There have been many great films about the atrocities of war. Each tells their story in a different way—from a different angle or perspective. Each have brought tales of heroism and intrigue; while a select few have been brave enough to explore the failures and death inherent in combat. The best of these films, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Patton (1970), and A Bridge Too Far (1977) avoided the “Hollywoodization” of war that often occurs to tell their powerful and affecting stories. All the films listed attempted to show that mistakes are made, people die at an alarming rate, and those that live, are changed forever.
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan begins with one of the most jarringly vivid sequences in the history of motion pictures. A recreation of the battle at Omaha Beach; Spielberg captures the moment head on—As American troops approach the beach and their landing craft opens, the front wave of soldiers are immediately ambushed in a hail of gunfire. There will be no John Wayne like figure coming in to save the day. From the start of that scene, the message is clear: “War is messy and unforgiving.” It is also clear why Saving Private Ryan quickly became the film against which all other war films are measured.
After surviving the landing, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks, The Circle), and seven carefully selected men are reassigned to locate Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon). Three of the four active duty Ryan brothers have been killed in action in the same week. It’s up to Miller, Technical Sergeant Michael “Mike” Horvath (Tom Sizemore), Private First-Class Richard Reiben (Edward Burns), Technician Fifth Grade Timothy E. Upham (Jeremy Davies), Private Daniel Jackson (Barry Pepper), Private Stanley Mellish (Adam Goldberg), Private First-Class Adrian Caparzo (Vin Diesel) and Technician Fourth Grade Irwin Wade (Giovanni Ribisi), to locate him somewhere within the French war zone and get him home safe. The reasoning behind such an unusual order is read from a letter by General George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell) to his skeptical officers:
I have here a very old letter, written to a Mrs. Bixby in Boston. “Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, Abraham Lincoln.”
Understandably, the men question the sanity of risking the lives of eight men to save one, but under the leadership of Miller they soldier on. As they move through France, they encounter enemy forces in the wreckage of bombed towns and throughout the lush, green landscape of the countryside. As they absorb some losses, the survivors begin to contemplate the merits of Ryan, and along the way, begin to learn some things about each other.
The cast is outstanding, Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller, remaining a voice of reason in an environment of danger and disarray. Each man gets a moment to shine. Tom Sizemore (as Mike Horvath) who shares a particularly affecting scene with Hanks’ character at a rubbled-out church (both are simple and unaffected), Matt Damon (as Ryan) telling a funny story about his brothers, Adam Goldberg (as Stanley Mellish) taunting the German POWs, Barry Pepper (as Daniel Jackson), explaining his particular take on faith.
While films like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Patton (1970), and A Bridge Too Far (1977) rightfully deserve a place on the list of the greatest war films ever made, Saving Private Ryan stands alone at the top. Frank and uncompromising—like Spielberg’s mini-series’ Band of Brothers and The Pacific—we are given the one of the most unblemished accounts of a seminal event in American history. Uncomfortable as it is at times, Saving Private Ryan is a film everyone should see at least once.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio for its 4K debut, Saving Private Ryan offers an outstanding image with crisp details throughout. An appropriate amount of grain helps to give the proceedings a filmic appearance. Colors are fantastic. Since much of the film has a rather muted palette, color really pops when it does it appear on screen. Skin tones appear natural from start to finish and dried blood, dirt and the like appears realistic even at a distance.
The Dolby Atmos mix presented here is stunning. Clarity is outstanding, and dynamics are some of the best I’ve heard. The first thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan is an excellent example of what Atmos can do. It excels not only during the loud moments when bullets are flying, but the quite ones, when the chaos subsides. This is a mix where everything is involved. Surrounds put you right in the middle of the action from start to finish. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise. Saving Private Ryan is 4K reference material.
Additional audio options include the original English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, English Descriptive Audio, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, and Portuguese, with optional subtitles available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Danish, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, and Swedish.
Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD package is a 3-disc set that includes the movie-only UHD disc, along with previous 2-disc Blu-ray special edition. The first Blu-ray is movie-only, while the second Blu-ray is a special features disc that includes the following presented in standard definition unless otherwise noted:
- An Introduction by Steven Spielberg (2:35) Ported over from the previous limited edition two-disc DVD release, provides some background to Spielberg’s decision to make Saving Private Ryan.
- Looking into the Past (4:40) The influence of documentaries, newsreel footage, and Spielberg’s fascination by them, would eventually inspire him to make Saving Private Ryan, as well as the real-life event of a young man ‘snatched’ from the war because his three brothers had been killed.
- Miller and his Platoon (8:23) Behind the scenes footage and a look at the mysterious, everyman Captain Miller.
- Boot Camp (7:37) A look at the boot camp the actors went through to prepare for the film.
- Making Saving Private Ryan (22:05): Spielberg discusses the documentary style used for battle sequences, and the more traditional styles used in other areas. The look at creating the entire town seen in the final act of the film is of particular interest.
- Re-Creating Omaha Beach (17:58) The Irish army played an integral part in the organization and execution of the mammoth sequence of the D-Day invasion.
- Music and Sound (15:59) An interview with composer John Williams where he discusses creating the score, how the film did not contain as much music as a typical collaboration between he and Spielberg. The discussion about his composing process is fascinating.
- Parting Thoughts (3:43) A few final words from Spielberg and Hanks.
- Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan (25:01) Ported over from the previous Special Limited-Edition DVD release, this making of (which interestingly features music from James Horner’s score of Courage Under Fire), is more typical of making-ofs. The quality of the image (beyond scenes from the film) is not as good as the other special features provided but does have some good commentary from the director and stars.
- Shooting War (1:28:05): A bearded Tom Hanks hosts a documentary about those who covered World War II, and those who recreated war (included John Ford). This contains absorbing images of the American response to Pearl Harbor, including footage from American aircraft carriers the Enterprise. Additionally, footage from the paratroopers and bombers running missions on the night before the D-Day invasion can be seen.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) (2:16)
- Re-Release Trailer (HD) (2:05)
Movie title: Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Director(s): Steven Spielberg
Actor(s): Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns , Barry Pepper , Adam Goldberg , Vin Diesel
Genre: Action, Epic, War, History, Drama