"Saving Private Ryan" is, by all accounts, an American masterpiece and one of the premier World War II films. Its release on Blu-Ray has been highly anticipated and, for the most part, it doesn't disappoint. First of all, the transfer is every bit as astonishingly sharp as expected. I am by no means a videophile, but there didn't appear to be a single moment of artificial enhancement of the film. The print is appropriately accompanied by a slight sheen of grain whilst still retaining a high level of detail. As far as I'm concerned this is an easy five star transfer. The film runs 2:49:28 and features audio and subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Prior to the menu loading are two easily skippped trailers for the "Minority Report" Blu-Ray and the long overdue home video release of "The African Queen".
There are no features on the first disc, not even a commentary track (Spielberg is well known for his dislike of commentary tracks). The special features are included on the second disc and all are presented in standard definition with the exception of the two film trailers. This is disappointing but not surprising, as it's something of an industry trend. There were no new features produced for this release, which is especially surprising considering the wealth of new high definition features that were produced for the "Minority Report" Blu-Ray. The positive side is that it pulls the features from all previous DVD editions. So even if it is all in standard definition, at least the consumer is presented with the complete special features collection. Most of the titles are rather self-explanatory, but here's a complete rundown of the features:
1) "Introduction" (2:35) - Director Steven Spielberg discusses what attracted him to this project. This would've made more sense if it was included on the first disc with the film, as most will only put the second disc in after watching the film, thus making this more of an epilogue!
2) "Looking Into the Past" (4:40) - This functions as a sort of extension of the introduction, as Spielberg discusses the influences that ultimately led him to creating this film.
3) "Miller and His Platoon" (8:23) - This feature discusses the different personalities of the principle characters with particular focus on Tom Hank's character. Spielberg and Hanks also speak candidly about their interest in World War II in general. There's some interesting on-set footage included as well.
4) "Boot Camp" (7:37) - This features the great Captain Dale Dye discussing how he helped train the actors for their roles, as well as the unique boot camp the actors participated in during production.
5) "Making Saving Private Ryan" (22:05) - A strong making-of feature which highlights Spielberg's directing style relative to the film with some outstanding behind the scenes footage. This is far better than the typical promotional fluff studios place on video releases with a "making of" label attached.
6) "Re-Creating Omaha Beach" (17:58) - An interesting feature discussing how the crew mounted the most impressive battle scene of the film.
7) "Music and Sound" (15:59) - Composer John Williams discusses how he went about scoring the film.
8) "Parting Thoughts" (3:43) - A nice bookend feature that contains bits of interview footage with Hanks and Spielberg.
9) "Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan" (25:01) - A standard behind-the-scenes feature covering production of the film. This feels like a promotional piece that was bumpered between films on television during its theatrical run. This feature was ported over from the original DVD release of the film and is in rather poor quality (even for standard definiton). I'm definitely glad they included this, but the "Making Saving Private Ryan" feature is far superior.
10) "Shooting War" (1:28:05) - Tom Hanks (in full beard, as this was filmed while "Cast Away" was under production) hosts this feature focusing on the men who filmed and photographed World War II. This is perhaps the strongest feature here, bolstered by plenty of amazing war footage and anecdotes from veterans.
11) Theatrical Trailer in High Definition (2:16)
12) Re-Release Trailer in High Definition (2:05)
To be fair, all the features truly do look quite excellent with the notable exception of the "Into the Breach" feature. I've been spoiled on the clarity of Blu-Ray, however, so it's still something of a disappointment. Aside from that, this is by far the best release of the film yet. The print is fantastic, it's a huge upgrade over the DVD, and the features are expansive and plentiful. Highly recommended!
UPDATE 05/11/10: Apparently this Blu-Ray has been recalled because of an audio sync problem that occurs after Chapter 15 (about two hours into the film). I was aware of the claims on its release date, but even after watching my copy twice I never encountered any issues. Still, for the company to take this sort of action proves the problem is indeed legitimate, so hopefully Paramount's response will be swift and painless for those who have already purchased this product.
FOLLOW-UP 05/26/10: The Blu-Ray issue has been resolved, Amazon only offers the corrected copies for sale and all other retailers should have them on the shelves now. If buying locally, the easiest way to tell the difference is to check the backside of the Blu-Ray for a yellow UPC sticker. Also, whereas the original defective discs were grey, the new corrected copies are blue discs.
on December 22, 1999
I was very impressed by ths film. I thought it would probably turn out to be rather cliched but it did seem to have a newer perspective on WW2. Some people say the characters are stereotypical - well, I served in the British Army Reserves for four years and my platoon had a fierce Scot, joking Londoner, smiling Irishman and philosphical Welshman in it, plus me as the token University Boy so I think you'll find that real-life Army units can be like that. No African Americans? Since the US Army was segregated until the sixties that is hardly surprising. Caricatured Germans? Germans running away? Well, some of them DID run away you know - they weren't all ruthlessly obedient supermen, and some were no doubt far more fed up with the war that the allies were. It would have been nice to see some British soldiers about but they were some way East taking out Caen at the time, so again, not a surprise. I wasn't sure about the film's comment on Montgomery ("overrated") and the British divisions though; Monty was a very good general indeed, at least as good as Patton or Eisenhower, and if he was so overcautious then why did the British lose so many men and tanks taking Caen? I think you'll find that about 80% plus of all the German armour in Normandy was at Caen, directed against the British - not the sort of battle that can be won in an afternoon I'm sure you'll agree.
Excellent film though - the most realistic combat scenes you will ever see on celluloid by far, and the plot is at least believable.
By the way, thanks very much to the US armed forces for doing a fantastic job as our allies in WW2, and other times. Long may Britain and the US continue to stand up for freedom.
on April 2, 2004
Some people advise others to close their eyes during the loooong opening scene of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. That would be a mistake. Yes, it's carnage, it's horrible, it's relentless, it's bloody, it's random death, it's a portrayal of fear and courage and raw coincidence. But it's also one of the most powerful pieces of cinematography ever filmed.
There are many other scenes that have stayed with me during the years since I last saw this unforgettable film, perhaps Spielberg's best ever. Perhaps the most poignant one that comes immediately to mind is the woman whose sons are all away at war. She's on a remote farm, washing dishes, and thru her window she sees the dust of approaching cars. She goes outside to meet the visitors, tenses as she sees military brass and a chaplain step from the cars, then crumples wordlessly to the worn boards of her front porch as she tries to take in the news: all her boys have been killed, except for one: Private Ryan.
Another related scene, the one that came just before this one, is equally gut-wrenching (and in both scenes, there is no dialogue, just heart-stabbing visuals that are more powerful than any words could have been) as a woman charged with sending out letters of the We Regret to Inform You variety realizes that she's seen three letters with the same address within the past few days, and she takes this terrible proof to her supervisor - and thus is born the search for the surviving son, to bring him home to his momma.
Tom Hanks, with his own persona of morality and honesty, is perfectly cast as the good Captain Miller, a soldier's soldier charged with this onerous task, and of course there is terrible cost.
Saving Private Ryan is the film Spielberg HAD to make. Outstanding, in every possible way.
on March 4, 2000
First, I agree with all that see this film as a technical masterpiece. The battle scenes, sound, hand-held camera work, and other special effects are incomparable.
Many of the historical facts are astoundingly accurate as well. If you review the battle plan for Omaha you will see that the 2nd Ranger Battalion hit the beach at Dog Green Sector in the first wave and that they were "right where they were supposed to be but no-one else was" (all the other first wave groups landed at the wrong place). You will also see that the DD tanks at Omaha were supposed to land first but they all "foundered in the channel". It was also necessary for the engineers to blow the obstacles fast because the tide rises at one inch per minute in Normandy. Bangalore torpedoes WERE used to blow the wire behind the seawall. Dog-1 Exit IS right near Vierville. The details are almost all perfect.
The character development I would call sparse. I have the film on DVD and having seen certain scenes many times so now I feel the character development is superb - but of course if you have to see it over and over then that is a problem!
I do think that the impact of the film goes far beyond just the "tactical" elements of the plot and characters. As I watch it, I do feel a sense of awe and wonder that these men would do what they did on D-day (and all the battles of the war). While our British friends will no doubt be offended by this, there is something unique about the young Americans we see in the opening scene in the Higgins boats - men who have come from 5,000+ miles away to save people they do not even know from an evil that is far from their homes. The film presents this uniquely American mystery to us - not only in the opening scene, but in my opinion, throughout the entire 2.5 hours.
I must comment on the "absurdity" of the plot. There were four brothers in WW2 that closely approximate the Ryan brothers' fictional scenario. The real life Niland brothers were all in the army - 2 died at Normandy, one died in Asia and one was in the airborne and was dropped behind lines on D-Day. The War Department pulled the fourth brother out when they learned this (this is an historical fact).
I must also make a positive comment about John Williams' score, especially the final "Hymn for the Fallen". When I hear the voices of the Tanglewood Chorus rising over the final credits I think back to the doomed men of the Higgins boats about to be splattered by bullets and I get the feeling that this overwhelming choral sound is the sound of their souls rising up off of that beach like a shock wave to drive back the evil that had taken root in Europe. This is a fine piece of music that does honor to these men. Yet even these "perfect" men were shown to not be so perfect in the scenes of surrendering Germans being gunned down by angry American troops.
I also can't omit the great and oft-overlooked performance of Tom Sizemore as Sargeant Mike Horvath. He merges into the background as a 'leader of grunts'. "We're in business! "
I can't close without making one major criticism of this film. I feel the film is badly marred by the maudlin final scene.
Its still an outstanding film and one that haunts me to this day. I have the soundtrack CD and its great. I also highly recommend Steven Ambrose's "D-day" book and General Omar Bradley's book "A Soldier's Story" if you really want to understand the details behind D-Day.
"Saving Private Ryan" tells the story of a United States Army captain (played by Tom Hanks) who, during World War II, is sent on a special mission in Europe: he and his team are to find and bring home a young soldier named Private Ryan. Ryan's brothers have been killed fighting the war, making him the last surviving son in the family; the U.S. government thus wants him pulled out of the combat zone.
Unlike some other war films, SPR includes no love story subplots; this is all about men at war. The combat scenes are brutally intense and graphic. But the violence is never gratuitous or glamorized. Rather, the violent scenes play like a documentary whose maker is intent on showing the terror and pain of war.
Steven Spielberg directs an excellent ensemble cast. Hanks brings a quiet, anguished dignity to his role as Captain Miller. The rest of the cast does equally admirable work.
The quest of Captain Miller and his squad involves both an internal and external struggle; they must fight enemy troops while struggling to stay in touch with their own humanity. The film raises such issues as loyalty, duty, the treatment of enemy prisoners, and the value of a single life in the midst of overwhelming death.
While the film clearly empathizes with Hanks' American soldiers, it does not demonize the Germans, and does not indulge in jingoistic imagery or rhetoric. In the end, "Saving Private Ryan" is a well-made film that is often disturbing, often moving, but always attentive to high human cost of war.
on November 8, 2000
On Omaha Beach in France, a GI lurches about, desperately looking for something he has lost. He spots it and picks it up. It is his arm, blown off at the elbow by shrapnel. This is just one of the many images of horror glimpsed through the water, smoke and endless gunfire in the stunning D Day landing sequence that comes early on in director Steven Spielberg's masterful and moving movie about World War II, Saving Private Ryan. It is this extended (24 minutes) bloody battle sequence, in which handheld camera work contributes to a terrifying you-are-there feel, that sets the tone for the movie. Men are mowed down, the ocean turns red, and the noise and slaughter never stop.
Trying to stay alive through all this madness is Capt. John Miller (Hanks) and his men. Those who survive D Day are handed another mission: Go behind enemy lines and find Private Ryan (Damon), whose three brothers have all been killed in combat. The orders are to get him out and send him home. "Where's the sense of risking the eight of us to save one guy?" grouses one of Hanks's men.
His question is at the movie's core. Why fight at all? What does any one man owe another? And was it all worth it? Helped by a thoughtful script by Robert Rodat, Ryan raises all these issues.
The answers the movie provides are never pat, jingoistic responses about country and duty but rather more complicated ones about friends, family and simple decency. After seeing Ryan, many of us will look at our aging fathers or grandfathers with a newfound respect. And ponder what we, as individuals and as a nation, are doing today to justify the sacrifices those men made on our behalf more than half a century ago.
on November 28, 1999
My father-in-law is a WWII veteran and was overseas for 2-1/2 years. I had always known that he had seen a lot of action but never heard him talk very much about it. He was in the D-day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge, plus many-many other battles. My father-in-law went to see this movie and cried through-out most of it (especially the first 30 minutes). We later talked about it and fifty years of thoughts came forth. The initial battle sequence in the film is exactly what it was like, the sounds, the smells, your hearing, etc. He said it was like being back on the beach all over again. He told me, unless you've been in battle, it's very hard to describe what it feels like. This movie hits the mark. See this movie and then thank a WWII vet for the contributions they made to the USA.
I've read alot of the other reviews, and many people should do some reading about the invasion before they criticize it. Many keep asking where are the British, well, they were over on the Gold and Sword beaches, while the Candaians were on Juno beach. The US 4th Infantry div. attacked at Utah beach and the US 29th Infantry div and US 1st Infantry division attacked Omaha beach. This movie was about the landing at Omaha beach. Therefore, the reason you don't see any Brits in the film is because they weren't supposed to be there. They fought on the Gold and Juno beaches.
on November 13, 1999
First thing's first: This is absolutely, without a doubt the most heartfelt, gut-wrenching, emotionally rocking movie about WWII ever made.
Not only did it finally show what the landing at Normandy was like, but it also depicted what urban warfare is like. I still can't get over the lighting, the shadows and, of course, the combat effects.
Most of all, I'm glad what Speilberg emphasized in this movie:
There are NO rapid fire trails going PING-PING-PING in neat, straight lines.
Machinegun fire, even if your holding your weapon steady, makes contact over quite a large area.
Bullets DO make that horrible shrieking, whining sound, along with the sharp whizzing noises too.
The MK2(pineapple) grenade doesn't creating billowing walls of fire like so many other hollywood grenades do. It explodes and sends invisible shrapnel and a lot of dirt and dust in the air.
The actors weren't actors in this movie-- they were soldiers. Tom Hanks is the perfect draftee Captain: educated, 30-ish, and brutal/compassionate at the same time. Draftee officers DID come from no-name towns and did have jobs like being a schoolteacher.
The movie actually showed military tactics the way they are used, from simple fire-and-maneuver to interlocking fields of machinegun fire.
And finally, one of the most memorable scenes for me is when the sound fades away from Captain Miller at the Normandy landing. That's adrenaline for ya. So much of it in your system will drown out sound, drain color from your vision, and also make things seem to go into slow-motion because your mind is taking about 20 times as many pictures as normal in any given second.
For those who gave this movie bad reviews:
What the hell more do you want? This movie shows WHAT WARFARE IS LIKE, something that over the past fifty or so years no one has been able to achieve through countless war flicks. If you like those cheap celebrity fests like The Longest Day or The Thin Red Line, by all means watch 'em, but here's a newsflash:
In combat, you don't look up from your cover and suddenly feel relieved because John Wayne just strolled by and dropped 150 enemy with one shot from his weapon. Or in the case of The Thin Red Line, you don't ponder the philosophical questions of the universe with perfectionist awe.
When your sitting on a hunk of cold concrete with a support cable digging into your thigh and hypervelocity slugs ripping past your ears, you think 3 things: "Am I gonna die? When? and How?" The Normandy sea wall scene showed this with the way Private Reiben(Edward Burns) is looking around right before his Sarge tells him to get another B.A.R.
All in all, the effects were astonishing, the acting brilliant, and the plot nearly flawless(The people who bitched about the plot should go rent some Rambo movies if that's the only kind of stuff they can comprehend).
This is as good as movies are ever going to get.
Thank you, cast and crew of Saving Private Ryan.
on December 8, 2000
I've read practically every book there is on the Normandy invasion since I was a kid, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the beach landings were like, as well as the overall battle in general. That is, until I saw "Saving Private Ryan" for the first time. I have never been more jolted by a filmed depiction of war in my life. The only way it could have been more realistic was if theater staff sprayed the audience with live gunfire during the battle scenes. I'm a Navy vet, although I was never in combat, but during the first half-hour I think I felt all of the emotions those guys went through that day, but at no doubt nowhere near the intensity they felt.
As affecting as the beach landing scenes were, the part of the movie that most touched me, the part that I thought about for weeks and months afterward, was at the end, when the now-old James Ryan recalls CAPT Miller's last words, "Earn this," and he wonders aloud if he did all he could in his life after the war to honor the men who saved him. God, can you imagine such a gift, and such a burden? I left that movie after seeing it for the first time, and drove all the way home in silence, taking it all in. I think about that all the time, and wonder if I'm earning my time here on Earth. Spielberg is truly the master, in that his film affects you on so many levels. If ever a movie deserved the Best Picture Oscar, it was this one. "Shakespeare In Love"? What a cruel joke to play on him, and us.
on December 6, 1999
I am not one who normally sees the same movie over and over. However, I am not ashamed to admit I have seen SPR more than 15 times, including 3 times at the theater. This movie affected me partly because my dad served in WW2 and both my parents were the same age as those who served our country during that time. Indeed, many of my parents' high school friends went to war and never returned. This movie doesn't pull any punches and it is better for it. I recently made a significant upgrade to my home theater setup including a multi-channel Klipsch speaker system with powered subwoofer, etc. I spent the extra money for the much-touted DVD/DTS version of this movie, even though I already have it on VHS. I was not prepared for the astounding difference in sound quality, even between dolby digital surround and DTS. The DTS version literally recreates the movie theater experience (with the right equipment). Your DVD player and receiver/amp must have a built-in DTS decoder (I recommend you look at the Toshiba 3109 DVD player) to play back in this format. I was able to watch the movie yet again as if it were for the first time because the auditory experience was so intense. If you are DTS-ready do not even think of buying any other version of DVDs. I found you can find all the DTS DVDs at amazon.com simply by entering DTS in the search window. As of today's date there are about 40 available.