Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I’m blown away that Saving Private Ryan did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture in ’98, and shocked that it lost to Shakespeare in Love of all things, a cute film that doesn’t even begin to measure up to Spielberg’s World War II masterpiece. As I continue my list of favorite film scenes, I’m bringing up the Omaha Beach scene from the latter. It stands out as the best in the film, a technical tour de force to this day; a wholly realistic immersive sequence. The scene is really around forty minutes long, essentially the film’s opener if you discount the graveyard framing device (which I find unnecessary), and around a fourth of the entire film’s runtime. There are a few things I notice, when watching it, that strike me as brilliant filmmaking. First, Spielberg shoots in tight close-up or obscured wide shot for most of the beach sequence. You can never get a proper bearing for where anything or anyone is, and the tension that creates is exacerbated by Spielberg never showing the enemy. It’s just chaos and violence. There are a couple of other details that might be clichéd now, but were really fresh the first time I saw the film, and still work effectively. One is the water and blood hitting the camera. I’ve seen this a few times since, but I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before Saving Private Ryan. A nice touch that creates a kind of guerrilla filmmaking feel that belies the massive Hollywood studio undertaking that Saving Private Ryan actually is.  The other memorable detail is the slow-motion, sound distorted portion of the scene where Captain Miller is traumatized.  Truly just a crafty way to show the protagonist struggling with the overwhelming experience.

-Walter Howard-

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