Making staged history appear authentic is one of the most difficult tasks in moviemaking. It's exactly where Spielberg's talent came into play. The unsaturated look and on-the-ground feel that astonished audiences in Private Ryan - and will again in Band of Brothers - are the result of a lifetime obsession.
Casual Spielberg fans can tell you that before Saving Private Ryan the director had used WWII as the backdrop for his Indiana Jones trilogy and released three major WWII films - Schindler's List, Empire of the Sun, and the comedy bomb 1941 with John Belushi. But few know that Spielberg was obsessed with war movies as a child, that his father fought in Guam, Burma, and India in WWII, and that as a 14-year-old, the second movie he ever shot was an 8 mm WWII film called Escape to Nowhere. Another of his childhood WWII films starred all his middle school friends and his dad as a jeep driver.
"[When my father] had reunions with his fighter squadron, it was so different from the movies Hollywood was showing me," Spielberg told entertainment reporter Stephen Schaefer. "I didn't know who to believe, and I chose to believe the war movies because my dad's stories were too outrageously harsh. [Now] I realize my dad had been telling the truth all along and Hollywood has been fibbing."
"We didn't want it to be too vivid," Hanks says of Band of Brothers, which uses many of the Saving Private Ryan techniques. "I always said, the jeopardy of this piece is inherent to it. You don't want to go for the melodrama if it means drifting into inaccuracy. The accuracy is infinitely more fascinating."
In other words, don't overdo it. This sort of restraint is a big reason why Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers will hold up two decades from now, while movies such as Pearl Harbor and U-571 will not.