Plot: What’s it about?
Through all the horrors of World War II, nothing compared to losing loved ones. Saving Private Ryan tells us the story of just that. The story of one soldier; Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) who, during the course of the war, has lost his three other brothers. A platoon, led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), is sent into the depths of France to retrieve private Ryan and get him back to what’s left of his family safely. In a nutshell, that’s the summary of this movie. However, Stephen Spielberg movies are very rarely what they appear to be. They are so much more involved and make you look at things in a different light. While the sheer brutalitly of the graphic violence is sure to stun (and perhaps scare) some viewers, it’s certainly not to be missed. Because for all it’s brutal bluntness, it’s an epoch war movie that really makes you think.
After all the platoon has been through, they consider the mission to be somewhat meaningless and somewhat of a joke, but soon find that war is war even if you’re in a peaceful village in the middle of France. After losing a few men to German snipers and such , they become bound and determined to find Ryan. All along, their “hatred” for him grows, as they now sort of blame him (and the mission) for the deaths of their fallen comrades. There are obsticles along the way, but they finally find him (by sheer luck) and they believe that their mission is complete. Wrong.
Ryan is very gung-ho, and while saddened at the news of his brother’s fates, wants to stay and help defend the last bridge in France (it was a very important strategic location). This leads to a showdown between the Germans and the troops trying to defend their bridge. Hopelessly outnumbered and with all odds against them, the movie ends in what is sure to be one of the best war movies made.
A few other notes about Saving Private Ryan. The whole cast was sent to England to undergo basic training, all except Matt Damon (this was to get the actors to naturally “dislike” him), and all wanted to quit and go home after three days of this. All except Tom Hanks, who came out and gave the guys a pep talk, after which no one said a word and they finished their training without a hitch. Bottom line, Saving Private Ryan is a movie that you really should see. Not only is it well-made, has great acting and is superbly directed…but the subject matter ultimately has a very positive message and reminds us of how much we take our freedom for granted.
Video: How does it look?
The film has seen a few different incarnations on home video formats over the years, namely DVD and Blu-ray. This 4K/Ultra HD is the first foray into the next generation territory for the film. Spielberg utilized a new concept in the way he shot the film and the film itself had a very bleak, washed out look to it. Paramount’s 1.85:1 HEVC 4K transfer retains that look and feel of the film that gave it a very lifelike look to it and suffice it to say that it’s nothing short of superb. I always found the Blu-ray to be a little too washed out, and that’s something that’s been corrected for this 4K release. There seems to be a little more naturalistic sense of color, flesh tones seem a bit warmer, giving the film a more realistic look. Fine detail is tack sharp as well, the little fragments of shrapnel from the exploding buildings, the dirt and grime on the uniforms and skin – simply amazing. Saving Private Ryan has never looked “bad” on any home video format, but this is, far and away, the best and most realistic it’s ever been.
Audio: How does it sound?
For nearly twenty years and thousands upon thousands of reviews, I’ve often said “…this is no Saving Private Ryan…” or “…it can’t hold a candle up to Saving Private Ryan…” (I think two examples is enough). Well, this is Saving Private Ryan and it’s one of those titles that helps you justify what you’ve spent on your home theater system – perhaps to your wife or, more importantly, to yourself. Suffice it to say that Paramount has pulled out all the stops with this new Dolby Atmos presentation and let me tell you that it’s worth the price of admission alone.
I don’t care how many channels you’ve got in your setup, if you’re so equipped with a Dolby Atmos receiver and speakers, this is one track that will simply blow you away. And it did. It knocked a clock off the wall. Every facet of sound is covered here from the little bullets whizzing by (even underwater), to planes zooming above to a tank blowing up a building. The object-oriented mix simply leaves no stone unturned. Dialogue is very strong and clean, surrounds are almost constantly in use and suffice it to say that the LFE do get their time as well. This is probably the best example of surround sound that I’ve heard on disc and if our scale went to a 10, this would have that score.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This three disc set is essentially the Sapphire Series Blu-ray with the 4K disc in the package. Both the 4K and Blu-ray discs have their own feature film presentation with all of the supplements being on the included third Blu-ray disc. There’s nothing new here, but what we have aren’t exactly paltry.
- An Introduction – Essentially just that, Spielberg gives us a brief intro. on his fascination with World War II, why he made the film and so forth.
- Looking Into the Past – A brief discussion about the historical research for the film including an odd story about a grave that somehow made it into the final cut.
- Miller and his Platoon – A look at the group of actors and their never-ending praise for Spielberg and his film. We get some behind the scenes footage, but this is more of an 8 minute homage to Steven Spielberg.
- Boot Camp – It’s no joke, the actors did go to boot camp to prepare for their roles and to get into character. We get some behind the scenes sequences along with a few yucks from the crew.
- Making Saving Private Ryan – A fairly standard, yet very interesting 22 minute feature on the making of the film. A lot of the set design is discussed as are shooting locales.
- Re-Creating Omaha Beach – If ever there was an iconic moment in the film, it’s the opening sequence that takes place on Omaha Beach. Basically everything you need to know is showcased here from setting the scenes, to choreography and everything in between.
- Music and Sound – The soundtrack to the film is nearly as important as the sound effects (and we know there are plenty of them)! We get a good, comprehensive look at the elements in play here.
- Parting Thoughts – Hanks and Spielberg both reflect on the film and Spielberg offers a comparison to Schindler’s List.
- Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan – This one is a bit more personal as some real-life WWII vets are interviewed. There’s more of an emotional connection when we see the guys who really did this and not a bunch of Hollywood actors.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Re-Release Trailer
- Shooting War – As if these included extras weren’t enough, the included 90 minute documentary is the icing on the cake. We get a look at how war has been covered by the media (among other things). Hosted by a very bearded Tom Hanks, we get a real sense of how the movie was conceived as well as homage to war movies of the past. It’s a must watch.
The Bottom Line
Looking back on the Oscar race of 1998 and watching this movie again, it only strengthens how amazingly good this movie is. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Shakespeare in Love, but time has told us that this is, by far, the superior film. Then again, the Academy doesn’t always get it right (obviously). Paramount’s 4K presentation of Saving Private Ryan is simply second to none. The improved audio and video make this a reference-quality disc on every technical level out there. The lack of any new material is a tad bit disappointing, but what we have in regard to supplements isn’t that bad. This is an easy recommendation for anyone with a home theater which, I expect, is anyone reading this.