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What’s the best format for viewing ‘Dunkirk’?

Kenneth Branagh in “Dunkirk.”Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Brothers

Where should you see “Dunkirk”? More to the point, how should you see “Dunkirk”? Christopher Nolan’s epic war film is opening at 3,600 theaters in multiple formats — 70mm film, 35mm film, digital projection, digital IMAX, 70mm IMAX, laser IMAX — depending on what theaters are within your reach. What’s the best bet?

It depends on what kind of experience you want. Nolan is renowned for being one of the last working filmmakers to insist on shooting on film as opposed to digital, and on “Dunkirk” he used both wide-gauge Panavision 65mm cameras and 65mm IMAX cameras. Celluloid connoisseurs will tell you that film has a warmth, grittiness, and vibrancy of image that makes for a much richer experience than the cold precision of digital. Digital makes for a “cleaner” image when it’s projected correctly, which isn’t often enough.


IMAX currently comes in a number of flavors: 70mm IMAX, Digital IMAX, and Laser IMAX. The screens at institutions like the Museum of Science and the Boston Aquarium are classic 70mm IMAX venues, spooling widescreen celluloid in a theater with massive curved screens, raked seats, and a mother of a sound system. “Digital IMAX” is a brand extension that allowed the IMAX company to move into the multiplex market starting in 2008; the screens aren’t nearly as big as 70mm IMAX, which has led critics to dub the format “Lie-MAX.” (Basically, it’s just a bigger-than-average screen.) Laser IMAX employs the classic large-screen, steeply-raked theater setup but allows high-intensity laser projection of digital prints.

Simply put, if you want to see “Dunkirk” on film, you have to find a theater playing either standard 70mm or 70mm IMAX. (There are supposedly 35mm prints being screened as well but we haven’t been able to ascertain where.) There are three exhibitors showing standard 70mm prints in the Boston area — the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville Theater, and the AMC Boston Common, which is devoting one theater to the film version of “Dunkirk,” one to Digital IMAX, and one to conventional digital. There are no theaters in the area showing 70mm IMAX prints. If you live outside the Boston area, information on 70mm and 70mm IMAX screenings can be found at tickets.dunkirkmovie.com.


If you want Laser IMAX, your only local choice is the Jordans IMAX in Reading. (The furniture store’s Natick IMAX theater uses conventional digital projectors.) For the genuine giganto-screen experience, complete with subwoofers under your seat, this is definitely the way to go. Digital IMAX at your local multiplex is your next choice, followed by conventional digital theater screenings. A helpful overall rule of thumb is this: Laser IMAX or 70mm IMAX > regular 70mm > Digital IMAX > 35mm > conventional digital. Or you could just stay home and re-create the evacuation of Dunkirk in your bathtub.

Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.