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Classic War Movie: Saving Private Ryan - With A Free Essay Review



“Can a film be so brutally honest, so artistically perfect in its undistinguished depictions, as to make it practically unpalatable? Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s genius masterstroke about World War II, will have you pondering just that.” (Goldberger) The coveted movie was released on July 8th, 1998 in theaters across the globe. The movie quickly earned the title as one of the best war movies of all time for a variety of reasons. The filmography, direction, casting, plot, action, suspense, connection with the audience, and cinematography were examples of faultlessness which set new standards for the future of war films. The movie Saving Private Ryan is the most classical and influential war movie of all time because of its pure and real portrayal of war tactics, strategies, and the unveiling of the undisclosed mental state of soldiers. The movie is unique in that the characters are relatable to the viewer on an emotional level, making the film impossible to stop watching. The goals of the movie is to make the viewer feel as if they are in uniform fighting alongside the soldiers during World War II as well as to allow contemplation on the value of a single life and the worth that one may have over another.

The filmography of Saving Private Ryan is ingenious. The first scene which portrayed the storming of the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944, has received critical acclaim as one of the most realistic and horrifying battle scenes ever portrayed in a movie. “Using specially-designed cameras that mimicked news cameras of the period, a toned-down color palate, and frantic freehand camera-work, Spielberg with the help of his lenser Janusz Kaminski, puts the audience on the beach with the Allies.” (Leong) The visuals of the battle are truly extraordinary and depict very convincingly that the battle was filmed by Spielberg and his crew during the war itself. The battle scenes of the flick “remind us not to treat death lightly, even when it is too widespread to be comprehended. No scene glorifies the mass slaughter of enemy soldiers.” (Mapes) If the viewer of the movie was to close their eyes, they would hear the agonizing screams and pains of the dying soldiers on the beach. If they opened their eyes, they would face the horrors of war and see the disembowelments, losing of limbs, and flesh being ripped from the bodies of American soldiers.

One of the primary reasons why the movie is so classical is because of the relatable characters used throughout the film. The usage of normal, average men in the movie forces the viewer to create an emotional connection with the characters, which makes it hard to stop cheering and yearning for them throughout the movie. Because the audience gets attached to the characters, it makes the death of many of them challenging to watch.

The twenty-three minute long battle scene which opens the movie is the most realistic portrayal of a battle ever created for the big screen. The camera placement, never giving a bird’s eye view of the land, creates a feeling of authenticity to the battle. The saturation of the scene was lowered for a less cinematic effect and a more realistic approach. The changes made to the saturation made the scene feel more real and rugged, as if the sun was beating down on the back of the viewer and bullets were flying into their faces, just as the soldiers experienced during the war. The entire goal of the battle scene was to make everything as real and uncut as possible, which meant showing as much blood as earthly possible. Somehow, Spielberg created the most perfectly terrible battle scene ever recorded and shown on the big screen. Soldiers were shown being shot, wounded, disemboweled, and in extreme amounts of pain.

The element of sound and audio are very rich areas in the move Saving Private Ryan. The sounds of war are rendered loudly and as realistically as possible. The audio is altered so that when soldiers talk during battle, you can barely hear then screaming. This accentuates the extremities soldiers faced during the war, and how powerful weapons were on both sides. The sounds played during the movie gives an even more realistic portrayal of war. The abundance of disorderly sounds creates the impression of chaos and the senseless combat that occurred between powers during World War II.

The casting of the movie is clever because of the fact that many of the actors playing significant roles aren’t very well known, creating an even closer bond with the audience, that the soldiers were normal people. There was no true stand out hero in the movie, making it relatable to the audience as well as even more mentally devastating. The only role played by a well-known actor is played by Tom Hanks, the lead character. Casting the role of Tom Hanks as U.S. Army Captain John H. Miller was a stroke of pure intelligence. “At first he seems unlikely to lead a pack of soldiers in a war movie. He’s too much the nice guy. His voice is a gentle tenor instead of a cussing bass. And yet, that seems to be exactly the point that Spielberg was making in Saving Private Ryan: that World War II was fought by normal, everyday men.” (Mapes) Because the casting for this movie was the essence of perfection, the loss of the lives of soldiers in the film is even more excruciating. As each character contributes their lives to save Private Ryan, the viewer becomes overcome with emotions because of the sudden loss of such astounding characters. The loss of main characters drives home the point that war isn’t fair, and war offers mercy to no one.

The script is another aspect of the movie that could be considered absolutely flawless. The characters manage to grow closer to the audience with every word they say, slowly disclosing their inner thoughts and feeling, and eventually the question that haunts the entirety of the movie. “Is one man’s life more valuable than another’s? Does Private Ryan deserve to get out of the hell they’re all in more than anybody else? Miller and his men debate this question endlessly, and to Spielberg’s credit, he doesn’t try to answer it.” (Johanson) One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is that the core question of the movie is left up to the audience to decide, making it even more mind boggling and emotional than it already is.

Stephen Spielberg’s masterful direction of the movie made it even more irresistible. His goal of making a different kind of war movie, one that would forever stay in the minds of its audience, was accomplished. The “typical war film,” usually composed of a hero, a villain, and one objective, was abolished after making of this movie. This movie has a more complex meaning, a deeper significance than other war movies. “Most World War II movies fall into one of two categories: heroic tales of glory and valor or biopics…Saving Private Ryan is neither. Instead, it's a condemnation of war wrapped in a tale of human courage and sacrifice.” (Berardinelli) This new twist on the world of war films is what makes the movie so irresistible to watch. After watching “Saving Private Ryan,” the viewer is forever bound to the new standards set by the movie, and no other movie can fulfill the desire for a movie superior to Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan isn’t a movie to watch, it’s a movie to experience. The experience of watching this movie is truly terrifying. Watching the terrors of war being foretold so graphically and accurately takes a toll on the mind of the viewer, and remains exclusive in the mind forever. Every feature of the movie was perfection. The first twenty-three minutes of the movie will forever remain in the minds of the people who have watched it, which is Spielberg’s intention. The realness of the battle scenes shall forever be unparalleled by any other movie because of their pure rugged and authentic nature. The question of the importance of one person’s life over another was never answered, making the viewer ponder upon the question for even longer. The casting of men who you would never expect to see trapped in the hell of war were casted to prove the point that World War II was fought by brave, regular men who had family at home in the United States and weren’t fearless heroes, but were actually scared of death and the consequences of war. The movie Saving Private Ryan in its entirety is the greatest war film of all time and quite possibly one of the greatest overall movies of all time. “Saving Private Ryan is one of the most brilliant pieces of film ever created. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch it again.” (Johanson)

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ESSAY REVIEW

Your essay doesn’t analyse the film, it praises it. The praise is effusive, unconditional, and, ultimately, perhaps for that reason, unconvincing. You apparently set out to prove that Saving Private Ryan is the greatest war movie ever made, but you don’t compare it to other movies about war, which one would really need to do to begin to justify the claims you want to make about Spielberg’s film (if you want to call the film “the most ... influential war movie of all time,” for example, then you really need to explain the nature of its influence and compare it to the influence of other war films). So the only way left to demonstrate that the film is the best of its kind would indeed be to show that it is perfect in every respect, but though you try enthusiastically to show that, it is an impossible task.

So taking as your cue a number or relatively poor sources, the essay gives us a spate of unjustifiable, hyperbolic claims. Such claims typically do not advance our understanding of the film’s achievement. The claim that the “filmography [cinematography?] is ingenious,” for instance, is of this kind. You do quote Leong who gives us some specific details to consider (“specially designed cameras etc.”) but the details are not especially revealing of the purported quality of the cinematography, and are used in support of a nonsense observation: “Spielberg ... puts the audience on the beach with the Allies.” That’s journalism on Leong’s part, not criticism. If you want to talk about cinematography, you need to describe the actual features of cinematography and explain how the create certain, specific impressions, as you begin to do that in the fourth paragraph, and your talk about realism there is more respectable than talk of audience members being transported to the beach.

So I think you ought to use the source just as support for the claim that Spielberg used “specially-designed cameras that mimicked news cameras of the period, a toned-down color palate, and frantic freehand camera-work.” Then move directly to the fourth paragraph. The claim made by Mapes that you cite is not relevant to your analysis of the cinematography, and should be discarded or introduced elsewhere. The paragraph about the “relatable characters” should not interrupt, as it currently does, your discussion of the cinematography; it is a separate issue.

Your comments about the characters is related of course to your claim about the realism of the film, so once you’re done talking about cinematography, you can segue to the portrayal of characters by saying something like “Another way the film achieves realism is etc.” You do need to work on transitions between paragraphs. Otherwise, your essay will have the appearance of being a random list of things to say about the film. Having a coherent, overarching argument will help you generate transitions. If you were arguing, for instance, that Saving Private Ryan is one of the most realistic portrayals of war (which is perhaps a little more manageable than the claim that it’s the best film ever!), then a transition like “Another way the film achieves realism is ...” is obviously fairly easy to come up with (of course you will want to come up with better transitions than that!). It will also help to organize the essay into logical units. For example, there’s no reason to talk about character in one paragraph, and then three paragraph laters talk about the casting of the movie and so end up discussing character again. Put all of that stuff together into a coherent argument about how the characters contribute to the realism.

I will make one last point, this time about your paragraph on the script. This paragraph begins with another pointless bit of hyperbole (“The script is ... absolutely flawless.”). Your actual comments on the script are more valuable, but they are much too vague (yes, the characters disclose thoughts, but a character that doesn’t disclose thoughts isn’t really a character) and you don’t cite a single line of the film. With the help of a quotation that you drop in from Johanson (as a rule, it is better to introduce quotations, integrating them into your own sentences, although I see how it would difficult to do so with this particular quotation), you make one claim about the importance of the script, but your only justification is the quotation itself. That makes for a weak argument. The claim, which is originally Johanson’s, is that Spielberg “doesn’t try to answer” what you call “the core question of the movie.” That seems a bit trite to me. What would be interesting to know is how that debate unfolds. To reveal that, you need to cite some lines or at least paraphrase some of the views articulated. It’s several years since I saw Saving Private Ryan, but I think, for what its worth, that the movie does try to answer that question, as long as the question is asked in the right way. Private Ryan is not being saved for the sake of Private Ryan. So the question the film (if not its characters) asks is not “Is one man’s life more valuable than another’s” but “Is this particular man’s life worth sacrificing other lives for?” And the answer depends not only the circumstances that gave rise to the mission in the first place but also on whether the life Ryan goes on to live will have justified the sacrifice. No one wants to sacrifice a life for a man who turns out to be as evil as cats.

The existence of the paragraph on the script is only justified because of the claim that the script is flawless, and up to a point it makes sense to do that if you really want to stick with the argument that Saving Private Ryan is absolutely fabulous. But frankly that’s a boring argument and I think you should drop it. But if you drop it you need to replace it with something more interesting. That might be, as I say, a critical appreciation of the realism of the film (or it might be anything else under the sun). In that case, how would you justify your paragraph on the script? How, for instance, would the way that the soldiers talk about their mission contribute to the realism of this portrayal of war?

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: atlantavipers33
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