By Drew Turney
This is the film that introduced Word War II to a new generation of filmgoers. I remember hearing at the time about several epic WWII movies in the works, and it makes one wonder if the glory of Americans in battle affected the national mood somewhat, September 11 merely providing the catalyst for an orgy of military adventurism after the newly minted president and a pliable public were on a permanent war footing.
But everything from ”Band of Brothers” to ”Flags of Our Fathers” and ”Enemy at the Gates” to ”Pearl Harbor” owes its mystique to Spielberg’s magnum opus. The boys-own adventure of ”The Wild Geese” and ”Where Eagles Dare” was well and truly over. The concussive, harrowing ten minute Omaha beach landing opening sequence put war movies firmly back in ”All Quiet on the Western Front” territory.
The Allies weren’t all shrewd, capable heros, the Nazis not moustache twirling villains. They were all young boys given guns and sent to kill. They were terrified, lonely, and died horribly. What else are scenes of the flamethrower engulfing a platoon or a soldier walking back and forth looking for his arm in the surf about but the war is hell motif?
It makes no sense now we look back for what was essentially a Gallipoli-like peacenik stance to become the marker for the beginning of the Glory of Battle movement in film that’s still going on as I write this review ten years later. But it also fits squarely in the ‘why we fight’ file along with the likes of We Were Soldiers. As James Ryan (Damon) says, he won’t abandon his post even though he has a free pass because he won’t let his platoon buddies down.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard this message from a movie – that the entire spirit of warfare is based men who’ve become such good friend through the rigours of military life than they’re only there to support each other rather than to unseat political tyranny.
Ryan is tracked down by Captain Miller (Hanks) and his platoon after the bloody but ultimately successful Normandy landing. With two of his brothers killed in the battle, the brass decides to spare his family the agony of losing three sons in one day and gives him an unconditional leave from the army so he can go home.
When Ryan refuses to leave his post Miller’s platoon has little choice but to accompany him on his team’s mission penetrating the rubble of Europe before he’ll leave with them.
It’s less a plot than a reason to exhibit both the horrors of war and the incredible technical expertise of the director, skills we hadn’t really seen since ”Jurassic Park”.
Blu-Ray Details and Extras
Accompanying the beautiful 1080p VC-1 transfer (the desaturated colors look perfect, and though there are moments where you can easily spot grain, I’d say that’s intentional – it adds to the movie) and speaker-shaking DTS HD-5.1 soundtrack (though I did notice a small glitch on one of the chapters – wonder if Paramount know about it?) are a swag of worthwhile (though those that have the previously-released DVD, “Saving Private Ryan : 60th Anniversary of D-Day Edition”, would’ve likely seen them already) extra features.
Disc-2 is where you’ll find the ‘goods’ – a full-length documentary on combat photographers called “Shooting War” co-hosted by Tom Hanks, numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the trailers in HD.
Sadly, but no surprise, Spielberg doesn’t do a commentary.