This section has incredible sound editing with the camera bobbing up and down out of the water and the sound going from muffled to vibrant. Spielberg then gets to the beach and goes back and forth between individual shots of one or two men, and then wider shots of the full scope of the battle. This gives the view the sense of the personal and the large-scale event. Hanks' character finally gets to shelter on the beach and the sound goes quiet as he is shell shocked; this technique of low sound and slow motion creates the feeling of disorientation for the audience. Moving up the beach, the camera is hand-held so the shots are tight and shaky with the people cut off at the sides of the frame. This technique makes the action seem more intimate and gives a real sense of what the action was like on the beach. The scene shows the random way in which lives are ended or spared, and the tracking shot of the triage on the beach is especially powerful as life or death decisions are made in an instant. The last shot is a long tracking shot of the living and the dead with a slow zoom to a dead soldier named Ryan; in this final frame, he sets up the plot of the film.
The second scene I would like to discuss is, for me, of paramount importance to the development of the characters and the story. The group comes upon a German radar tower and Capt. Miller gives the order to take it. This order is questioned and here we see the mission starting to divide and anger the men. As the quick battle ends, the translator is called up to help; he runs through the mist, the "fog of war," to a shot of the team frantically trying to save their medic. The shots cut between the wounded, the hardened soldiers, and then back to the translator, still new to war, who stands off from the group creating an important visual separation. This is the scene where the difficulties of the war, their particular assignment, finally boil over. Capt. Miller moves away from the group, a slow zoom to his face where he breaks down from the stress. Then a series of fast cuts as the men decide what to do with the German prisoner, this is where the dynamism of the film comes back into play as a quiet scene of introspection is replaced with chaotic sound and action.
Just as the scene is about to fall into complete disarray, Miller moves to center frame and tells his story, bringing a human element to the intensely dehumanizing situation of warfare. He is framed with four other men around him for he is their center, their grounding. He then moves to the forefront of the shot and the men fall in behind him, again showing his stature in the group. Finally, Spielberg places him against a bright, sunny background where the bright light and the silhouetted figures bring a brief moment of beauty to an ugly situation. It is one of the few bright spots in a film which is otherwise very muted to color and tone.
Capt. Miller is obviously the central character in the film as he is the moral center of the film. In many ways, the movie is filled with stock World War II movie characters: the steady leader, the hard-boiled sergeant, the wise-cracking New Yorkers, the Southerner, the coward. Even though they fill traditional roles, they still connect with the audience and you care for them and their safety. This is one of those movies you can watch over and over again because it is so well made and you do care about the people in it. It always makes me proud when I watch it because it highlights what is great about our country and how our differences make us stronger. I think a lot of war movies bring out patriotic feelings in their viewers, and maybe I am just a sucker for feeling that way, but I will own it nonetheless.
My favorite part of the film is when the characters are taking to each other in Remelle before the final battle scene. I love that they are giving each other a hard time, and when they are sitting on the steps of a bombed out building, they could just as well be sitting on the stoop of their home in Brooklyn. The movie sometimes makes me question my own character and how I would behave in a similar situation. I know the men are idealized, but I am certain people acted with similar bravery and skill during the war. It makes me think about how sheltered and fortunate my life is -- actually both of these films evoke that feeling -- and it definitely makes me think about how people are capable of changing to their circumstances. I think Spielberg made two excellent films and I was very happy to watch them again.
Entertainment Weekly, EW.com. (21 January, 1994). Making History. Retrieved from:
Entertainment Weekly, EW.com. (24 July, 1998). Message in a Battle. Retreived from:
Filmakers.com. (2009). Steven Spielberg. Retrieved from: