The much-anticipated Dunkirk arrives in theaters July 20, and if early reviews are to be believed, it may be this year's first solid Oscar contender. It's also directed by Christopher Nolan, who has consistently created critically acclaimed films since 1999's Following. Besides the raw directing talent that has brought him commercial and critical success, there are patterns to how he achieves his vision. Below are several details about his methods that should interest every movie fan, and help explain why he stands out.
In Hollywood (and life in general), it can be difficult to find people who are both dependable and capable. Nolan hit the jackpot when he met Emma Thomas at film school, and married her in 1997. Since then, she has collaborated with her husband and acted as a producer on each of his films, from his short Doodlebug to this summer's Dunkirk. His brother Jonathan Nolan has also been a valuable resource as a writer, helping with story and screenplay in five of Christopher's movies, including The Dark Knight and Interstellar. An honorable mention here would be Michael Caine, who has appeared in the majority of Nolan's films, perhaps most memorably as the wonderful Alfred from the Dark Knight trilogy. Rumor is, he also has a small cameo in Dunkirk.
"Working with a legend like Michael Caine is about as enjoyable and relaxing an experience on set as one could hope for...A fine actor first, and screen icon second, he's a director's dream." - Christopher Nolan
One giant difference between other summer blockbusters and a Nolan film is one will rely heavily on expensive-looking CGI, while the other will rely on practical effects. Whether flipping a semi-truck or rotating actors in a ridiculous hotel room set, Nolan would agree that the best visual effects are the ones you don't notice, and will go the extra mile to achieve that sense of realism. For an excellent example of this, check out the video below, which details the methods used to film those gravity fight scenes in Inception.
"The thing with computer-generated imagery is that it’s an incredibly powerful tool for making better visual effects. But I believe in an absolute difference between animation and photography." - Christopher Nolan
Nolan is also something of an old soul among contemporary directors due to his love of film, in contrast to the newer and dominant digital format. While he is not against other directors using digital (which is much faster from a preview perspective), Nolan argues that "If you shoot on film and post-produce on film, you'll be able to make 4K, 8K, 12K masters of those movies and they're going to look fantastic," adding that, "you can go back to the Ben-Hur print and master it beautifully on Blu-ray." In fact, he plans on doing just that with some of his own classic movies, remastering them into 4K, according to a recent interview with BadTaste.It. He has personally been campaigning to keep Kodak open, in response to diminishing demand for its 35 MM stock. As if this wasn't enough, his last few movies, such as Interstellar and Dunkirk, have also utilized IMAX cameras, which are unwieldy, rare and expensive, but record top-notch film quality.
“I have been a longtime proponent of film – particularly the IMAX film format – as a storytelling medium. The immersive quality of the image is second to none, drawing the audience into the action in the most intense way possible.” - Christopher Nolan
German-born Hans Zimmer is no stranger to blockbusters either. From The Lion King to Pirates of the Caribbean, his musical legacy is rivaled only by someone such as the legendary John Williams. Also, since his contribution to the Batman Begins soundtrack, he has worked with Christopher Nolan to score each consecutive project, and there's no sign of letting go of their partnership. From the soaring music of the Dark Knight trilogy to the haunting pipe organ of the Interstellar themes, Zimmer's music stays on the same wavelength as Nolan's vision. For example, he chose the score for Batman Begins to use more electronic elements because "I didn't want to do straight orchestra because Batman, he's not a straight character. I mean where do you get those wonderful toys from and the technology? So I thought I could embrace a bit more technology in this one... there isn't a straight orchestral note on this score." It's nearly impossible to imagine anyone else scoring Nolan's movies.
"If you talk to any director, they'll say music is fifty percent of the movie." -Hans Zimmer
All of the above elements are present in Dunkirk, and is one reason I'm so excited to see the movie (besides being an obvious fanboy). Emma Thomas is a producer, and Hans Zimmer composes once again. The filmmakers had actual replica planes flown in dogfights, and hired over 1,000 extras, so Nolan has definitely not changed his mind on CGI . Also yes, you should definitely enjoy the movie in an IMAX theater, since that madman had handheld IMAX cameras shooting while in a boat. It promises to be yet another gripping story from Nolan you shouldn't miss.
(Sources: IMDb.com, DGA.org, Variety.com, The Telegraph)