LAS VEGAS — An impassioned Christopher Nolan introduced intense footage from his World War II epic “Dunkirk,” expressing his goal of taking moviegoers back to the massive 1940 evacuation.
“This is a story that needs to carry you through and make you feel you are there,” Nolan told exhibitors at Warner Bros.’ presentation on Wednesday afternoon at CinemaCon, the annual theater owner trade show taking place this week in Sin City.
Nolan shot “Dunkirk” from his own screenplay on a combination of Imax 65mm and 65mm large format film. “I wanted to tell the story in the most visceral way possible,” he added.
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“Dunkirk” will focus on the rescue through a quickly assembled British fleet of more than 800 boats, which saved more than 335,000 soldiers who had been cut off by the German Army. As the rescue was concluding, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told Parliament, “We shall fight on beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
Calling it “one of the greatest stories of human history,” the London-born Nolan told the crowd at Caesars Palace that the event looms large for the British 77 years later.
“Dunkirk and the legend of it is something that British people grow up with – it’s in our DNA,” said Nolan. “The idea of taking this paradoxical situation and putting it on the big screen – it’s something that’s been close to my heart for some time.”
“Dunkirk” hits theaters on July 21. The director, whose credits include Warner Bros. titles “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and the Dark Knight trilogy, told exhibitors that they were a crucial component to the success of “Dunkirk.”
“The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical exhibition,” he said in a backhanded rebuke to Warner Bros. pushing for an early VOD release.
The footage shown to exhibitors included a pair of soldiers trying to bring an injured soldier across a crowded bridge while Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot character is battling Nazis. The footage ends with a dock full of Brit soldiers waiting to be strafed and Hardy’s plane running out of gas.
Several exhibitors said afterwards that the “Dunkirk” footage was the best shown at the presentation.
In his preamble, Nolan said that the men on the beach were “beaten back fiercely to the sea” with “their backs to the water.” Though only a few miles from their home country, the peril they faced was immense.
“At its heart it’s a survival story,” he noted. “The enemy is closing in on the British on this beach with no escape… They were faced with the choice between surrender and annihilation.”
The cast includes Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles, James D’Arcy, Jack Lowden and Barry Keoghan.