In late July of 1998, the greatest war film of all time was released in theaters. Of course, a statement like that is filled with opinion, but in all honesty, is there truly a more gripping, more accurate war film than Saving Private Ryan? Arguments can be made for different represented eras, such as great films like Gettysburg and Full Metal Jacket, though the research, training, and authenticity that went into Spielberg’s World War II story was mind-blowing and likely unparalleled. We no longer have to wait for the high def debut as Paramount’s latest edition to their crème de la crème Sapphire Series is Saving Private Ryan.
Directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg, the film sported an all-star cast consisting of Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, and Matt Damon. The film was also spotted with cameos by Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, and Paul Giamatti. This combination was nothing short of pure gold on the screen. The movie starts off at an incredible pace and ends the same way with its 2-hour, 49-minute runtime.
Based on events surrounding the real-life Niland brothers from New York, Spielberg found his inspiration for his film. There were four Niland brothers serving in World War II all at the same time. With three of the four Niland’s killed in action, the U.S. government sought to pull the remaining Niland out of action and bring him back home. That true story spurned Spielberg’s parallel world in Saving Private Ryan where Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is assigned the task of finding one Private James Ryan in the midst of D-Day’s chaos and the horribly awry parachute drop of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. Ryan’s three brothers have earned him a ticket home, much to the dismay of those under Hanks’ command.
The story starts off with a scene so severe and incredible, I cannot begin to describe it. It is June 6, 1944, the D-Day landing at Normandy, France; or more specifically, Omaha Beach. If you have never seen this movie, all I can say is leave the popcorn in the kitchen. Don’t count on an appetite. What you are about to experience is one of the most profound, albeit most accurate scenes ever to fill the frame of a movie screen or television. The ensuing battle is so horrific and heart-pounding, that you may find yourself holding your breath at times. With Germans on the steep cliffs and Americans trying to secure any type of foothold in the sea-soaked sand, Omaha Beach turns into nothing short of an impromptu cemetery of G.I.’s.
Hanks leads his small band of surviving troops from the hellish battle through the rolling hills of France as the death toll continues to mount, discovering pockets of Nazis along the way, even in the recent wake of facing insurmountable forces only days earlier. The acting is stellar, the direction is flawless, the effects are almost too real and the environments take you back 66 years to a 1944 France. Do you want to know what itwas like to be part of the D-Day landing or engage in a firefight littered with fear and confusion? Ask a vet or exprience this film. No matter how many times I watch Saving Private Ryan, I always get that ominous feeling the moment that first Higgins boat door opens. This emotion is only rivaled by the knot that always rests in my gut moments before the Capt. Miller and company make their final stand against an onslaught of German troops and armor.
Saving Private Ryan has always had this grit and semi-washed out appearance to its visual delivery. This technique only adds to the time period and atmosphere of the film which is brought to us in a 1080p, AVC encode with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. You can count the specks of sand on the soldiers’ faces, the fibers of wood in supply crates washed ashore, and miniscule points of uneven texture on the steel-pot helmets.
Spielberg has always been known as the photographic director, catching unconventional scenes that, by themselves, seem unrelated to the film at hand. However, pieced together with the proper timing, Spielberg has managed to find the seamless transition time and again. This method of film-making is certainly not lost in the transition and is only enhanced with the clarity the Blu-ray offers. What I used to call the ‘dirty lens technique’ is also carried over from its original theatrical release. For those hoping this effect would be ‘cleaned up’, fear not. It was left in as it was an originally intended method to relay the unglamorous feel of real warfare.
The only drawback to the film’s video is a very small one, though any drawback is enough to keep from getting a perfect score. Late in the film, Captain Miller and Private Ryan are having a conversation on a stone bridge. The amount of visual noise in the background is so obvious that it is indeed distracting, in all its pulsating glory. This is only around for a minute or so, but it was so prominent, it made my overlook what the dialogue was and focus on this blaring beat of grain beyond the actors. All in all, it’s a minor infraction to an otherwise appealing presentation to the eyes.
It doesn’t get much better than this. From the moment the film starts, your speakers are graced with the sound of Atlantic waves lapping at the sides of the various Higgins landing craft. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than the sound of water, right? Don’t get too comfortable as these boats are heading straight into the mouth of hell. The whiz-bang or bullet ricochets and the thunderous booms of German artillery are all-encompassing and as a writer, I should know better to have my ducks in a row here and tell you what sound came out of what speaker…but in all honesty, I don’t know.
The film is such an existential piece of work as the DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless audio track brings you into the action. You will be so caught up in what’s going on, you won’t have the time or focus to be concerned with what corner of the room that bullet came from. The subwoofer does a grand job of resonating the impending doom of a Panzer tank, while dialogue is traditionally carried through the front speakers. The rear channels, well, they get a workout alright and heck if I know where the bullets were coming from or over which shoulder those chunks for rubble landed.
There are actually two discs that comprise the Saving Private Ryan Blu-ray. One is reserved for only the film, while disc two holds all the extras. There is enough content to go around to keep everyone happy…as far as quantity goes. Sadly, only the trailers are in high def and I beg to differ, despite what the back of the box says, that the re-release trailer is shown in anything over 480i.
• An Introduction – A little history on Spielberg’s filmmaking, from his childhood up to today (2:35). • Looking Into The Past – Discussing the research that went into the movie (4:40). • Miller and His Platoon – Steven Spielberg and the cast talk about the film’s characters (8:23). • Boot Camp – Capt. Dale Dye, USMC (ret.) talks about working with the actors and the mini boot camp he ran them through to prepare them for their roles (7:37). • Making Saving Private Ryan – The title of this extra says it all (22:05). • Re-Creating Omaha Beach – This in-depth look gives viewers a glance at everything that went into putting together the opening sequence of the film. From the film’s armorer and using the Irish Army as extras, to the stunts and CGI involved, everything is covered here (17:58). • Music and Sound – Interviews with composer John Williams and sound designer Gary Rydstrom (15:59). • Parting Thoughts – Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks provide some insight on why they chose to make this film and take such a role (3:43). • Into The Breach: Saving Private Ryan – The cast expresses their appreciation of World War II veterans and talk about what it must have been like to fight in the actual conflict (25:01). • Theatrical Trailer – (2:16) • Re-Release Trailer – (2:05) • Shooting The War – This documentary cover combat cameramen and features opening words by the late author/historian Stephen Ambrose and is hosted and narrated by Tom Hanks (1:28:05).
“I tried to be as brutally honest as I could with what we had.” – Stephen Spielberg on the making of Saving Private Ryan
Spielberg is like the MacGyver of film directors. As a teenager, he got really creative with a handful of resources. Today, he has countless resources at his disposal, but they are all for naught if you can’t assemble them into one cohesive story. Saving Private Ryan is one such example and as a result, became one incredibly powerful example of filmmaking. It’s intense, gripping, and sorrowful. It even has a dusting of humor along the way.
Deservingly so, Spielberg won an Oscar as Best Director for his work on putting that all together. The film claimed four other Oscars that same night. Unfortunately, it lost out on the Best Picture award to Shakespeare in Love. Now I’ve never seen that movie, but the day I do, it better knock my socks off, because for any film to out-do Saving Private Ryan, is either unbelievably stellar or a rigged winner.
I have a very close friend who, unlike me, has a distaste for this movie, claiming it’s ‘too Hollywood’. Well, how could that be? Let’s see, is it because eight guys were used to rescue one? Nope. That actually happened. Was it the violence and severity of the war? Nope. That happened too. Maybe it was the geographic representation of the characters. You had your guy from the Midwest. There was Bible-quoting guy from the South. One guy was the American Jew. Then there was that cocky soldier from Brooklyn. Stereotypical? I think not. Besides, stereotypes happen for a reason. This was, after all, called a world war and young men from all around the United States were drafted as a result. Because of that, you did have men from all walks of life serving together at sea and on the field of battle. The fact of the matter is this movie hit the nail on the head. It is an amazing compilation of efforts from around the globe that, when unified, put forth one of the most prominent films of our day.