Steven Spielberg said about ‘Saving Private Ryan’ that, “I wanted to put chaos upon the screen’
Writing for a film magazine, analyse the methods used to make the opening battle sequence both shocking and realistic and comment on ho successful you think he was in meeting his objective.“I wanted to put chaos upon the screen.I wanted the audience to feel the same way as those green recruits that were just off those Higgins boats and never seen combat before.
Ninety-five percent of them hadn’t. It was complete chaos”. Internationally acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is an unforgettable film that has profound and lasting impact throughout the world.
Winner of five time academy awards including Best Director. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was first released on September 11th 1998 as a joint production of DreamWorks and Paramount pictures. Seen through the eyes of a squad of American troops, the story begins World War Two’s historic and unforgettable D-Day landing then moves beyond Omaha Beach, as the eight American troops embark on a special, emotional but dangerous mission. Captain Miller must take his men through a journey like never before to find one man, one private, Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in combat.
Spielberg enlisted the help of Tom Hanks (Captain Miller), who is best known nowadays for his astounding performance in The Da Vinci Code. Tom Sizemore (Sergeant Horvath), Edward Burns (Private Reiben), Barry Pepper (Private Jackson), Jeremy Davis (Private Upham) and Matt Damon (Private Ryan). Contributing to the height of realism Spielberg took an almost documentarian approach to filming. He refused to do any storyboarding prior to shooting, and using hand held cameras much of the time. ” I wanted to hit the sets much like a newsreel cameraman following the solders into war”.
Throughout the film Spielberg demonstrated the magnificent use of the hand held cameras, maybe the most remembered of these is the first battle scene, that we see when the American troops land on Omaha Beach. Unlike this film, other films of the war genre always seemed to follow the same concept, which was there always seemed to be a glory-figure, the one who always survived right till the end and lived happily ever after. He wanted break the convections of war emphasizing the sense of realism as much as he could. I think the realism is not showing people dying, blood and gore, to me realism shows the emotion of people, those families who lose two, three and even four children, in combat.
It shows the devastation of not only solders but innocent people who lose their lives because of other peoples decisions”. In my eyes this film does show realism and how war effects people mentally and physically, and how you can be the most experienced solder or a new solder that has never seen war before and still the effects are the same. Saving Private Ryan’ lasts for a remarkable time, of two hours and fifty minutes, the film takes the audience through travesty and triumph and through death and despair. Death, we see a lot of through out the film and blood and gore so if you haven’t got a strong stomach I suggest that you don’t watch this film. The question that I asked myself while watching ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was yes, people are dying because it is war, but for what reason? To maintain your countries status, or to fight the fight that you should not be fighting.
This film in my opinion challenges you, and lets you think for yourself, even though this film is just a mimic of what really happened and we know this, you cannot help to think that it’s real (watching the action as though it is happening at the present time). We as an audience get emotionally attached to the characters, as we see then through the good times and the bad. Spielberg did this well. But my main reason for writing this review is to focus on the opening scenes, which are the most catastrophic, and highly effective scenes of all.
So did Steven Spielberg (also the creator of other box office sensations which include Jaws 1975, Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981 and Jurassic Park 1993) manage to live up to this main aim and did he really succeed on putting “chaos upon the screen”? I am going to start by analyzing the opening scene, which the idea of the transition of present to past takes place. We first hear classical music which in, and the image of a translucent American flag, blowing in the breeze. Then it passes and the film begins with a selection of characters, all we hear is the very faint music and the sound of the ocean.
There is no speaking, this often makes the audience concentrate on the body language of the characters because sometimes, you can tell more on how the character is feeling not by speech but by the emotion that comes through by the characters body language. We see an elderly man maybe in his late 70’s leading them, as he stumbles along the path (we as an audience do not yet know that the old man is Private James Ryan). As the camera pans out we see an American and French flag, this gives us a clue to where we are. As it turns out we are in Collevile-sur-mer, Normandy France.
Spielberg uses pathetic fallacy here, as we can hear the sea more, as it becomes more aggressive this could reflect the old mans feelings he might be anxious, nervous or even apprehensive. As the camera gives us a long shot from above we begin to see a white sea of headstones. Dramatic music begins to play, and increases in volume as more headstones are reveled. In my opinion the music reminded me of military music, the kind of music that would be played at a funeral of a past solder, a piece of evidence that backs that up is we see a man dressed in full military uniform, standing by one of the graves.
So these two suggestions suggest that we are at the graves that we are at are something to do with past solders, and as we are in Normandy, France were part of the Second World War took place, it makes sense. Then we see another mid-shot of the graves and the old man. After walking down a few rows, the emotional man falls to his knees at the foot of a grave almost in a position that you might be honoring someone, he starts to cry. As an audience we feel for this unknown character but we are not entirely sure what is happening. This scene because it is shot in the present the color is vibrant.
The camera zooms in to the old mans blue eyes, (suggesting that we are going into one of his memory’s) this is called a detailed close up, where the camera focuses on one part of the body to show a specific emotion, and can often make the character appear isolated and detached from everybody else. Then the sounds of crashing waves dominate the scene, and it drowns out the sound of the music, and here we are now taken from present to past. The scene establishes a connection between the elderly man in the graveyard and D-Day. The date and setting are established a mood of fear and tension is created.
The audience is given a cursory introduction to the some of the main characters. This scene leaves us too more unanswered questions than answered. Then, a flashback takes the audience and the character back to landing at Normandy on D-Day. All this film is just simply just a memory of Private James Ryan. Now the transition from present to past has taken place, we first see a deep focus shot of Omaha Beach with iron hedgehogs both in the foreground and stretching into the background. We then see from a long shot of the boats as they approach shore.
About ten American soldiers in a Higgins boat waiting anxiously, again there is no talking it is all silent all but the sound of the boat and the crashing of the waves, creating tension. The long shot then cuts to a close up of Captain Miller’s hand shaking this is a recurrent image, as we see this shot many times through out the film. And we also get close up shots of soldiers terrified expressions. When the boats to finally come ashore your ears are dominated by the sound of constant gunfire, which add to the confusion and devastation.
Many solders are killed within seconds of leaving the boats. These soldiers act like pawns in a game of chess, there is no way that they are going to survive they in my opinion they are meant to be killed so the other solders have a chance of surviving. There’s medium close up shots of solders being killed. The camera then switches up above, there is an over the shoulder shot of a German so the audience sees the battle from there perspective. Which gives a sense of power to the Germans and a sense of hopelessness to the Americans. But isn’t war supposed to be fair?
The Americans from their view look like pin pricks on a map; this makes the audience feel like the Americans are fighting a lost cause and this indicates the immense difficulty of the mission. So the various perspectives (German and American) give the overview of the carnage. As soldiers plunge into the sea the camera follows them, giving the audience yet again their perspective as they struggle both below and above the surface. The sound becomes muted, the sound of water fills or ears, this takes us back to what Spielberg said he that wanted us to experience war just like the soldiers.
The use of handheld cameras in the battle sequence increases and emphasizes the impact caused and makes the opening scene very lively and this makes us, the audience feel part of the action as if we were making our way around the beach with the troops. ” I wanted to hit the sets much like a newsreel cameraman following the soldiers into war”. Spielberg in this part of the film uses desaturated colour in contrast with the vibrant colour in the opening scene. It gives the effect that we are in a memory and in the past, looking back on events that have already taken place. It is just all, instant chaos.
Another important aspect of the opening 24 minutes is Captain Miller’s confusion. As Captain Miller stagers out the bloody sea. He stumbles and falls. We looks up at witnesses the chaos and around him. As we see the fear in his eyes even through he is an experienced soldier it can still effect a experienced soldier the same as a new soldier just coming into war. This is another point that Spielberg wanted to get across was you never get used to the turmoil, and watching people die before your eyes. It’s still the same experience over and over again. Also the fact that if you did manage to survive it was only by luck.
There is then an over the shoulder shot of Captain Miller, this shows the audience what war looks like from his perspective. The camera it is not at standstill it is all jerky and shaky because it was a hand held camera. As Captain Miller tips bloody water out of his helmet and replaces it making him look blood-splattered. As muted sound accompanies the slow motion, but the disturbing explosions can still be heard in the background. The facial expression of Captain Miller’s shows true fear. His eyes show the question, why are we doing this, is there a point? The sound returns as a General shouts for instructions.
Captain Miller finally pulls himself together and he resumes his responsibilities. All of this has it’s effects on the audience as we are plunged into the horror of the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, and we see Captain Miller and experience the senseless carnage through his eyes. Although not a raw recruit he is nevertheless shocked beyond belief. And we as an audience are given an insight into the true horror of war. As the end of the battle finally comes, it comes as a relief to the audience after the exhausting twenty minutes or so of loud gunfire and just immense no stop action.
We are struck by the enormity of the event that has just taken place. We then get a close up of Captain Miller’s hand shaking, as I said earlier this is a recurrent image. Then the camera zooms to a close up of his eyes again showing the audience his viewpoint. Gentle music quietly fades in. The waves sound peaceful after the prolonged noise of chaos and destruction. Also the melancholy music adds to the solemnity of the images. As Captain Miller rests Sergeant Horvath comments, “That’s quite a view”, a sentiment that is echoed by Miller.
This is not however referring to a nice view but a shocking and breathtaking view of the beach. As the camera rises and slowly pans to the left we begin to see the whole of the beach covered in dead bodies, and the scarlet water flowing feely. Then finally zooms on this one mans backpack of one soldier – Ryan. The final shot showing the name ‘Ryan’ on the backpack of one of the fallen soldiers establishes a link between the sequence we have just seen as well as both the title and the plot of the film. So did Steven Spielberg fulfill his main aim for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ which was “I wanted to put chaos upon the screen “.
In my eyes as a reviewer of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ he did fulfill that aim, he showed from start to finish a sense of realism, and broke entirely away from the traditional convections of the film war genre. He used magnificent camera angles, which contributed a lot to the film as a whole. This film keeps you on the edge of your seat, and guessing what is going to happen next. I think the opening sequence prepared the audience for what followed because the horror in the opening scene and the devastation that you see is the same that you see, or even worse than through out the whole film.
I would recommend this film if you want a film with a moral, and a meaning. But the one main issue that I had watching this film is the time it lasts for two hours and fifty minutes, so you do have to be dedicated to watching it from the start. The way that I would watch it is with the family on a Friday night with popcorn and a box of tissues. I would give this film a rating of 7/10, the main reasons why I didn’t give 10/10 is because for me personally it was to gory, it lasted to long and I didn’t have the patience, and it was one of those films that you would watch once and then never watch it again because there would be no need.