Christopher Nolan Consulted Steven Spielberg While Making "Dunkirk" and Screened "Saving Private Ryan" To His Cast

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The biggest achievement of "Saving Private Ryan" was the first few minutes of the Normandy landing. It communicated a reality of war that had never been shown on film before: That it's totally random and meaningless who dies. That it's utter chaos without any kind of sane structure. All prior war films had imposed a sentimental narrative. Certain characters are destined to die to prove some point about war, or about the particular struggle of the protagonist. But in "Saving Private Ryan," it is what it really was - a bunch of people playing dodgeball with machine gun fire. Everyone is expendable. It's all just a roll of the dice.

To say that every war movie after "Saving Private Ryan" would owe a great debt of gratitude to Spielberg's masterpiece would be an understatement, just look at the best war films released since that landmark film: "Black Hawk Down," "The Hurt Locker," "Fury," "Hacksaw Ridge," "Lone Survivor," all have Spielberg's imprint on them and, curiously enough, Janusz Kamisnki's influential cinematography is ripped off in all of them.

Speaking to Variety, no doubt in an awards push for "Dunkirk," Christopher Nolan has more or less confirmed just how influential Spielberg's film was to his own World War II film.

"Before embarking on his mission to dramatize the saga of how middle-aged citizens formed an armada of motorboats and yachts, traveled across the English Channel and ferried their army back home to safety, Nolan turned to his friend Steven Spielberg for advice and aid. He asked the director to lend him a pristine print of “Saving Private Ryan” that had only been run a half dozen times, so that he could show his crew how Spielberg had orchestrated the battle at Omaha Beach. Spielberg did more for Nolan than give him his print."
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,” recalls Spielberg."
"Viewing “Saving Private Ryan” helped Nolan understand how to differentiate “Dunkirk.
The film has lost none of its power,” he says. “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.
"Spielberg’s memorable nearly 30-minute opening to “Saving Private Ryan,” with its blood-spurting bodies, torn limbs and cries of agony, remains a virtuosic display of battlefield carnage. Nolan knew he couldn’t match what his friend had done, so he ratcheted down the gore. “Dunkirk,” for all its relentlessness, is nearly bloodless."
I needed suspense, and the language of suspense is one where you can’t take your eyes from the screen,” he says. “The language of horror is one where you hide your eyes. You’re looking away. It’s a different form of tension. We constructed our set-pieces not around violence, not around blood, but around physical jeopardy.