Christopher Nolan is one of the movie industry’s last champions of shooting on actual film, and once again, he’s extending that dedication to his new movie’s release. Warner Bros. announced today that 125 theaters will be projecting Nolan’s Dunkirk from 70 mm celluloid prints. That would represent the biggest 70 mm release since 1992’s Far and Away, the last major studio film to be released in the format.
As recently as two years ago, 70 mm, which as the name implies is captured on a negative twice the width of traditional 35 mm film, was nearly extinct. But the success of the 70 mm “roadshow” of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight showed that audiences would turn out to see a movie in the analog version of high definition, and while some critics carped that a movie set largely inside a snowed-in roadhouse was a strange place to use a format traditionally employed for epics like Lawrence of Arabia, there’s no question that Nolan’s large-scale battle scenes fill the bill.
Watching a movie projected on 70 mm, especially if, like Dunkirk, it was also shot on the format, makes for a theatrical experience like no other; if you’re not sure if you’ve seen a movie in 70 mm, you haven’t. In The Hateful Eight, the creases in Jennifer Jason Leigh’s face were a detailed map of her character’s hard-traveled life, and in Jacques Tati’s Playtime, 70 mm’s aptitude for deep focus allows you to choose which actions in the crowded frame to zero in on rather than having the movie tell you what to look at.
Seeing Dunkirk on film won’t get you in early the way it did with Nolan’s Interstellar, which opened on celluloid two days before its wider digital release. But of recent 70 mm releases, including The Hateful Eight and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, it’s the one most clasically suited to the expansive format, especially if you opt for Nolan’s preferred format and add Imax to the mix as well. Tickets to the 70 mm screenings are already on sale, but take care you're picking the right showing: Counting the three different kinds of Imax projection, the film is being exhibited in six different formats, but a handy drop-down menu allows you to concentrate on 70 mm screenings only. Even if you’re meh about the prospect of seeing Harry Styles dodge German bullets, seeing a movie this way is very nearly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 70 mm has had comebacks before, and they don’t last, so take advantage of this one while it’s here.