Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Featurette-Into The Breach: Saving Private Ryan
Biographies-Cast & Crew
|Year Of Production||1998|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (82:11)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Steven Spielberg|
Paramount Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Written by Robert Rodat (The Patriot, Fly Away Home) from a real life situation, Saving Private Ryan follows a small band of soldiers, led by Captain John Hillier (Tom Hanks), who have orders from the top brass to snatch paratrooper James Ryan (Matt Damon) from the bowels of France. His three brothers have died in various skirmishes and General George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell) will not deny Mrs Ryan her last surviving son. Captain Hillier and company, fresh from their suicidal first-wave assault on the beaches of Normandy, head off to find, as Hillier puts it, "a needle in a stack of needles". Their trek leads them through a handful of tense predicaments before reaching their objective. As things turn out, the unpredictable nature of war poses a challenge that tests everyone's fortitude.
If the character development is limited given the scope and intentions of the story, the acting talent is second to none. Tom Hanks, needless to say, is superb, and carries the film on his shoulders with ease. Tom Sizemore (Heat, Red Planet) as Sergeant Mike Horvath again reaches legend status with great lines like, "You don't know when to shut up! You don't know how to shut up!" and "We're in business, definitely!" As Hillier's offsider, the Horvath character in Sizemore's hands is a joy to watch. Rounding out the cast are many familiar faces: Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen, 15 Minutes) as the cocky Reiben; Barry Pepper (Battlefield Earth, The Green Mile) as the sniper Jackson, who puts equal amounts of faith in God and gunpowder; Adam Goldberg (EdTV, The Prophecy) as the token Jew Mellish; Vin Diesel (Pitch Black, the voice of The Iron Giant) as Caparzo, a role written specially for him; Giovanni Ribisi (Lost Highway, The Wonder Years) as the medic Wade; Jeremy Davies (Twister, General Hospital, The Wonder Years) as the bumbling bookworm Corporal Upham, and Matt Damon (Mystic Pizza, Good Will Hunting) as Private Jimmy Ryan.
Steven Spielberg won the Oscar for Best Director in 1998 for Saving Private Ryan. His vision, as in all of his films, is unerring and purposeful; the audience cannot help being swept away by the momentum of his storytelling. It's easy to see the director of Jurassic Park at work during the beach landing sequence, with its unplanned but no less compelling continuity of action. The lurking terrors of Jaws and Duel live again as our heroes prepare to receive the Germans at Ramelle, while the grim nobility of Schindler's List informs the surreal thought processes of normal people thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
Saving Private Ryan is not just about the perilous rescue of a blonde, toothy airborne infantryman from certain death at the hands of the enemy. It also celebrates the preservation of hope, courage, and sacrifice in the cauldron of fear and destruction that was World War II, or any war for that matter. These virtues shine brightest during humanity's darkest hours. Steven Spielberg understands that in art you must show the horrors of a given situation to properly illustrate the full potential of the human spirit. All of the verisimilitude – the visual style, sound design, art direction, acting, SFX carnage – merely exists to transport us into the hearts and minds of those who endured such trying conditions so that we may identify with them, and perhaps know ourselves a bit better along the way. As escapist entertainment, something that Spielberg also relishes, Saving Private Ryan delivers a rollercoaster ride that has yet to be surpassed.
Sharpness is well rendered throughout the entire film. It seems that every scintilla of light was captured by Janusz Kaminski's whirring cameras – handheld, locked off, over-cranked, or otherwise. Details and subtle shading are most apparent on the uniforms and bodies of soldiers in bright lighting conditions. At times, the picture achieves a stunning illusion of depth, say when looking down the barrel of a German machine gun at stricken soldiers on Omaha Beach, or as the out-gunned Americans survey the ruins of Ramelle in preparation for the final assault. Occasionally there are moments when the image becomes blurred and smeared; these are intentional and reflect exactly what I saw during the two theatrical screenings I attended. Shadow detail was excellent, and the only moments of edge enhancement appears to surround the flag poles at 2:17 in Chapter 1, the hulking tank traps at the start of Chapter 2, and the cross hairs on the sniper rifle telescopic sight on various occasions.
Colours were desaturated intentionally by the film makers to achieve a stark, documentary feel that avoids glamorizing the proceedings in any way. The only respite from the ashen, monochrome palette are the green fields of France on the eve of summer, and the brief eruptions of dark blood that punctuate the more intense combat sequences. Basically, everything looked right. There was no hint of colour bleed, and skin tones looked natural underneath the grime, grease, and dirt from the killing fields.
Film artefacts were noticed at 2:04 and 2:11 and several more times in Chapter 1 (black specks), 20:14 (faint transparent line in the top right quarter of the frame), 27:18 (white speck), 32:25 (black speck), 53:27 (white speck just above the sniper's crosshairs), 69:07 (faint transparent glitch), 74:50 (black scratch), 76:68 and 154:35 (white specks), and 112:53 (black hair or scoring). Film-to-video artefacts were rare: there is one instance of aliasing shimmer on the edge of a white map at 38:22, and another shot showed a wobbly radar screen in the background; this may have been a dodgy digital composite. Film grain is rampant in most shots, but this is characteristic of the film stock used to create the look Spielberg wanted. Chapter 1 generally looks terrible; after that the quality is fine.
The layer change at 82:11 is well placed. It follows a speech from Tom Hanks, who ends by saying, "When was the last time you felt good about anything?" before charging in to kick Nazi butt at the wrecked antenna installation. Soon after he says this line the second layer cuts in.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 448 kb/s soundtrack on our Region 4 DVD is the same devastating track originally released in February 1999 in Region 1. As yet, there is no local dts release planned. The US dts disc contained a bitstream compressed at the compromised rate of 768 kb/s to conserve space for video.
In the theatre, for whatever reason, the dialogue was difficult to understand. In my home cinema set up there is a vast improvement in the clarity of the speech. I do, however, concede that my familiarity with the movie inches forward each time I watch it, hence my objectivity in this respect is less reliable than it was. The case can be made for simulating realism; in the thick of it you would miss a great deal of what people nearby were saying. Sync was spot-on and there were no instances of distortion. Much of the dialogue was obviously looped in a studio. I felt that it sounded realistic enough to make you overlook the occasional disparities.
The sombre music by film veteran John Williams underscores many of the non-battle scenes beautifully. There is never music playing beneath the major combat sequences, in contrast to Hans Zimmer's brilliant work on Gladiator, which demanded the grandeur and bombast that would have crippled a film like Saving Private Ryan. Hell, you'd might as well play Chuck Berry over the shower scene in Psycho. The undulating chords of Williams' score reinforce the placid interludes between each explosive conflict by filling the soundstage like stray fog. Much of the film, though, is not scored with music.
Ah, explosions: there are plenty here to test the mettle of your hi-fi components, or that of any friends dropping in to see what this 'DVD thing' is all about. The subwoofer effects on our DVD made the same volcanic impression as its Region 1 counterpart. (My ears are not tuned well enough to detect the semitone PAL/NTSC speed up.) While the landing at Normandy and the other main action sequences had the lounge suite shuddering, the subwoofer and front speakers also contributed to many subtle aftershocks and far off artillery fire during battles. The dts variation apparently sounds different again, with its own unique accents and qualities.
The beach landing scenes had the surround channels going berserk, with numerous split surround effects, some actually going diagonally across the room. There is almost too much going on to follow individual 'movements', but the reality of such intense fighting would generate precisely that sense of utter chaos. The stand-off at Ramelle presents a less frenzied cacophony and is therefore a better showcase for the fidelity and inventiveness on offer.
Expert sound designer Gary Rydstrom and company have pushed the 5.1 digital format to its limit with this superb, reference quality sound track.
|Surround Channel Use|
The video and audio quality is fairly good.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 4 DVD misses out on:
This domestic release from latecomer Paramount echoes the attention to detail and quality control that put them in the top ranks of the American market. The video transfer reaps the full benefit of PAL encoding, while the audio sound track sounds as good as its US equivalent. Luckily, the absence of additional 5.1 foreign language sound tracks allowed for the inclusion of the marvellous Into the Breach documentary.
Paramount Home Entertainment Australasia thoughtfully (or cleverly, depending on how you see it) released Saving Private Ryan to coincide with ANZAC Day 2001.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-737, using Component output|
|Display||Loewe Ergo (81cm). This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Denon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.|
|Amplification||Arcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier|
|Speakers||Front: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)|