Saving Private Ryan

"Saving Private Ryan" on Blu-ray
Talkin' 'bout Their Generation...

by Jim Bray

This is a movie that should be shown in high school history classes around the free world, lest we ever forget the heroes who were our fathers and grandfathers.

Winner of 5 Academy Awards, "Saving Private Ryan" is about as honest a treatment of war as one can expect from Hollywood. And in Steven Spielberg's steady hands, the frightening horrors are presented graphically - but necessarily so for today's desensitized culture - and rather than being the focus of the plot the violence serves more as a backdrop to the human story and human relationships that unfold on screen.

Tom Hanks plays Captain John Miller, a volunteer "short timer" (he isn't a career soldier) who leads his men ashore with the first wave of the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. These D-Day scenes, with their horrifying images and spectacular use of surround sound, immerse you in the experience so much so that you almost feel as if you're there - all while celebrating the reality that, thanks to the people who were there, you can watch the film from the comfort of your home theater and don't have to be there yourself.

Hats off to Spielberg for this.

Once he and his men have accomplished their mission of getting ashore and securing their section of the French coastline, Miller is ordered to assemble a squad and head inland, through not-yet-liberated countryside, to search for the title soldier, Private James Ryan. It's a mission of compassion - and public relations - because Ryan's three brothers have already given the ultimate sacrifice to the fight for freedom, and he's being sent home to ensure the war effort doesn't completely destroy his family's lineage.

Sound contrived? Watch the supplements that accompany the Blu-ray and you'll see that it's a lot closer to the truth than you might expect.

Miller's squad embarks on the mission, the central theme of which becomes "what is the price of a single life?" These battle-hardened veterans (the excellent cast wear their characters' combat experience behind their eyes, from where it peeks out periodically) are faced with the prospect of giving up their lives to save the life of a faceless stranger who, to them, is being given a free ride home from the hell they all want to escape.

It isn't fair - but they have their orders. It isn't justice, it just is.

Miller's squad is a family, tried under the most unbelievable circumstance, and they bond as a family unit. And as such, they feel the understandable pain when one of their family is taken from them. Toward the end, it seems, they begin to see that what they're doing for Private Ryan is really no different than what they'd do for any of their own squad/family members.

The value of a human life pops up repeatedly through "Saving Private Ryan," from the opportunity to help some small children to the urge to wreak vengeance on a Nazi soldier they hold responsible for gunning down one of their mates. But rather than moralize, the film presents the events matter-of-factly and lets you draw your own conclusions.

Hat's off to Spielberg for this, too. Perhaps he saw this film as being too important for liberal dogma. Or perhaps he realized that it's because of the people who sacrificed during the events portrayed in this film, and others, that all of us are free to spout whatever dogma we choose today.

But we've lost so much. Our forefathers gave their lives to ensure our freedom, yet today we are no longer nearly as free as we were even 50 years ago - the creeping loss of freedoms adding up so that, while we're free to ride a bicycle, we're no longer free to do it without the helmet mandated by Big Government. Okay, that's a pretty minor example, but count up the freedoms we're losing today and it's a frightening scenario. Heck, some of us are no longer free to express our opinions if they're deemed by others to be offensive or "hurtful".

This isn't the world the heroes of "Saving Private Ryan" saved, and subsequent generations should be ashamed to have squandered so much of their heritage in the name of comfort, ease, and political correctness.

In the end, and at the very end of "Saving Private Ryan," the elderly James Ryan remembers Miller's final words to him and questions the value of his own life as he lived it after being "saved." It's a powerful emotional punch from a director who has the talent and skill to play his audience like a violin, and I defy anyone not to be moved. Heck, I'm tearing up writing this, long after the home theater has gone dark.

"Saving Private Ryan" neither glorifies war, nor does it protest it. It just is, and the war presented here was a - if not the - pivotal moment in the lives of those who waged it. These were men who put their lives on hold, went over to a hell hole thousands of miles away, did a dirty job, and came home to build new lives, burying their experiences inside them, but never forgetting them even though they didn't talk a lot about them.

What Spielberg, through Robert Rodat's script, does glorify is these people - people who had the courage and the vision to put the safety and freedom of the human race above their own comfort and convenience. Despite the revisionists who seem to have so much control over our current perception of these past events, the generation portrayed in "Saving Private Ryan" wasn't a bunch of misled cattle, neither was it a bunch of gung ho jocks intent on crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war.

No, they knew exactly what they were doing, and why. And despite knowing what they were in for (as much as one can know such things without having actually experienced them first), they went anyway, and they not only saved the fictional Private Ryan, they saved every one of us who came after.

Steven Spielberg has done a superb job of showing us this.

Lest we forget.

Paramount's Sapphire Series Blu-ray does the subject matter justice. The film's 1080p picture is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) with a dts HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack and the picture and the sound are superb. The video quality features that "faded" look Spielberg used to such good effect to give the movie a truly "documentary-like" look, but it's sharp and clean and with good depth. Some grain is in evidence, but rather than detract it helps to give the film an authentic, 1944 look. It's an ultra-realistic rendering of an important and ultra-realistic film.

The audio matches the visuals beautifully, with excellent dynamics and the mixing of the ordnance whizzing around the home theater is spectacular - frightening and involving. But it's more than that; quieter scenes are just as realistic and enveloping and the overall feel is one of being there.

Paramount's two-disc Blu-ray also includes more than three hours of bonus features, many of which are in HD:

  • An Introduction—Director Steven Spielberg discusses his interest in WWII and how it led him to make the film.
  • Looking Into the Past—Steven Spielberg explains the research done for the film, the evolution of the screenplay and his intentions.
  • Miller and his Platoon—Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and other cast members introduce the different characters and how the actors worked together.
  • Boot Camp—Memories from the cast about the intense boot camp they went through with Captain Dale Dye.
  • Making Saving Private Ryan—Steven Spielberg and his collaborators discuss the look of the film, the production design, the costumes and the photography.
  • Re-creating Omaha Beach—A look at how the filmmakers re-created this historical event.
  • Music and Sound—Discussion with the team that edited, scored and brought sound to the film.
  • Parting Thoughts—Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks share their final thoughts on the experience of making the film.
  • Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan—A 25-minute documentary with the cast and crew.
  • Shooting War—Tom Hanks hosts and narrates this documentary on WWII combat photographers in Europe and the Pacific theater of war.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)
  • Re-Release Trailer (HD)

As mentioned at the top, Saving Private Ryan should be on every high school's curriculum, but it won't be. That is not only a shame, but a damning testament to the revisionist, politically correct age in which we now live.

Saving Private Ryan, from Paramount Home Video
169 minutes, 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), dts HD Master Audio
Starring Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore
Produced by Steven Spielberg & Ian Bryce and Mark Gordon & Gary Levinson, Written by Robert Rodat
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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