How Steven Spielberg Helped Christopher Nolan With Dunkirk

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Dunkirk

Oscar season is getting closer and closer, and while hopeful nominees are getting their movies out in November and December, what could be one of the top contenders already came out in July. Christopher Nolan is gearing up for an Oscar campaign for his modern war epic, Dunkirk, a beautifully shot film that’s fairly untraditional. When first making Dunkirk, Nolan consulted his friend Steven Spielberg, who made his own Academy Award-winning war movie, Saving Private Ryan. In order to get an idea for how to stage his own battle sequences, Nolan asked to see a pristine print of Saving Private Ryan and Spielberg delivered big time.

Dunkirk follows the story of several different British soldiers during World War II at a time when it looked like the British Army would be wiped out by the Nazis. The film is not without its battle sequences, but to give his crew an idea of how to best orchestrate the battles, Christopher Nolan turned to the man who directed one of the most gut-wrenching openings in cinema. He asked Steven Spielberg to lend him a pristine print of Saving Private Ryan, which had only been run half a dozen times. He wanted to see the opening battle at Ohama Beach, a 30-minute battle full of torn limbs, blown apart soldiers, and blood-soaked waters. Spielberg delivered, but not without also imparted some words of wisdom.

Knowing and respecting that Chris is one of the world’s most imaginative filmmakers, my advice to him was to leave his imagination, as I did on ‘Ryan,’ in second position to the research he was doing to authentically acquit this historical drama.

Christopher Nolan is the mind behind The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar, and Memento — all deeply imaginative fictional movies. A war film based on true events was a bit of new terrain for Nolan, so Spielberg’s advice no doubt had to have come in handy. Nolan told Variety that Spielberg’s advice and print of Saving Private Ryan went a long way in telling him exactly what kind of movie Dunkirk needed to be. Talking about Saving Private Ryan, here’s what Nolan said:

The film has lost none of its power. It’s a truly horrific opening, and there are later sequences that are horrible to sit through. We didn’t want to compete with that because it is such an achievement. I realized I was looking for a different type of tension.

Indeed, no movie about war should ever try to compete with what Saving Private Ryan did and its unflinching look at just how horrible the battlefield is for a soldier. In contrast, Dunkirk is surprisingly bloodless, focusing less on the gore of war and more on the survival. That’s where the tension of Dunkirk comes into play. Dunkirk is unconventional and arguably not worth watching unless it’s on the biggest screen imaginable, but it’s some real good Nolan. Here’s hoping he finally gets some of that Oscar recognition!

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