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Steven Spielberg
Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon
Robert Rodat

The mission is a man.

Box Office:
$70 million.
Opening Weekend
$30.576 million on 2463 screens.
Domestic Gross
$216.119 million.

Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, and for language.

Academy Awards:
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.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 169 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 5/4/2010

• “An Introduction”
• "Looking Into the Past” Featurette
• “Miller and His Platoon” Featurette
• “Boot Camp” Featurette
• “Making Saving Private Ryan” Featurette
• “Recreating Omaha Beach” Featurette
• “Music and Sound” Featurette
• “Parting Thoughts” Featurette
• “Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan” Documentary
• Theatrical Trailers
• “Shooting War” Documentary

Blu-Ray DVD
Companion Book
Score Soundtrack

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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Saving Private Ryan [Blu-Ray] (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 26, 2012)

Even after more than a decade, I still don't know if 1998’s Saving Private Ryan 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 remain some of the very best films ever made, and I don't think that Ryan deserves to be mentioned in that company. What it is, however, is a flawed yet often effective little war movie.

Though 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 were 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.

Ryan does offer an inconsistent film that comes with a few fundamental weaknesses. The plot is pretty thin and the characters tend toward caricature and are crudely drawn. 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 focused 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. Ryan 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, though. I think that the roles are uniformly well-acted, and while Tom Hanks seems vaguely out of place as Captain Miller, he comes 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 impressive.

Still, while the "adult" Spielberg - you know, the one who makes "serious" films like Schindler's List, Amistad and Ryan - 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 Ryan 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 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 focused. 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 note.

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 don'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 find 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 find it to be somewhat oppressive.

Overall, I feel Saving Private Ryan is 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 Ryan 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.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio A+ / Bonus A-

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

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main