the hearts of film buffs everywhere) with a callback to iconic films of yesteryear like Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — all of which also played on 70mm.
After working together on 2014’s Interstellar, Nolan and director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema shot the majority of Dunkirk — approximately 70 percent — with IMAX’s high-definition 2-D cameras. Dunkirk‘s premise lends itself well to the aesthetic IMAX offers, with its expansive battle sequences and dynamic settings coming to life in vivid, immersive detail. Nolan has likened the experience to “virtual reality without the goggles.”
What is 70mm?
Before the days of modern digital projection systems, which allow theaters to play movies on the big screen via hard drives, discs, cables, or even web links (yes, some locations and film festivals orchestrate their screenings with little more than a few wires and an iPad), movies were shown on large reels, typically in 35mm strips. It’s important to note that 35mm film was the standard in major motion pictures before the shift to digital. If you’re above the age of 20 and you grew up going to the movies, chances are you watched a number of films on 35mm. The number on the film refer to the size of the strip and, in a nutshell, the higher the number, the better the picture quality, as 70mm film allows for eye-popping color and greater detail.
What is IMAX 70mm, and what are the benefits of seeing Dunkirk in the format?
IMAX 70mm film, which runs horizontally as opposed to vertically, like 35mm film, can display bigger, more detailed images. It delivers a similar experience to standard 70mm film, but an enhanced one, with wider pictures, clearer resolution, and a more detailed image overall. Think of the jump from 35mm to IMAX 70mm like the first time you upgraded your VHS to a DVD player, or watching a film in widescreen (with the black bars above and below the footage) as opposed to the image being cropped to fit the display of a small TV set in fullscreen.
IMAX provides more of any given image for a viewer to see — ideal for films with vast, natural settings like Dunkirk. Twitter user Anton Volkov has created a handy format guide (below, be sure to zoom in on your browser after clicking the image) to help viewers understand the significance of the IMAX 70mm projection.
What is IMAX with laser?
Some theaters are also showing the movie in IMAX with laser projection. This means 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.
Where can I see the film’s IMAX 70mm presentations?
Per IMAX’s website, the following locations are offering special IMAX 70mm presentations, while additional theaters are screening Dunkirk in IMAX with laser.
IMAX 70mm locations in the U.S. and Canada:
AMC Metreon 16 & IMAX – San Francisco
AMC Universal CityWalk Stadium 19 & IMAX – Universal City
Esquire IMAX Theatre – Sacramento
Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21 & IMAX – Irvine
Regal Hacienda Crossings Stadium 20 & IMAX – Dublin
Edwards Ontario Palace Stadium 22 & IMAX – Ontario
Hackworth IMAX Dome, The Tech Museum – San Jose
IMAX 70mm locations internationally:
Where can I see the film’s IMAX with laser presentations?
IMAX with laser locations in the U.S. and Canada:
IMAX with laser locations internationally:
United Arab Emirates