“Saving Private Ryan” was made in 1998, and was directed by Stephen Spielberg. The film stars Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore and Tom Hanks, who plays the leading role of Captain John Miller. “Saving Private Ryan” is about a squad on a dangerous mission. Led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), the unit is under orders to track down a soldier, Private Ryan (Matt Damon), so he might return home to his mother in America, where she is grieving the unimaginable loss of her three other sons to the war. Spielberg also uses actual war photographs by Robert Capa, for realism.The first unforgettable twenty minutes of the film realistically and horrifically depicts the Normandy invasion as John Miller; his second-in-command, Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore); and the others in the unit land at Omaha Beach. They are veterans of World War II. It is D-day.
This film is similar to the book “Heroes” by Robert Cormier. Just like the book, this film is to do with war, sacrifice and heroism. They are both also about ordinary young men/soldiers who have been placed in extraordinary circumstances.
The film’s opening scene is in the present. The film starts off with music that has quite a slow pace and is heard quietly in the background. Already we have a sense of atmosphere; respect, dignity and pride. This makes us feel calm, yet somehow there is a hint of sadness. There other effects that a visible by sound, such as the wind blowing, over the gentle music. We are then given a close up of an American flag, which fills the whole screen, moving in the wind. This scene starts off slowly but gradually unfolds and we are then able to match the images and music with the situation, and begin to understand what has happened. By these first few images of a person, we can assume that this is our main character. There is a close up of a man’s legs; they look slim, frail, weak and old. Just from this close up Spielberg has already told us a bit about what the character is going to be like. He starts walking forwards and even though we can see his weakness, he looks stable on the ground beneath him. Once again the American flag appears; this time it only fills half of the screen and is attached to a pole. The exact same shot is repeated again straight after, but with a French flag instead. This first part of the scene is mainly about symbolically conveying the allied French/ US approach. Trying to gradually explain to us what has happened in the past to cause this scene in the present.
Spielberg uses different shots on the camera to help tell us the story. Slow tracking into Close-ups of the man’s face show us his anxiety and pain in his expression; he looks as though he has suffered loss. The closeness of this image evokes the audience to empathise with his pain. The sounds of shallow breathing is in the background, from this we can sense he is getting increasingly anxious. We are slowly drawn away from this character that we can now see is at a gravestone. We are taken to a long shot of the memorial graveyard that he is in. This takes us away from the personalised image of him grieving over one person. Spielberg gives us a different perspective, as we can now see that many more people have lost their lives. This film is to do with war, and we get a great sense of the many people who took part in this, by the amount of gravestones. Once again, personalising each image by firstly showing hundreds of crosses and the Jewish Star of David. Moving in to close ups of graves, each with a difference.
I can feel what it must have been like in the war just by seeing these images of gravestones. This is what Spielberg wants; to take us wherever this man goes. Through these images we see into his mind. A sea of white graves organised orderly in rows and columns. This gives a real sense of orderly soldiers, standing in their troops.
The lone old man goes onto his hands and knees and we can see that he is in pain emotionally, as he starts to weep on the ground. We can understand more about the character’s psychological state just by the images of his face, and his body language.
Stephen Spielberg uses colour really effectively in this first part of the film. Everything is bright, to a certain extent. The sky is a greyed blue colour, there are images of white gave stones that have a hint of greyness as well. I suppose it gives us the normality of this present day. It also adds to the fact that we are in a cemetery. All of the colours are muted
Up to this point there has been no dialogue, just music and sounds in the background.
These are used to show how the character is feeling and to create tension that draws us in.
It seems to be a kind of build up; something must be spoken soon, right? For the first time we hear an important piece of dialogue. A key moment, the silence is broken. The shouting of one word from a little boy. “Dad!” This appears to be quite emotive, as the boy sounds scared and upset; he runs away.
An emotion filled close-up of the man’s face, showing pain and angst once again. Slow tracking is used once more, but this time zooming closer and closer gradually going into the man’s eye. The window to his sole. The director creates suspense and expectation just with the camera moving from a wide shot to a full on close up, oozing with emotion from his expression. As this gradually occurs tension is built. We are going to look into his thoughts. Spielberg is taking us on a journey.
We are then taken to a sudden change in atmosphere. We know this by the difference in sound, which leads us to thinking there, is a change in scenes. The sound of crashing waves is heard before it is seen, making us wait to see if the sounds match what we think are the visuals. Once the waves appear on the screen, it is visible that there are references to the work of photographer Robert Capa. The similarities are the fact that both pieces of work are to do with war and the content of the image. The colours are similar in way, even though they are not exactly the same. Robert’s were war time black and white images. Spielberg shows the blueness of the sea, but in the same de-saturated and muted way.
Only words on the screen: “June 6th 1944 dog sector Omaha Beach.”
There is already a very different contrast to the first scene of the film. Quiet mourning peace, calm background music and quiet sound effects. To no music, just loud sounds that have been brought forwards and that would have been background noises in the first scene. This is a flashback to D-day, (June 6th 1944) Robert Cormier introduced us to flashbacks in his book with war (Heroes.) Flashbacks make the piece interesting and give us some of the history, so we can find out why things have happened in the present. Everything happens for a reason.
A whole ocean full of soldiers, those young ordinary guys put through so much pressure. We get a shocking image going across the waters, showing all of the young soldiers in the boats. A great technique is use that makes the camera seem shaky /jerky, and appear to be hand held. This adds to the effect and conveys the chaos and mayhem. No other sound is heard apart from the waves that are still crashing. Spielberg gives us a long-wide shot that shows us all of the boats and soldiers at sea, really quite a shocking image showing the scale of the mission and the hundreds of young men sacrificing their lives. Once again the director is creating an expectation on the audience, jerky camera, long shot, something is being built up!
We get close ups of individuals on one particular boat. The close-ups are very important in a situation like this in a film, as they show us exactly what is going through the person’s mind. Personalising the film once again, trying to make us feel what they feel.
This piece of action has become very personalised, detailed work. As the jerky camera goes through the boat we are noticing little quirks/ actions that each person is doing. It makes us feel like we know them. A soldier having a drink from his water bottle, he looks petrified; his hand is trembling with fear. The noise of the water in the bottle reaching his mouth. Young men, one after the other, repeatedly throwing up. The not so usually loud sound of chewing. These all give us a sense of reality, noises that we are familiar with. There is just such immense audio detail. Spielberg is just taking us back to reality for a moment, partly to remind us that these are normal men in extraordinary circumstances; and also to prepare us for the journey ahead. This is just too much to take on board for us and men that young, so scared. Knowing that they have to do their country proud, but at the same time knowing that there is a huge chance they won’t come back alive.
20 seconds, see you on the beach”
Final orders that we hear being shouted across the boats. The sound is muffled, I suppose because what they are about to do just hasn’t hit them or sunk in yet. Spielberg keeps us involved with these continuous images of war. We hear the shouting muffled as well, so we are involved. Spielberg is asking us to take the point of view of the people in the boat. Muffled speech, but the background noises are perfectly clear, we are hearing the things we want to hear and zoning out on the things we don’t believe.
One boy is praying, looking above and then holding his head below kissing his crucifix.
Already we are not seeing images of the heroic side of what war is/ will become. We are seeing the terror when being prepared to fight, and all of the other gory details. It’s not as glamorous as it seems which is what we are being told.
I am now a soldier! Spielberg has placed me at the back of the boat. I am now part of this! First shot from the German machine gun post. It happens suddenly, the camera shakes. A whole host of people, chucked out of boats onto land, easy deaths, killed instantly. A terrible image of war. I am left till last, being at the back of the boat. I felt the tension, I was scared. All that worrying; fear and some of their lives are over in just a few seconds.
Spielberg does it so well. Sowing us and letting us experience these images of war. Trying to make us equate with the fear, there is no drama, it is all in point of view.
The German machine gun post shot is show to us as something evil. It is the enemy to us and to them. It seems rather large, as it is close to us, and near the front of the screen. The point of view has switched, and we are looking out at sea from behind the machine gun post. But we can not be associated with it as we are in the boats, we know that.
One soldier gets knocked down by a bullet and goes under water, it turns red instantly. This is an area of the film that I think stands out most for me as an image of war. It might not be the most gruesome war like image, but the message behind it is exact. We can appreciate through Spielberg’s choice of shot what it feels like being in that situation. We are shown two different worlds under water and above ground. Both we experience with the soldier. There is a sense of safety being in the water, the calmness and quietness. Above ground from the water we can see the mayhem of war. Staying in the water seems like the only option. But then there is that one downside. Drowning. Both worlds are distressing and there is no way away from it. This definitely doesn’t seem like the life of a war hero having to make choices, both leading to death.
We hear and see what it is like to be under water, it seems like the world is in slow motion even though we know it isn’t.
The director keeps the camera low and the frame tight, we can only see the compact fighting world that we are in; we are only allowed to see what’s behind the barricade. The enemy is in the position of power for their next shot. The black, shadowed evil machine, taking over the screen is behind us, the soldiers. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. As we can see by the strong red of the soldiers blood.
People are trying to hide for cover wherever it possible, trying to save their own lives. When you think about it, they came together to fight as a team, but really it’s every man for himself as no one wants to die.
Another soldier is hit. We are able to understand the use of Spielberg’s effect that was used under water. The soldier has shell shock, it seems as though he is deaf, and we are too as we are still on that journey with them. He roles up into a ball, a frightened, disorientated soldier. He is in his own world with us. Everything seems blurred. He’s trying to make sense of things. We in overload with our senses, so much so that hearing has become blocked. Because of this we are shown stronger visual images of war. There is a fiery orange, deathly explosion, isn’t heard but seen by both of us.
Spielberg shows us this with images of a soldier is searching for his arm, after having it blown off. Another soldier is lying on the ground screaming in agony at the fact that his intestines are hanging out. We can really see the gory and bloody side of war. These things that are being shown in the film aren’t even things you would dream of in nightmares, they are that bad. This film is very realistic; this is why we are drawn into it as a part of it.
But these images are now being seen as double images that are blurred. Not only has the soldier’s hearing been blocked, but now the sight. It is happening to us as well, as we are in that soldier’s point of view once again. The sound has come back. We are brought back with no superior knowledge or dramatic irony. We know what they know. Gradually we start to see more than what’s inside the box that Spielberg allowed us to see before. We are seeing higher shots, shots showing power. We are continuing on our journey
They try to regroup before the fourth shot. People have been given orders, but I don’t think that there is any point in even trying to give orders in a situation like that. Every man for himself. There is a definite communication problem between soldiers; we receive the same problem, as it becomes hard to hear them. People are still pretty shook up about war, and hands are still shaking, it is not getting any easier. For the second time we are being allowed out of the box, but for privileged information. We step out of their views and into our own, as we see soldiers working on a fellow soldier who has been terribly injured. Spielberg made us feel claustrophobic being in a tense area of fighting for so long, not we get to see things from our perspective.
There is still a sense of irony. A man gets shot in his helmet; he takes his helmet of to see the damage and then actually gets shot in his head. It seems quite ironic, but I suppose being in extraordinary situations like that must affect the way you think and how fast you react to something.
We hear the fifth shot from the machine gun. Once again, it seems to be knocking people out like flies. Looking at the shot from a distance, it’s like a pack of cards falling down one by one. More horrific images of war, the amount of people killed, and the shock of their instant deaths.
The remaining soldiers reach the slopes, getting closer to the pill box. They hide for cover behind the slopes, it seems like they are having a long break; but in a situation like this they must be on their feet the whole time and having to be ready to run or attack. They’ve got to keep moving even if they are in pain. The adrenaline rush must be huge, they are running, shooting, and collecting weapons off of people that have been killed. At this point Spielberg id still using the camera shakes. It could possibly be showing the nerves of the men, and how they are moving so fast there is no time to keep still. We, as an audience, travel with them. Spielberg also creates a sense of panic with their movement, which is conveyed through the camera.
At the next slope we see a familiar face, the man that kissed the crucifix earlier on. Small details help us to remember the characters and make us feel as if we know them. He starts to pray again. There are moments of calm. Where the soldiers have time to think and plan, but not very long. A lot of shooting and moving, they are face to face shooting the enemy. The opponents finally surrender. They slowly close in on them and kill them. Exciting tense moment. We have been involved so much; the death of the opponents makes us feel relief, just like the soldiers.
The Film “Saving Private Ryan” is quite similar to the book “Heroes” by Robert Cormier. They are about showing us what really goes on and happens during war. We see/hear everything soldiers have to go through physically and emotionally. How once they have fought in war their lives change forever. We find out that war isn’t something that people go into to save lives, be heroic, get all the praise and not get hurt. It’s a dog eat dog world, and in there different ways both the film and the book show us this. War isn’t something to be taken likely; it is about saving live lives, fighting for your country, whilst trying to protect yourself at the same time. People died, killed in very brutal and horrific, blood thirsty ways; people scarred emotionally by the whole experience and the whole horror of the event playing on their mind.
This all happens to men of a very young age, so much so they might not even be called men yet, some even teenagers. It is a lot of pressure, and sometime they’ve got to crack. This is what Robert Cormier shows us in the book “Heroes” Where Francis Cassavant, suffers emotionally and physically, by his feelings and severe facial disfigurements. He then let the girl he loved get raped, he almost committed suicide, and he nearly killed someone else. And I’m sure it will occur later on in this film, as I think this is what the director will want to put across, how much war can affect you as a person. The book and the film show how unglamorous war can be and the other side to what we believe. Neither try to hide it and make it out to be an amazing experience, they show it for what it really is. Every gory detail of it shown/told in all its truth.
I think that Spielberg successfully shows us images of war in an emotive way that makes us understand what the soldiers are going through. He creates an attack on our senses and an assault on our ears. There are only small areas of calm so deafness is a relief. Spielberg uses shocking visuals, with strong, perhaps emotive sounds. “Saving Private Ryan” gives us a great sense of reality, which makes the impact on us as the audience huge. A shocking film that gives us the truth behind going to war.