Less than three weeks after the Germans invaded France in May 1940, the British Expeditionary Force found themselves backed up against the English Channel. The evacuation that followed sought to rescue over 300,000 British and French troops using a combination of British warships and hundreds of “little boats.”

No one expected this effort, dubbed Operation Dynamo, to succeed. But it did, and the remarkable events from late May to early June 1940 are brilliantly re-created in Dunkirk, one of the best films of 2017. Director Christopher Nolan’s approach, to blend three different time lines for the action on the beach, in the air, and at sea is a bit confusing at first, particularly when the scene shifts abruptly from day to night and back. The actual evacuation took nine days. If you just go with the flow, however, it isn’t difficult to follow. I could also quibble a bit about a few technical details here and there. But that’s beside the point; Dunkirk is truer to actual events than are most historical films.

318dunkirk.box.jpgThe movie was shot with large-format cameras (including Panavision and IMAX) on film (not digitally). As in the theater, the aspect ratio on this video release alternates between 2.2:1 and 1.78:1—though it’s mostly in the latter. The 4K image is nearly impeccable though just a hair short of reference quality. The colors are often subtle and intentionally subdued, apart from occasionally too-rosy fleshtones (as viewed on two different displays and both the HD and Ultra HD versions), and the 4K resolution was hard to fault. The blacks are rich, and while the HDR isn’t particularly dramatic, it was used effectively on bright highlights, particularly in the darkest scenes.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound will knock you off your chair. Be careful in the opening sequence; the film begins so quietly that you’ll be tempted to turn up the volume—until the first gunshots tear through your speakers and hit you in the gut. The roar of aircraft engines, the crack of their guns, and Hans Zimmer’s relentless score also ratchet up the tension from beginning to end.

The reference-quality extras are all in superb HD on a separate Blu-ray. While they can be watched as a selection of outstanding making-of shorts covering everything from the special effects to the score, they’re best when viewed in a single sitting. But be sure you have the time; they run a total of nearly two hours—longer than the film itself!

Studio: Warner Bros., 2017
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 and 2.2:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 106 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance