Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon
The mission is a man.
$30.576 million on 2463 screens.
Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, and for language.
Won for Best Director; Best Cinematographer; Best Sound; Best Sound Effects Editing; Best Film Editing.
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Actor-Tom Hanks; Best Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Makeup; Best Score-John Williams.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 169 min.
Release Date: 11/2/1999
• Director's Message: Steven Spielberg discusses the significance of D-Day and
• the National D-Day Museum
• "Into the Beach" Featurette: A 25-minute behind-the-scenes on the production and interviews with cast and crew
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailer
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Whoopee! The long national nightmare may be over! Although DVDs have
existed on the market for more than two and a half years, films directed by
Steven Spielberg - or even produced, or written, or even watched by him -
have been extremely scarce. A few of his productions popped up early on
(The Color Purple was the only one directed by Senor Spielbergo) and tids
and bits showed up on occasion, but before now, only three more
Steve-directed films appeared on DVD, and those (1941, Amistad and
Always) weren't exactly "A"-list titles. Perhaps Spielberg was working
his way through an alphabetical listing of his films (with numerical titles
Much consternation and name-calling has existed within the circles of DVD
fans over this state of affairs, and many wondered if Spielberg's most
popular films would ever hit DVD. I don't know what 2000 holds, but it
certainly looks rosier than it did a few months ago now that we finally have
Saving Private Ryan, a certified Spielberg blockbuster, available on DVD.
I don't know if SPR will stand the test of time as well as many of
Spielberg's other films; classics like Jaws, Close Encounters of the
Third Kind, ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark all stand as some of the
very best films ever made, and I don't think that SPR deserves to be
mentioned in that company. What it is, however, is a flawed yet very
effective little war movie.
Hmm... I suppose "little" isn't the best term to use, because this is a
"big" affair. Clearly no expense has been spared to depict Spielberg's
vision of some events - partly true, partly fictional - during the later
stages of World War II. Much has been made about the film's opening
sequence, which restages one of the D-Day assaults in France. Without
question, this scene shows the graphic horrors of war with a level of detail
to which we are not accustomed; the blood and body parts really fly
throughout this approximately 25-minute frenzy.
I have to say, however, that as relentless and amazing as the scene is, it
definitely loses a fair amount of its impact upon repeated viewings. I
think this is because the scene derived much of its power not simply from
the drama of the situation but largely from the chaos in the environment;
the images were confused and bombastic and made the viewer feel like he or
she was right in the middle of the war. While that partly remains true,
when you've seen the movie a few times, the chaotic nature departs simply
because you become so familiar with what will happen. The segment remains
compelling, but less and less so, at least for me.
The converse seems partly true. When I watched the DVD of SPR, it was the
fourth time I'd seen the film since its July 1998 release, and the second
time in the last three months (I obtained the laserdisc release in July
1999) and I felt I was starting to get kind of sick of the movie. However,
I found myself surprisingly involved in the story the fourth time around and
although I'm not as interested in the opening scene as I used to be, I found
that many of the other segments definitely retain their effectiveness.
SPR is a very inconsistent film and has a few fundamental weaknesses. Key
among these are that the plot is pretty thin and the characters tend toward
caricature and are crudely drawn. Those criticisms are right on the mark,
and the lack of truly interesting characters is probably the movie's main
problem, especially as one views the film additional times; our protagonists
seem less and less appealing to me with each screening.
However, I find that despite their flaws, the characters still keep me
involved in the story and help me better connect to it on an emotional
level. I think that's why the D-Day scene has become less effective for me;
since we don't know the characters at that point in the story, it relies on
shock and its considerable firepower to provoke us, and those factors become
less significant with more viewings. The rest of the film's action
sequences don't suffer from the same problem, partly because they're much
more tightly focussed but also because they feature characters we now know
and about whom we have some concern (even if they are somewhat cartoonish).
It really is these action sequences that drive the film. SPR operates on
a pretty consistent pattern of dramatic fight sequence,
getting-to-know-the-characters quiet time, lather, rinse and repeat. The
character-driven scenes get tiresome pretty quickly. Let me emphasize that
this is not the fault of the actors. I thought that the roles were
uniformly well-acted, and though Tom Hanks seemed vaguely out of place as
Captain Miller, he came through in the end.
No, the problem with the character-driven scenes is that there are such
weakly-written characters driving them. These are the same stereotypical
Army boys who've appeared in movies for decades, and other than the graphic
level of the content, there's nothing to differentiate them between their
predecessors. Only the likeability of the actors in the roles keeps them
from being total washouts; while none of the actors honestly shines, they
all do so much better than they should that I found their work most
Still, while the "adult" Steven - you know, the one who makes "serious"
films like Schindler's List, Amistad and SPR - wants us to see him as
a compelling and detailed dramatist, it's roller-coaster Steve who bails his
more pretentious alter ego out in the end. Many have felt that SPR offers
very little of worth after the D-Day scene and that the film cruises on the
effect of that segment. I think that's unfair, but I agree that the movie
lives and dies on its action pieces. I just find that in their own ways,
the action portions that follow the opening act are just as effective as it.
Between the large-scale opening and closing scenes - the film's climax
depicts a squad defending a bridge - all of the other battle segments focus
on the war in a much more intimate setting. Instead of observing mass death
and mutilation, these parts give us one or maybe two injured parties.
Although this tends to be formulaic, it still works well; it propels the
story along but doesn't overwhelm the audience, something that too many epic
battle scenes would have done.
Ultimately, I find the final battle in the film to be more satisfying than
the opening scene simply because it is so much more tightly focussed. It
ties things up a little too neatly, but it offers more of an emotional
impact than does the first scene and it completes the film on an appropriate
Actually, I can't say that the final battle ends the film - or that the
D-Day scene opens it - because Spielberg chose to bookend the movie with
present day shots of an old man in a French cemetery. He's obviously a
veteran of the war and I guess most of the movie is supposed to be his
memories. Without spoiling too much for anyone who hasn't seen the film,
this makes no sense, because the man turns out not to have actually
witnessed more than half of the events in the movie, but hey - creative
license! Anyway, I didn't care for these scenes; they seem unnecessarily
maudlin and do nothing to accentuate the drama. However, I do enjoy
watching the old man's granddaughter - the one in the tight purple shirt.
Ooh, baby! They need to make a sequel all about her! (Insert your own
"privates" joke here.)
Speaking of overly sentimental aspects of the film, I'd have to include John
Williams' score in that category. I found his music to intrude on the
action far too much of the time. It appears during scenes where it's
completely unnecessary, and it overdoes things much of the time. Far too
many shots are tarnished by the forced emotion of Williams' music. A good
score accentuates feelings - it doesn't try to create them. Williams is
guilty of the latter offense. Really, the score's not terrible; I just
found it to be somewhat oppressive.
Overall, I find Saving Private Ryan to be a film that features many
problems but one that ultimately does the job it needs to do. This isn't a
war film that offers any form of objectivity; if you want to see a military
movie that can be easily embraced by both hawks and doves alike, watch
Patton. While SPR tends toward the jingoistic side of the street, it
still depicts war in a more brutal and terrifying manner than we're used to
seeing, and it makes for a very effective film.
So after such a long buildup, was SPR worth the wait? Yes, and yes!
After a late start - they were the last major film studio to release DVDs -
DreamWorks have consistently shown that they produce some of the finest DVDs
on the market, and SPR will do nothing to tarnish that reputation.
The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio A+ / Bonus B-
This single-sided, dual-layered DVD of SPR is shown in its original
theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The DVD is also anamorphically-enhanced.
Because Spielberg attempted to give SPR something of a "documentary"
appearance - especially during the battle scenes - many critics have
commented on the difficulty they had in rating the image. Much of the film
is overexposed, jerky, and/or grainy, aspects that we'd usually consider
I thought I'd be conflicted when I reviewed the picture quality, because it
is hard for me to decide how to rate intentionally flawed images. Really,
the "picture" grade should be based on the quality of the transfer, not of
the appearance of the image itself. In other words, a picture could look
terrible, but if that's exactly how the filmmaker intended it to appear,
then it should get a good rating. In reality, since I don't live inside the
head of a filmmaker, I try to balance what I think the intended image was
and how well the DVD reproduces it; it's not a perfect system, but it's
about the best I can do.
As such, I was concerned about this review, since I expected SPR to look
flawed at many times. I know that the recent laserdisc release certainly
was, but I thought that the defects were intentional. How wrong I was, on
both counts! I had no trouble choosing a rating for the image of the SPR
DVD because it looks uniformly terrific, subjectively and objectively. This
is an absolutely fantastic transfer.
First of all, let me document the few flaws I saw. For one, moiré effects
are an occasional problem; shimmering wasn't bad, but jagged edges sometimes
interfered with the clarity of the image. However, I must acknowledge that
these issues often are DVD player based; I had them, but you may not. Also,
if you're watching SPR on a 16X9 TV, I'd bet the "jaggies" aren't there.
Since I've watched every DVD I've reviewed on the same TV and the same DVD
player and most of them don't have this problem, I have to take away from my
rating of SPR because of it, but I do want to emphasize that this is one
case where I think they may offer less substantial - or no - interference in
The only other flaw I found while watching the SPR DVD was two minor print
faults. When the military personnel drive up to Ma Ryan's house, I saw a
brief glimpse of a hair on the film, and when Miller gets his assignment, I
saw a small scratch. That's it. Other blemishes may exist, but I didn't
see them. I was surprised to see these flaws in such a recent film, but
they're not a significant detraction, to say the least. Other reviewers
have noted the (apparently intentional) grain, but I didn't see it myself; I
think that the jerkiness of the camera movements that might include grain
obscured it for me. Anyway, even if you see grain, it's so well integrated
into the picture that it shouldn't be a problem.
So much for the flaws. Everything else about this DVD's image is virtually
perfect. The picture itself offers an absolutely stunning level of clarity
and definition. The image is so strong that it occasionally seems almost
three-dimensional. Spielberg intentionally used a very muted color palette,
and although the image often seems purposefully "washed out," I still
thought that hues looked absolutely accurate. That's admittedly a bizarre
state of affairs, but it's the case here. Much of the film sticks with greens and earth tones, and they all look flawless.
The incredibly rich contrast levels really make this film, though. There's
no murkiness whatsoever when parts of the shot are in shadows or lean toward
the dark side of the frame; blacks and darks all stand as very deep and rich
and the definition of the image remains razor sharp. One thing's for sure:
this DVD puts the LD - which I had thought looked good - to shame; I came
very close to giving SPR an "A+" for image quality.
Which I had no qualms doing for its audio counterpart. If I can't give the
Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of SPR an "A+," then nothing deserves that rating.
Whatever soundtrack you used to use as your "demo" to show off your system -
put it back in the closet. Here's your new fave.
Without question, SPR offers a tremendously active audio environment. The
D-Day scene shows what the sound designers could do, and it's such a
show-stopper that it's actually distracting at times; I became so
overwhelmed at the apocalypse that surrounded me that I occasionally lost
track of the film. That tendency really only occurs during that opening
action sequence; in truth, some of the later scenes - especially the
climax - rival it ferocity, but my ears had adjusted by that point so they
didn't stun me to the same degree.
That's a good thing, because it let me appreciate the mix and how it
complements the film much better. As I mentioned earlier, the opening scene
is all about chaos, so it works to the film's advantage that the audio
helped make me disoriented; that was the whole point. Such an effect would
not benefit later scenes, so while they are equally impressive auditorily,
they remain more focussed.
In addition to possibly the most active and involving surround environment
yet recorded, the quality of the audio for SPR is quite good. At times
during battles dialogue gets lost in the mix, but that's appropriate and
apparently intentional. Don't worry - if you need to hear the words, you'll
hear them; no necessary dialogue gets obscured. It's all part of the
chaotic experience, so don't feel concerned if you have to strain to
understand what someone's saying.
Throughout the film, the sound seems perfectly captured. Speech is rich and
natural, effects seem realistic and lack extra distortion, and the score
appears full-bodied and appropriately musical. Ultimately I'll be reviewing
the DTS sound mix for SPR, which I'll be interested to hear, but I have
trouble seeing how it could improve on this Dolby track.
Although SPR is touted as a special edition - a "Special Limited Edition,"
actually - it's a little weak on the supplement side of the equation, though
it offers some tasty extras. Easily the most compelling and significant
piece here is Into the Breach, a 25-minute documentary behind the making
of the film. Actually, the program spends much less time talking about
SPR than it does relating historical data. In addition to some fine
interviews with veterans, we get a fascinating glimpse at the roots of
Spielberg's interest in the war, including some amazing clips of his early
home movies. This is a great little documentary, and it actually manages to
be more moving than the film itself! My only fault with it? Not long
One unique feature of this DVD is the inclusion of an Exclusive Message
from Spielberg. Others have mistakenly described this as his "introduction"
to the film. In fact, it appears after the end of the closing credits.
(It's also available from the "special features" menu.) In this two-minute
clip, Spielberg briefly discusses his motivations for making the film and he
offers a pitch for the National D-Day Museum. Can't say I'll want to watch
it again, but I don't mind having it here. (A one-page flyer for the museum
is also included in the DVD case.)
In addition to the documentary and Steve's speech, the DVD provides some of
the old "standbys." We get cast and crew biographies for a surprisingly
high number of participants; instead of the usual five or six, there are
eleven cast bios and ten crew bios. All of these articles are above-average
but not spectacular. Still, the quality's good, and the quantity makes the
stand out even more.
More text information is offered through the DVD's production notes. These
are fairly brief but are nicely informative. In fact, they may provide more
actual details of the making of SPR than we hear in the documentary!
They're definitely worth a look. (The production notes are available both
on the disc itself and inside the DVD's booklet.)
Finally, the SPR DVD includes two theatrical trailers. One is the film's
original ad, and the other was issued for the movie's pre-Academy Awards
re-release. (How odd is it for a fifteen-month-old movie to feature a
re-release trailer?) Both are effective - especially the original - and are
presented well; the image is clean and the sound is actually 5.1. Nice job!
Overall Saving Private Ryan is another class-act production from
Dreamworks. The movie's flawed but overall very good, and the DVD offers
picture and sound quality second to none. The supplements aren't extensive,
but what appears here is very high quality. It may have taken nearly three
years for Spielberg to finally loosen up and allow a movie studio to release
one of his big-ticket movies on DVD, but it was indeed worth the wait.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6317 Stars
| Number of Votes: 353