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Saving Private Ryan
Drama, Action, History, War
IMDB rating:
Steven Spielberg
Tom Hanks as Capt. John H. Miller
Tom Sizemore as Sgt. Mike Horvath
Edward Burns as Pvt. Richard Reiben
Barry Pepper as Pvt. Daniel Jackson
Adam Goldberg as Pvt. Stanley Mellish
Vin Diesel as Pvt. Adrian Caparzo
Giovanni Ribisi as T-5 Medic Irwin Wade
Jeremy Davies as Cpl. Timothy P. Upham
Matt Damon as Pvt. James Francis Ryan
Ted Danson as Capt. Fred Hamill
Paul Giamatti as Sgt. Hill
Dennis Farina as Lt. Col. Anderson
Joerg Stadler as Steamboat Willie
Max Martini as Cpl. Henderson (as Maximilian Martini)
Storyline: Opening with the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion under Cpt. Miller fight ashore to secure a beachhead. Amidst the fighting, two brothers are killed in action. Earlier in New Guinea, a third brother is KIA. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three of the grave telegrams on the same day. The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of her grief when he learns of a fourth brother, Private James Ryan, and decides to send out 8 men (Cpt. Miller and select members from 2nd Rangers) to find him and bring him back home to his mother...
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Typical Spielberg: All Frosting, No Cake
In a historic and artistic context, here's a question that would bother Spielberg if he thought about it for a second: what if there was no such thing as special effects? If we take the special effects from his movies, would they still be great? What, you're waiting for an answer? Just like every Spielberg movie, we find Steve desperately clinging to special effects like a fish to water. Like Bush to oil. Like Uwe Boll to a video game-to-movie conversion (last one is not necessarily bad, by the way).

Just like everybody else, I was amazed by the "realism" of the first 5 minutes. Once you get past the battle scenes, there's not much to work with. I'm glad people (as manifest in the growing number of low reviews here) are starting to realize this.

Let's set aside the absurdity of the "plot" (I use 'plot' very loosely). That's just a vehicle; a pretext; an excuse to use special effects (Spielberg's one and only leverage). The main plot is that a mother lost a number of her sons, so the general (or whatever his rank was) thinks she shouldn't lose her last remaining son, Ryan. He reads a letter Abraham Lincoln sent to a mother who went through a similar experience during the civil war. Using musical cues and closeups, Spielberg is not trying to tell us how to feel; he's practically *begging* us to do so. After all, he knows better than anybody that people will - during the course of the movie - realize that the battle scenes aren't that numerous or long, so there better be some story to back the movie up.

Since he knows that he's addressing a crowd that made movies like Armageddon and Independence Day box office hits, he (correctly) realized that the script needs to be comprised of one element only: text. So long as the script contained text, it was good enough. And he was right. With enough flash and special effects, he was able to appeal to the idiocy of the average American, a tactic mastered by Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay and their likes.

Now, back to the 'plot': once you set it aside, you'll realize that this movie is trying to instill many ideas into the minds of the movie goers. When he shows German soldiers, he shows them from a distance, so by not giving them a face, a human side, he teaches us that it's totally OK to thrill at killing them. Bad German bad! After our heroes free a German, Spielberg makes is very clear that he came back later to kill Tom Hanks. Spielberg is saying: they should've killed him the first time. The only good German is a dead one, apparently. Astonishing dishonesty and malice on the part of Spielberg. Not a trick was a spared to demonize every single one of them.

Unlike masters of movie making (a title Spielberg will never come close to) like Scorsese and Coppola, he desperately needs musical cues to tell when to feel sad, fearful, excited, etc. His approach to emotion is so utterly sappy, shallow and downright laughable that it's virtually impossible for him to let the scenes and the story speak for themselves. He must have very clear cues to give the viewers signals. The music is like a slap in the face. Spielberg manifests in moments like "tell me I lived a good life", grabs you by the throat and ORDERS you to shed a few tears. Insulting. Pathetic.

The only good part in the movie is the whole scene of the mistaken identity, where they realize this whining little weakling crying his eyes out is not the Ryan they wanted. Other than that, and looking at the chutzpah of the musical cues, the absurdity of the plot, the dehumanization of the Germans and the hilarious warfare errors, the movie is only good for another laugh, albeit not one Spielberg was aiming for.
Based on true events
From Stephen E. Ambrose's book, 'Band of Brothers,' written in 1992. In Chapter Six, 'Move Out,' Fritz Niland -- a member of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, lost his brother Bob Niland, who was killed on D-Day. A second brother had been killed on Utah Beach on D-Day. And a third brother was killed, a pilot in the China-Burma-India theater that same week. His mother received all three telegrams on the same day. However, in "real life" Fritz was never lost, was immediately located by a Father Sampson, escorted to Utah Beach, and was flown to London, and then back to the States.
Every once in a while, I go back to watch films that were celebrated in their time. These have to be films I saw when they were newly nested in their warm buzz, and which were conveyed as if they were a privilege. This is such a film, one that can perhaps serve even as the exemplar.

It was touted as (at last) a serious film by Spielberg, chapter two of his "real" film which marketed the holocaust. It had Hanks, who it should be recalled was more uniquely respected then than now. It dealt with a sort of real history with direct pulls on patriotism and something called valor, in a way that would make Sinatra and Wayne blush (or at least hiccup).

And its first 20 minutes was chocked full of effects that worked and conveyed a meaning of confused dread. It moved us all — how could it not? — and allowed the filmmaker to lazily move through an ordinary story, staged as if it had a different production crew.

Seeing this again in my own context and with the objectiveness of distance, I am amazed at how effective that opening section is, and how typically bad Steven the rest is. That first part is tense, tight and close. It is horrible without forcing us so close that we recoil.

You know, one of the biggest challenges in film-making is to introduce the audience to the world they will live in for perhaps a few hours — the film and the long tail of recalled experience afterward. Usually the filmmaker has only a few minutes. Some — especially when a strict genre film is coming — can even do it during the title sequence. We are prepared for this entry voyage; it is part of the contract we make when allowing a filmmaker to transport us. I cannot recall a film that took this much time to prepare us. Perhaps "Pan's Labyrinth," but that setup was disjointed.

So I have to admire Spielberg's craft in putting together a session that has impact, though it is all tone and no narrative. And I have to admire his ability to understand and exploit that twilight area where we are primed for such a thing. And then 20 minutes in, we start to ask why, why engage us? Why open us to be ready for something that matters and serve us bread?

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
Fantasy reigns supreme
Spielberg just about had it here, at least for the first half hour or so. He looked at the bone-crunching, grisly history of D-day and had the movie to put it on the screen with some respect for honest reality. Then, with his Hollywood sellout lack of vision, Spielberg decided to throw it all away on patriotic fantasy. The 'true' story the film may be based on has some chaplain in France discovering Ryan after word was passed along that his brothers had all been lost and the lad should be shipped back to America so his mother still has one child to work the farm. Or, the story could be straight out of the writer's head but it hardly matters. The premise itself strikes the viewer as utterly ludicrous after a half-hour of complete slaughter, the seas red with human blood and gore. We are expected to believe that an army chief is sitting in his office and worrying over Private Ryan and his family while the assault on Normandy is costing thousands upon thousands of lives, while the allied bombers are missing their mark up and down the coast and Hitler's machine guns are just mowing down allies like grass. What romantic rubbish and so typical of Hollywood. And the portrayal of the German prisoner is morally offensive. The German people have never been less human than Americans, even when they were lead by an evil leader into a war. To portray them as Spielberg does the prisoner, a bumbling idiot who later becomes a murdering snake, hissing shhh as he slowly sinks a huge knife into an American chest, is low-brow, hateful stuff. But nobody is going to notice. Believe me. In fact, we love to see the world in black and white, simplistic terms. Here come the Oscars for Spielberg. Americans (and my own Canadians too) are generally not prepared to see the truth about themselves. Capital 'D' Denial reigns supreme, especially at the box-office. Spielberg's big budget is spent to further anesthetize us while claiming to be trying to do justice to the truth. If he'd stayed on the beach at Omaha, he'd have a nine out of ten. Instead, he rates several points less for this updated version of that old T.V. series called Combat. Please see Amy Taubin's review at the following URL. It's much more articulate and generous than mine.
Pretty bad history
I was hoping for an accurate war film for a change (take a look at the Battle of the Bulge for a really bad example). What Spielberg shows us in his Omaha Beach scenes makes me wonder

which Omaha Beach assault he is trying to portray. Those who know little about the battle (that's almost everyone who's in the theater) probably now have the idea that every other soldier who landed on the beach before noon was either blown to smithereens or badly wounded.

Believe me, the 1st and 29th Divisions would have been annihilated if it

were as bad as it's portrayed and would never have been able to scale the cliffs and rout the enemy by early afternoon, which they did. I wonder, for example, how wide most viewers think Omaha beach actually was. In the film it looks about a couple hundred yards. It was, in actuality, almost ten miles wide. The timing was also inaccurate - Hanks goes up the cliffs at what appears to be 8AM. Nobody made it before 11AM. Another historical error is the implication that the events at Omaha were similar to those on the other four assualt beaches (Juno, Sword, Gold and Utah). That's totally incorrect. Utah Beach, for example, the other US assault beach, took about a dozen casualties - many of those due to accidents during the landing rather than from enemy action. But the worst part of the movie was the completely idiotic script. Here we have the US Army sending a squad(a squad!!!) to march straight thru the entire German 7th Army (something two Divisions, with total air superiority couldn't do for weeks), waltz around an area of 300 square miles, and expect to find a guy named Ryan. If they wanted to do any of this nonsense, the Army would have sent them in on the gliders that flew into the area the very next morning. "Gliders, what gliders"? said Spielberg. That's what happens when you have a scriptwriter who doesn't know very much about his subject. A stupid, stupid film. What a waste of $100M or so.
B-movie about D-day.
The more I think about this film and read differing reviews about it the more I feel it wasn't meant for me. I'm a Finn, not American. I don't know if Spielberg meant this film as a last hoorah for the G.I.:s, but to me that is what he made. All right the film does have something to tell for everyone: in the insane theatre of war one should try to do the right thing, have courage to do it, that your actions have consequences, war as a whole creates nothing but bad feelings and probably something else too but nothing that has not been told earlier.

And I suppose that isn't so bad, I mean there have certainly been worse films. But what does bother me is that Spielberg set out to do a film about what war is really like and to me, he failed. Yes I have seen the opening scene and to me it was more about exploitation and action film then about anything else and not even very memorable action. Even if one would skip all the omissions and strange things about the film (in the landing scene no naval artillery support, no air force support and the illogical German tactics in the final battlescenes) to me the main plot is a strange curiosity that only serves to illustrate that the average soldier wasn't that interesting or important. Apparently with some links to reality the main plot remains distant and odd to me.

With Oscar, block-buster, critically acclaimed material as ww2 with all the gore how could Spielberg go wrong? First of all the acting. Well I could not stop wishing there would have been some lesser known actors used, maybe even amateurs. A lot has been made out of the cinematography and yes, it is good. Although to me it is not so effective when there is apparently too much money to make a film and then the camera work tries to make it look more realistic. As ww2 films go this film is a far cry from "Come and See". Yes I do admit that flag waving is a common problem among ww2 movies, I just wished that Spielberg could have avoided it.
a MUST see!!!!
i first saw this movie on T.V. one night with my father, but only saw bits and pieces. I decided to rent it one night and watched the whole thing in my basement. From the start to the finish i thoroughly enjoyed the movie.i had seen a couple other world war two movies, but none of them compared to this. it was interesting how Spielberg made everything look like it was back then, with the costumes, weapons and scenery!!! overall, this movie seemed like one of the best out there, and i personally think it's spielbergs best. If you haven't seen it yet, then i HIGHLY recommend you go out and rent it some time. It's a great movie and definitely worth watching!
Cinematography the only redeeming thing
I heard so many great things about 'Saving Private Ryan' that my curiosity for this movie turned to pure shock as I watched it. I have to say that I really do not like war movies, so thats an obvious bias against this movie, but there were sooooooooooo many things about this movie that just made it a laughing stock of me and my friends. The cinematography in this film is simply amazing, in fact i'd say some of the best cinematography i've ever seen, but despite it's technical excellence, SPR is a pathetic, manipulative attempt by Speilberg to make him feel better about himself. The only character development in the movie takes place in the scenes before that particular character's death, it's happens in EVERY case; it's like clockwork. The ending is absolutely horrendously manipulative, and in fact the whole story doesn't really make sense as a result of it. SPOILER ALERT - don't read any farther if ya don't want to ruin the flick for yourself. At the beginning we have the shot of that old man at the grave, then it closes in on him and his memory begins of what happened... the only thing is that we find out the old man is really Ryan, not Tom Hank's Character, so i'm wondering how Ryan has all these memories of the beaches and the rest of the movie. Theoretically shouldn't the 'memories' start when Ryan enters the movie? Oh well, I can see arguments against my point, but the use of some certain camera angles REALLY makes the point of saying that the old man is Tom Hanks. I found this movie, above all things (even manipulative) to be extremely boring. Here's another case of a movie that had a about a 12 minute story stretched out to infinity. There are hundreds of little things that made me laugh about this movie in the wrong way, and obviously I won't go into all of them but I do feel this movie makes the German Armies look rediculous, specifically in the tank scene. There is many shots of the American soldiers running across open areas with dozens of germans shooting at them but they hardly ever get shot, while the Americans seem to hit somebody with every single bullet, and three people with every explosive. Other humorous moments include Tom Hanks diffusing a potentially hostile situation by telling everybody that hes a school teacher and the weak,poetry loving-'i've never shot anybody'- soldier killing a guy for no real reason in the situation. The performances were pretty good, I guess, but the script was so laughable that most of the things the guys say make you crack up no matter how well they say them. If you wanna see a good war movie, see Platoon, or if you hate war movies like I do, and you feel like watching a war satire, check out Starship Troopers.
I felt used.
I'm afraid that I hated every moment of this film. Spielburg overused emotional hokum to try to give his film wieght when we actually didn't care whether Private Ryan lived or died. The first twenty minutes, I accept are excellent, but they are just a rip off of someone else's hard work - and frankly I would rather see the original footage from the Second World War rather than the director's interpretation of it. Although it tried to be realistic and historical, it was neither. The history is faulty and the emotions of the rangers are not realistic. (I imagine that if it happened for real they would complain about having to rescue this mummie's boy and hide out somewhere safe until it was safe to go back to base.) I'd rather watch the notoriously bad, Objective Burma anyday. At least it doesn't pretend to be true.
A big disappointment
I finally made time to see this film, expecting a visceral, emotional experience. Instead I was (in order) bored, angry, sleepy, and bewildered. Is this the groundbreaking film that everyone was gushing over last year? From all the talk I expected a head-on assault at the beginning of the movie. What I did see was a heavy-handed and frankly uninteresting battle scene. From there the movie only got worse. I didn't care a bit for any of the characters, least of all the Tom Hanks lead and the obnoxious Matt Damon. While the film looked spectacular, that's all it was: surface. There was no depth whatsoever to any of the characters or situations. I feel like maybe there is something wrong with me that I don't see what all the orgasmic gushing over this film is about. Plain old boring.
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