Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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Released 20-Apr-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Featurette-Into The Breach: Saving Private Ryan
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Re-Release Trailer
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Booklet
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 162:30
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (82:11) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Steven Spielberg
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Tom Hanks
Edward Burns
Matt Damon
Tom Sizemore
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $39.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Saving Private Ryan is an emotionally intense journey through the war-ravaged terrain of occupied France during World War II. Maestro Steven Spielberg once again turns his formidable talent toward a familiar subject, this time delivering one of the best (and longest) pure action movies ever made. While the plot is thin and the characterization is perfunctory, Spielberg and his cast and crew (the credits read like a battalion roll-call) have produced an amazingly faithful recreation of the war experience. Shell-shocked veterans reportedly stumbled out of theatres mumbling, "someone finally showed what it was really like."

    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.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Framed at 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced, the image quality of the local DVD surpasses the high standard of its State-side cousin. Two years down the track, more advanced telecine technology and extra resolution in the PAL signal has undoubtedly squeezed slightly more juice out of the source materials. Technicians originally produced about five transfers and chose the one that, on balance, worked best. Matching film artefacts confirmed that the same source negative was used for the NTSC and PAL masters.

    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.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Since its release in cinemas world-wide, Saving Private Ryan has earned a reputation for having one of the best discrete channel sound mixes ever created. In the Village cinema showing Saving Private Ryan, I remember being reduced to a quivering mess by the aural power of the opening assault on Omaha Beach (Green Dog Sector), as well as cowering in my seat as the German tanks rumbled into Ramelle during the climax. Few movies can match Saving Private Ryan's sound mix for its sheer aggressiveness, creativity, and good old-fashioned 'wow' factor.

    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.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menus

    These boast the same elegant design as the Region 1 release: 16x9 enhanced with background music peppered with distant explosions.

Documentary-Into The Breach (25:01)

    Presented Full Frame with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and letterboxed clips from the movie, this superb little documentary covers much territory in 25 minutes. Short quotes from the principal cast and crew members are combined with heart-felt recollections by World War II veterans, stock news footage, and glimpses 'behind the scenes'. We also learn that the idea of plucking the last surviving brother from a war zone has a real life analogue. The exclusion of this documentary from the DVD for technical or licensing reasons would have damaged the local release of Saving Private Ryan.

    The video and audio quality is fairly good.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

    Sadly this is not 16x9 enhanced or in discrete channel sound. Nevertheless, this is well-presented in letterboxed format with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Re-Release Theatrical Trailer (1:54)

    Analysing the differences between the two trailers is an interesting exercise. This trailer, produced for the 1999 theatrical re-release of Saving Private Ryan, again has a 4:3 transfer with the image letterboxed to approximately 1.85:1.

Cast Notes

    Brief biographies and filmographies are supplied for Robert Rodat, Ian Bryce, Gary Levinsohn, Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, Dennis Farina, Dale Dye, Michael Kahn, and camera ace Janusz Kaminski.

Production Notes

    These notes provide some light reading. There's nothing deep or revelatory, apart from the fact that this is the first movie in which actor/writer/director Edward Burns spoke dialogue written by someone else and was directed by someone else. I highly recommend Burn's first movie The Brothers McMullen, an ultra-low budget urban drama.

Insert Booklet

    Contains two pages of text about the making of Saving Private Ryan. It is identical to the booklet packaged with the US release.

R4 vs R1

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:

The Region 1 DVD misses out on:     The video quality of the Region 4 PAL release is clearly superior to the Region 1 NTSC release. For purists, the 4% PAL speed up is worth considering, but so is NTSC 3:2 pull-down. Remember that Spielberg takes great care with his craft. The R4 release also plays the movie automagically, whereas the R1 release booted up the menu after loading. There is no reason to favour one DVD over the other, so I'd lean toward the Region 4 version this time for the benefits of PAL, but it's a very close call.

Summary

    Saving Private Ryan is many things: an authentic period piece, a ballsy action film, a tribute to fallen soldiers, and a cautionary tale told with a high level of craft and sensitivity. While the incredible emotional impact of the first viewing inevitably fades with each pass, the appreciation of the film's technical virtuosity and uncompromising vision only gets stronger as time marches on. For all its niggling faults, I still love the movie and find that the 160 minutes fly past like a bullet, thanks to a number of very strong set pieces, Tom Hanks in the lead, and a pleasing amount of realistic war gore...Peckinpah would have approved.

    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.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Wednesday, April 25, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-737, using Component output
DisplayLoewe Ergo (81cm). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.
AmplificationArcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier
SpeakersFront: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)

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