Saving Private Ryan (DVD)

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Saving Private Ryan (DVD)

Director Steven Spielberg's World War II tour de force chronicles the journey of a GI squad on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. Led by Captain ...

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Review of "Saving Private Ryan (DVD)"

published 16/09/2002 | Mauri
Member since : 24/07/2000
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Pro Unconpromising realism
Cons Violent uncorfortable viewing
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"WAR, what is it good for"

I'm not a huge fan of 'War' Films although I've watched a fair few over the years. It seems to me that there have been only a few that have done the subject matter justice. The few that come to mind while I try and write this review are 'Path of Glory' (1957), 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987) both by Kubrick and 'Apocalypse Now' (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola. It seems to me that these films have attempted to inject some realism to the story they are telling whilst not glorifying the subject and in different ways have tried to approach the experience of war through the eyes of the individuals involved, not the generals that are mentioned in the history books but the ordinary soldiers who invariably give their life for a cause, sometimes misguided but for them nonetheless important.

I missed 'Saving Private Ryan' when it first came out at the cinema and only recently made the time to watch it. I was wary about seeing this film for two reasons. Firstly I wondered if a director like Spielberg who is a master at audience manipulation could deal with such a story in an objective way without playing for the emotional reaction and secondly I wondered if the film itself could show war for what it really is, beyond the worthy ideologies, a senseless carnage.


The idea behind this film is simple and slightly improbable. During WW2 and four brothers go to war and three die in combat, the top rank of the US army come to know of this and decide to spare the family any further potential heartache and to send the remaining brother James Ryan, the youngest of the four home. The problem is that they are not exactly sure where he can be found. They know that as part of an Airborne Regiment he has parachuted into occupied Normandy in an area still partially held by the Germans after the Normandy landings. However his exact whereabouts in the confusion of combat are unknown.

In order to find Private Ryan, the High Command selects Captain Miller a veteran of the Normandy landings, to handpick a group of eight men from his division and make his way through the dangerous battle lines in northern France to Ryan's last known location and from there to pick up whatever information he can in order to find Ryan and bring him back alive.

It soon becomes clear that the mission is going to be harder to carry out than at first they realised and on the way through the war torn Normandy villages and towns the group become embroiled in the wider conflict. Toward the end of the film there is a twist to the plot, which sets the film up for a momentous climax.


Tom Hanks.... Captain John Miller
Edward Burns.... Private Richard Reiben
Tom Sizemore.... Sergeant Michael Horvath
Matt Damon.... Private James Francis Ryan
Jeremy Davies.... Corporal Timothy Upham
Adam Goldberg.... Private Stanley Mellish
Barry Pepper.... Private Daniel Jackson
Giovanni Ribisi .... Private Irwin Wade
Vin Diesel.... Private Adrian Caparzo
Ted Danson.... Captain Fred Hamill
Max Martini…Corporal Fred Henderson
Dylan Bruno.... Private Alan Toynbe

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Robert Rodat

The films starts with one of the most powerful wartime sequences I have seen. From the picture of an unknown American veteran in the present day kneeling in front of one of the hundreds of white crosses in a US serviceman's cemetery in Northern France we slowly zoom in to his eyes and then find ourselves transported to June 6th 1944 the day of the Normandy landings. Here we meet for the first time Captain Miller who has to lead his unit out of the amphibian craft up the beach in the face of heavy German defensive fire. The unit suffer huge losses and the slaughter is shown in horrific detail. Nothing is spared for the audience as we see soldiers have their limbs blown apart, others we see shot the head there is blood everywhere and in a very well constructed sequence the blood mixed with sea water is seen washing up on the beach around the bodies of the fallen soldier. We see the panic in the soldier's eyes but also there is a determination (or is it instinct) to survive and carry out their mission. These men are not portrayed as 'heroes' at least not in the usual Hollywood way. There is no 'Rambo' like figure that appears from the over the hill that with a godlike invincibility ready cut down the faceless enemy. These 'heroes' are ordinary men doing what they can as best they can in an impossible situation.

We are left in no doubt after this uncompromising start that we are not going to be seeing a typical Hollywood war movie. The initial battle scene last for about 25 minutes and it is totally riveting as the same time as being shocking. It is easy for anyone of my generation who has never experienced war first hand to forget what men and women just a little older than our parents went through and it certainly comes as shock when we are reminded of this in such graphic detail.

The initial sequence in undoubtedly the most powerful of the whole film and in many ways you could argue that structurally the film suffers from this. The tension is never quite recaptured although there are other powerful, violent parts in the film. I can understand why the director chose to make the film in this way. The unexpected scenes of death and immense suffering that the audience are subjected to would not be as effective at the end of the film once we have been led through the story and when we have come to know the characters. The sight of these anonymous men dying before our eyes further reinforces the anonymity of war in general. This is an attempt to show us what really lies behind the bland statistics that are reported by war correspondent in short news experts.

The performances are excellent by all involved. Tom Hank especially manages to play the key character of Capt Miller in a measured understated way and yet he is able to express clearly the underlying weight of duty he feels to his men and we can guess at the lack of confidence he has in his own ability to cope with the mission and to simply retain his sanity. Throughout the film he is left to make decision, which will affect the lives of men and it is clear that such immense responsibility is not easy to cope with despite his best effort to hide this. Only once in the course of the story do we see him, in a private moment, break down emotionally. Hanks always excels at playing the 'ordinary guy' in an extraordinary situation and here again we see his great skill as an actor rather than a film star at taken on this everyman role. He certainly deserved an Oscar for this role more than for his performance in 'Forrest Gump'

The supporting cast was in my opinion lead by the performances of Tom Sizemore as the hard noses sergeant of the unit and Edward Burns as the rebellious Private Rieben. Both actors again managed to inject a complexity in to their characters that added to the realism of the situation. A mention must also go to Jeremy Davies as the 'cowardly' inexperienced Corporal Timothy Upham who is drafted in to the mission at the last minute for his ability to speak French and German not for his fighting skills. The rest of the cast including big names stars Matt Damon and Vin Diesel are fine in their roles but don't manage to compete in the acting stakes with some of their less well-known co-stars and are generally underused.

The movie is beautifully filmed with great attention to detail and some wonderful reconstructions of partially destroyed French towns. The setting was perfectly believable. Spielberg makes great use in the battle sequences of slow motion, zoom shots and wide screen pans to cover the action from different perspectives. There is almost a documentary feel to some of the scenes especially when the characters are under extreme stress or in a state of panic, which strongly reminded me of cine-film footage of the war in Vietnam.

Spielberg always treats the subject matter with respect but he does show us the fallibility of human being in these kinds of situations and this is important to show. We see prisoners being shot after they have surrendered, we do see soldiers panicking and cowering just trying to stay alive, we see the fear in their eyes and the expression on their faces this is not a John Wayne movie!

At the end of the movie we do respect the men that died in the war but we also realise that they were just men like us and this makes the whole prospect of war even more terrifying to contemplate.


The accompanying music and sound effects complemented the film well. John Williams a veteran of films composed the music and he certainly managed to produce a soundtrack that compounded the films' sombre tone throughout. I can say it was memorable after the event but as with all good film soundtracks it adds to the visuals rather than detracting from them by being to involving.

The soundtrack is available on CD from DreamWorks Records (Catalogue Number: DRD50046) for around £11.99


Did I have any gripe with this film…? Yes a few but minor ones. I thought the ending or rather the final sequence was slightly out of touch with the rest of the film and I suppose it might have been necessary to make the film a more rounded product for the US box office. I would've liked to see a starker ending maybe one that was less well resolved than the one we were given.

The film did not glorify war it succeeded in showing the horrors of war and I found some of it shocking. Spielberg also managed to make the film a tense and gripping form of entertainment and anyone who can achieve this is a great filmmaker.

Having watched this recently after the 9/11 anniversary and the impending prospect of war in the Middle East it made me feel even more apprehensive about what the US has planned. Having said this we in the West must never forget the great sacrifices that Americans and other allies made during WW2 and other more recent wars. Leaving aside arguments about whether any war is ever justified we must never lose our respect for those who gave their lives for what they saw as a just cause. I believe through films like these this is made easier.

Saving Private Ryan is also available on VHS and DVD priced at £14.95 and £16.99 respectively.

Thanks for reading and rating this opinion.

© Mauri 2002

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Comments on this review

  • yilllllllled published 29/07/2006
    great film indeed
  • MAFARRIMOND published 23/12/2005
    A well-directed and acted film. Maureen
  • Ooky published 28/09/2002
    This is certainly one of the better war flicks, in fact it is the only one I have bought on DVD. Great op. Jenna
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Product Information : Saving Private Ryan (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Director Steven Spielberg's World War II tour de force chronicles the journey of a GI squad on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. 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. The first unforgettable 20 minutes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN realistically and horrifically depicts the Normandy invasion as Miller. his second-in-command, Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore), and the others in the unit land at Omaha Beach. Before the film began shooting, Hanks and the actors in his squad went through a one-week boot camp in the woods. All the actors, except Hanks, wanted to quit, but Hanks rallied their spirits by reminding them of the incredible tribulations endured by the real veterans of World War II. Production designer Tom Sanders found a beach in Ireland that perfectly matched the landscape of Normandy's. Spielberg gave great credit to the Irish army who helped re-create the Omaha Beach scenes.

Product Details

Video Category: Feature Film

Production Year: 1998

Plot: A war epic which tells the story of four brothers from the same family who are all fighting in the Second World War. On Washington's orders Captain Miller is sent behind enemy lines to bring back the sole surviving brother, Private Ryan. Winner of five Academy Awards.

Country Of Origin: United States of America

Classification: 15 years and over

Genre: War

Colour: Colour

Director(s): Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg

Actor(s): Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Edward Burns, Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi, Edward Burns, Ted Danson, Dennis Farina, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies, Paul Giamatti

Release Details

DVD Region: DVD


Catalogue No: PHE 8600, PHE 8362, PHE 8040

Barcode: 5014437860033, 5014437836236, 5014437804037

No of Discs: 2, 1

Release date: 01/11/2004, 01/09/2003, 06/11/2000

Executive Producer: Gary Levinsohn, Steven Spielberg

Featured: Steven Spielberg

Editor: Michael Kahn, Michael Kahn

Screenwriter: Robert Rodat, Steven Spielberg, Robert Rodat

Producer: Mark Gordon, Ian Bryce, Gary Levinsohn, Steven Spielberg, Mark Gordon, Ian Bryce, Gary Levinsohn, Steven Spielberg

Production Designer: Thomas Sanders, Thomas Sanders

Director of Photography: Janusz Kaminski, Janusz Kaminski

Composer: John Williams, John Williams, John Williams

Special Effects: Neil Corbould, Stefen Fangmeier, Roger Guyett


Main Language: English

Subtitle Language: English

Hearing Impaired Language: English

Technical Information

Dubbing Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1<br>Dolby Digital Surround<br>DTS, DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 English

Special Features: An Inside Look With The Filmmakers, Looking Into The Past The research The Screenplay And The Vision, The Making Of A Platoon, Boot Camp For The Cast, Recreating DDay Omaha Beach

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Surround, DTS

Aspect Ratio: 1.78 Anamorphic Wide Screen, 16:9 Anamorphic Wide Screen

Award Information

OSCAR: Best Director 1999 (Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg)

BAFTA: Best Achievement In Special Effects 1998 (Stefen Fangmeier, Roger Guyett, Neil Corbould)

Professional Reviews

Review: Ranked #3 in Entertainment Weekly's "10 Favorite Films of the '90s" -- "...[A] masterpiece....One soul-shattering experience..." (Entertainment Weekly, 2000-04-01)<br><br>Ranked #3 in Entertainment Weekly's "10 Favorite Films of the '90s" -- "...[A] masterpiece....One soul-shattering experience..." (Entertainment Weekly, pp.159-60, 01/04/2000)<br><br>...Unprecedented immediacy [in] the battle scenes....Uniformly superb performances... (Movieline, 1999-06-01)<br><br>"...Unprecedented immediacy [in] the battle scenes....Uniformly superb performances..." (Movieline, p.91, 01/06/1999)<br><br>...Soberly magnificent....It is the ultimate devastating letter home... (New York Times, 1998-07-24)<br><br>"...Soberly magnificent....It is the ultimate devastating letter home..." (New York Times, p.E14, 24/07/1998)<br><br>...Sheer gut-wrenching immediacy....[Spielberg] has come of age as an artist... (Sight and Sound, 1998-09-01)<br><br>"...Sheer gut-wrenching immediacy....[Spielberg] has come of age as an artist..." (Sight and Sound, p.34-52, 01/09/1998)<br><br>


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