Saving Private Ryan Review
Many mothers lost their children during World War II, but General George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell) takes pity on a Mrs. Ryan, who will soon learn that three of her sons died fighting for the cause. Realising that Mrs. Ryan has another son in the war who is presumed to still be alive, Marshall orders a team of soldiers lead by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), who has just survived a horrific D-Day experience, to find the surviving Private Ryan so that he can at least be returned to his mother. Miller and his unit disagree with the logic of risking many soldiers lives for a single soldier, but follow orders and embark on a quest to find Ryan.
When Spielberg finally won his Oscar for Schindler's List he followed it with two uninspired efforts in the form of the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World and the average black-slave courtroom drama Amistad. Saving Private Ryan was certainly a return to form, and saw Spielberg receive the highest level of critical acclaim of his career. The film is an astonishingly ferocious simulation of war, and caused many World War II veterans to run screaming from the cinemas due to the evocation of their own memories that the film would bring.
Saving Private Ryan is a film in which every production element combines effectively to create an almost completely authentic recreation of the war itself. The film doesn't so much as tell the viewer the story of the war but actually strives to deposit the viewer into the war. Spielberg has cinematographer Janusz Kaminski strip the photography of any sense of primary colour; the images are bleached out as if conjuring up notions of war footage and old news reels. It's as if the visual aspect of the film is stark and grim, lacking in any stylistic overhaul for Hollywood audiences. The editing by frequent Spielberg collaborator Michael Kahn is deliberately disorientating and rapid, heightening the sense of confusion on both the soldiers and audience's parts. Even the production design by Tom Sanders, utilising locations from County Wexford, Hertfordshire and Normandy, seems like the ultimate hybrid of an idyllic countryside paradise and hell's residence, in which death lingers in every inch. John Williams delivers a rousing score which for once lacks thematic cuts which have been replaced with low, rumbling tones that act as a cry for battle. It will never stand out amongst Williams' fans as his best effort, primarily because it doesn't drive the narrative like Superman or Jaws, but it serves the film splendidly. One of the most amazing aspects of the film is the sound design lead by Gary Rydstrom that acts as a sonic assault to the senses, and genuinely gives the film the feeling of war. Rydstrom won two Oscars for his efforts.
Spielberg is fully in control at the helm of Saving Private Ryan, and his rendering of the bloodstained war is epic in scope and intensity. At times, the director panders to many of his trademark over-indulgent touches, but fortunately Spielberg manages to incorporate this smoothly into the film's proceedings. Many non-Americans have criticised the film's over-patriotic approach, especially given the USA's dubious role in the war's entirety, which saw the nation only intervene when their own Pearl Harbour was attacked. Whether this is true or not, the stripped-colour of the stars-and-stripes flag as bookends for the film seems overtly-calculated, similar to Spielberg's girl-in-a-pink-coat in Schindler's List.
Despite many claiming that Saving Private Ryan is the greatest film of all time, the film has some strong flaws. The screenplay by Robert Rodat is paper-thin, and does little to provide depth for the main characters of the film, nor does it provide adequate establishing explanations for many of the film's sequences. Also, the film weighs in at just over two-and-a-half hours, and yet fails to maintain a consistent dramatic pull through the narrative. Another major problem the film has is that the famous opening thirty minute war sequence can distance the viewer from the emotional drama of the relevant characters. It's such an accurate simulation of the harshness of war that at times the viewer could easily lose track of the onscreen plot events. Granted, this helps give the audience the perfect sense of experiencing the hells of war, but many have claimed this opening act to also alienate the audience from the emotional core of the film's dramatic narrative. Either way, the opening act of Saving Private Ryan single-handedly earned the film its reputation, and is an immensely powerful depiction of the futility of war. Finally, the film seems content to only skim the surface of the issue regarding the ethics in risking many soldiers' lives for the sake on one, which itself is a very interesting concept.
In terms of performances, Tom Hanks does a fine job as Captain John Miller, projecting a face worn down by the turmoil around him. It's actually a rather understated performance by Hanks, he rarely brings to the screen his own celebrity persona, and the character of Miller is easily the best constructed of Saving Private Ryan. The rest of the cast seem to all participate equally, with some good supporting turns from Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Ted Danson, Jeremy Davies, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg and Giovanni Ribisi.
Saving Private Ryan is certainly a modern day war classic, and has helped to devalue many previous genre efforts that now seem old-fashioned, and unrealistic as a result. Whilst not the greatest war film nor the greatest Spielberg film, Saving Private Ryan is clearly one of the most gallant pieces of filmmaking to come out of the nineties. The fact that it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare In Love only heightens the suggestion of Hollywood's ignorance.
Academy Awards 1998
Best Director - Steve Spielberg
Best Cinematography - Janusz Kaminski
Best Film Editing - Michael Kahn
Best Sound - Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Ron Judkins
Best Sound Effects Editing - Gary Rydstrom, Richard Hymns
Academy Award Nominations 1998
Best Actor - Tom Hanks
Best Original Screenplay - Robert Rodat
Best Art Direction - Thomas E. Sanders, Lisa Dean
Best Makeup - Lois Burwell, Conor O'Sullivan, Daniel C. Striepeke
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the picture quality for Saving Private Ryan is brilliant, with deep, sharp imagery and an astonishing level of colour tones that fully complement the film's grainy, grim visual exterior. The transfer is crystal clear without a trace of digital artefacts or edge enhancement, and the image is blemish free throughout.
The DTS version of Saving Private Ryan has long been considered the greatest reference disc for the DVD enthusiast, and whilst this 5.1 Dolby Digital Mix doesn't live up the DTS mix it is still arguably the greatest 5.1 mix released on DVD. Each channel is given a full, immense audio workout that pulls the viewer into the midst of a battlefield, and the rip-roaring intensity of many of the audio elements will leave many ducking for cover. If you own a DTS setup, then the DTS version of Saving Private Ryan is just the title to utilise your system. However, if you do not own a DTS setup, this 5.1 mix will still not fail to impress.
Menu: A subtle, animated menu that is packed with a rousing portion of John Williams' score.
Packaging: Presented in an amaray casing with stylish gold trim, and a few grim images taken from the film. A four page booklet is included which contains brief production notes and chapter listings.
Into The Breach: Saving Private Ryan: This is a twenty-five minute documentary that half acts as a historical/factual piece and half acts as a 'making of' for the film. It's not a very successful hybrid, and unfortunately it only manages to touch the surface on both the historical lessons of the D-Day invasions or the extensive behind-the-scenes preparation the film required. Saving Private Ryan is the type of film ideal for a Special Edition DVD, and sadly this documentary is the best Paramount could offer.
Trailers: Two trailers are provided, one is the theatrical trailer and the other is the re-release trailer that acts as a guide to the awards the film received. Both are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Cast And Crew: Decent biographies/filmographies of the main cast and crew members of the film, backed with photos.
Production Notes: Annoyingly, the production notes presented here are the same as printed in the booklet included with the DVD.
Whereas Saving Private Ryan harnesses all of the benefits that DVD video can bring, it sadly is a dramatic missed opportunity on the extras front, and one cannot help but be sceptical in the assumption that this will be the only release of the film. Still, considering the DVD is an excellent package in terms of feature film presentation, this really is a must-have, even if the DTS version possesses superior sound.