Saving Private Ryan appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not a traditionally attractive image, the movie represented the source well.
It’s funny to see how much Ryan impacted cinematography. In 1998, it looked messy, overexposed and odd; it didn’t fit with the cinematic landscape and required disclaimers on home video. 14 years later, however, we’ve seen so many films that’ve used similar stylistics choices that Ryan no longer looks particularly unusual.
Sharpness appeared consistently excellent. From start to finish, the movie boasted terrific definition, with all elements rendered in an accurate, precise manner. No softness impacted the presentation, and I witnessed no signs of jagged edges, shimmering or edge haloes. Source flaws also failed to appear in this clean transfer.
In terms of palette, the movie went with desaturated, khaki tones. The film didn’t threaten to become monochromatic, but it came close. Within those restraints, the hues were solid. Blacks seemed deep and dark, and contrast was solid. Low-light shots demonstrated strong clarity and accuracy. Everything here looked great, stylistic extremes and all.
The audio of Ryan long ago staked its claim as the best of all-time, and the last 13 years haven’t altered that impression, as the flick offered consistently stunning material. Without question, Ryan offered a tremendously active audio environment. The D-Day scene showed what the sound designers could do, and it's such a showstopper that it's almost 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 occurred during that opening action sequence; in truth, some of the later scenes - especially the climax - rivaled its ferocity, but my ears had adjusted by that point so those sequences didn't stun me to the same degree.
That's a good thing, because it let me appreciate the mix and how it complemented the film much better. As I mentioned earlier, the opening scene was all about chaos, so it worked 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 were equally impressive, they remained more focussed.
In addition, the quality of the audio was quite good. At times during battles dialogue got 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 became 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 seemed perfectly captured. Speech was rich and natural, effects seemed realistic and lacked extra distortion, and the score appeared full-bodied and appropriately musical. Low-end added serious power to the mix, as the explosions and other loud elements threatened to blast a hole in my walls. Maybe there’s a better soundtrack out there, but I can’t think of it.
How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the DTS DVD version? Both movies featured similar audio. The DTS-HD mix boasted a slightly stronger impact, but it wasn’t a big change.
However, visuals showed a much bigger upturn. The Blu-ray appeared cleaner, tighter and more distinctive when compared to the 1999 DVD. I thought that one looked good in its day, but it couldn’t compare to the stunning Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray offers most of the elements from the various DVDs and a new extra. Under the domain titled “Saving Private Ryan”, we get a slew of featurettes, but the area opens with An Introduction. In this two-minute, 35-second clip, director Steven Spielberg briefly discusses his motivations for making the film and his childhood history with World War II. It’s a reasonably interesting way to launch the supplements.
When we head to the seven featurettes, we find Looking Into the Past (4:40), Miller and His Platoon (8:23), Boot Camp (7:37), Making Saving Private Ryan (22:05), Recreating Omaha Beach (17:58), Music and Sound (15:59) and Parting Thoughts (3:43). Across these, we hear from Spielberg, screenwriter Robert Rodat, senior military advisor Captain Dale Dye, producer Ian Bryce, production designer Tom Sanders, costume designer Joanna Johnston, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, RAF Unit Squadron Leader C. Barry Savory, associate producer Kevin De La Noy, Irish Defense Forces’ Commander Frank Burns, armorer Simon Atherton, special effects supervisor Neil Corbould, stunt coordinator Simon Crane, composer John Williams, sound designer Gary Rydstrom, and actors Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Jeremy Davies, Edward Burns, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, and Tom Sizemore. Over these shows, we learn about the film’s roots and development, script and story, cast, characters and performances, training, preparation, cinematography and editing, sets and locations, costumes and attempts at realism, stunts and effects, score and sound design, and general thoughts.
Spielberg doesn’t much care for commentaries or comprehensive documentaries about his films, so releases of his movies tend toward compilations such as this. I’d really prefer something less split up, but I can’t quibble too much with the results, as this package includes a lot of good info about the movie. It digs into all the appropriate topics and keeps fluff to a reasonable level. We also find plenty of nice footage from the shoot. Expect a solid array of components from this run of featurettes.
In addition to two trailers, this area features a documentary called Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan. It runs 25 minutes, one second and features Spielberg, Hanks, Damon, Burns, Sizemore, Pepper, Dye, Davies, Ribisi, Goldberg, Diesel, author/historian Stephen E. Ambrose, director’s father/WWII vet Arnold Spielberg, soldier Edward Niland’s son Preston, daughters Mary and Catherine, and widow Diana, and D-Day soldiers Judge John Harrison, Arthur “Dutch” Schultz, Col. Barney Oldfield, James Colella, and Peter Howenstein. “Breach” mixes info about the film’s creation with memories of D-Day and a case similar to the inspiration for the film.
When I watched this show in 1999, I thought it was excellent. More than 11 years later, I don’t see it in the same light, probably because I’ve grown accustomed to much more detailed DVD/Blu-ray documentaries. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a solid overview of its subjects. However, it’s awfully brief and jumps around a bit too much. It’s still enjoyable, but it’s not as memorable as I thought in the past.
Disc Two also provides another documentary: 2000’s Shooting War. Hosted by Tom Hanks and his Enormous Cast Off Beard, the program goes for one hour, 28 minutes and five seconds as it offers thoughts from Ambrose, and veterans/war photographers Russ Meyer, Walter Rosenblum, Joe Longo, Doug Wood, Arthur Mainzer, Doug Morrell, Fred Bornet, Harold Kempe, Daniel A. McGovern, Norm Hatch, John F. Ercole, Ed Montagne, Dave Quaid, Richard Brooks, Carl Voelker, Reuben Weiner, Samuel A. Sorenson, Jim Bates, Melvyn R. Paisley, Don Honeyman, Lloyd Durant, and Jerry Anker. “War” looks at efforts to film various aspects of WWII. This means many comments about the efforts as well as nearly wall-to-wall footage taken during the era.
Both sides mesh well to create an unusual and involving program. The archival shots became the highlight, as the piece offered lots of excellent footage. The comments add to our understanding of those elements and help turn this into a strong documentary.
Though inconsistent, Saving Private Ryan remains one of cinema’s more impressive war movies. While it suffers from sags, it compensates with some of the most dynamic, brutal battle sequences committed to film. The Blu-ray delivers excellent picture and audio along with a solid collection of supplements. This turns into a terrific rendition of a fine film.
To rate this film, visit the Special Limited Edition review of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN