Analyse ‘Saving Private Ryan’

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Analyse the methods used to make the opening battle sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ both shocking and realistic, and say how effective you find it as an introduction to the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was released on the 11th of September, 1998. The film was directed by the renowned Steven Spielberg and was a joint production by Paramount and Dreamworks Pictures. ‘Saving Private Ryan’, is a two hour, fifty minute war film. The film won 5 Academy Awards, including the prestigious ‘Best Director’ award, won by Spielberg. Spielberg was already a famous director by the time the movie was released, having already made the ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Jaws’ movies along with other distinguished films in his career. The film is based around World War Two where the assault of Normandy had taken place. It can be remembered by its fantastic opening which depicted the Omaha Beach attack by the US on the 6th of June 1944. It followed a group of US soldiers who went behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. The movies cast included Tom Hanks, who had the leading role in playing Captain Miller and numerous others. These other men included Tom Sizemore, who played Sergeant Horvath, Edward Burns as Private Reiben, Barry Pepper as Private Jackson, Adam Goldberg as Private Mellish, Jeremy Davies as Corporal Upham and Matt Damon who played Private Ryan. This is not the entire cast, just the leading actors who had a significant part in the movie. Spielberg uses various techniques to make ‘Saving Private Ryan both more shocking and realistic. He uses very different techniques throughout the whole of the film to add realism and disbelief to the film, which made many audiences, want to watch the rest of the film. The movie begins with patriotic music during the opening credits. The camera first zooms into an American flag billowing in the wind. By seeing the flag the audience understands that there may be a link between the music and the flag. In the opening scene, we see Private Ryan with his family in the present tense. It is ironic that his family are behind him as if he had died in the war none of them would be there today. The camera angles begin relaxed as nothing much has really happened in the film yet, but as Ryan walks over to the grave of Captain Miller, the camera pans across and upwards to show all of the grave yard and the horrific side of war which is that of mainly death . As this is happening with the cameras, the music in this part is patriotic and proud, which gives an effect that he had taken part in something very important. While in the graveyard at the beginning, there’s no dialogue at all. This is because it’s a respectful scene, and silence shows the respect. It also adds more thought to the audience and lets the thought become bigger and wider. This gives the audience time to show respect by simply looking at all of the gravestones. During this entire scene, two diegetic sounds are used: a french horn and then violins. The French horn plays patriotic music as does the violin to show that the old man is in a cemetery in which the bodies of those who died for the country lie. Spielberg uses the music to make the cemetery and the old man seem very significant. The music is also very sombre and sad. It ties in with the fact that the man is getting very emotional himself and begins to cry. At first the french horn is very memorial like, but when the violins start playing they make a transition from memorial like music to personal, emotive music. The violins help the audience sympathise with the actor because at the same time at which the violins begin to play again and crescendo, Ryan breaks down. Also, throughout the entire first scene there is no dialogue at all. The reason for this is because silence is respectful, and Spielberg wanted the opening scene to respect those that died in the Second World War. But there’s a transaction between the respectful silences in the present, to the very harsh past. The present changes to the past as there is an extreme close-up of Ryan’s eyes while the music fades and the waves slowly begin to get louder and louder. The camera shot goes from a close-up to an extreme close-up. This happens so that it looks as though the camera is going through his eyes and into the old man’s memories. As he looks up the French horn changes into dark, menacing music. As the camera zooms in, the sound of waves crashing grows louder and louder. The picture fades while the sound of he waves grows louder until the image changes, the point at which the second scene begins. Then the words June 6, 1944 appear. This confirms the viewers’ uncertainties that a transition from present to past has been made. There is then a side shot of the sea is shown, and the audience sees a fleet of American U-boats. As the camera follows the boats, it shakes to create realism. The shaking makes the audience feel as though they are actually there. The image then changes and a hand can be seen trembling. The camera then tilts upwards and shows that the face belongs to Tom Hanks. The quivering hand represents how fear-provoking the prospect of war was. This is realistic. ‘Ninety-five percent of them hadn’t. It was complete chaos. ’ This is a quote from Steven Spielberg himself. The ‘ninety-five percent of them’ refers to the fact that ninety-five percent of American soldiers had ever fought before. On the boat that Captain Miller is on, some of the soldiers puke. This is not just because they get sea-sick but also because they are petrified by the prospect of going into battle. This is another realistic feature of the film. Miller barks a flurry of orders which are difficult to hear. This is the point at which the viewers learn that Miller is important and that he is the captain. The camera then shows close-ups of the soldiers’ faces. Some faces are nervous, but other faces are blank, as though they don’t fully understand what they have got themselves into. The close-ups of the men show how individual they each are. The audience then sees a man forming the shape of the crucifix on his chest and another kissing a necklace that has The Cross on it and praying. This shows how terrified soldiers were, and how they turned to God for help. The audience feels sympathy towards the men as many of them will die. With the sound effects raising, such as the clanging of the bottle and the man being sick at the front of the boat, it adds the tension and makes the people feel the tension rising. . What’s most effective about the scene where the soldiers are still on the engine boat is that as soon as the boat door opens, chaos has suddenly entered the film. As the first soldier is about to get off the boat and the rest of the soldiers on the boat get gunned down. The camera is behind the soldiers when this happens so that the audience can see the death of each and every soldier. As the men get shot the whizzing of bullets can be heard. Also, the point of impact between the bullet and helmets of the soldiers can be heard. At the time at which the soldiers get shot, blood splatters onto the camera. This is an effect that makes the shooting seem more real. It makes the audience feel as though they are in the thick of the action. The audience finds this scene shocking because it is relatively gory. However, I find the fact the number of soldiers massacred in cold blood unbelievable. The fact that so many perished without a chance to defend themselves or fight. The fact that young, innocent people were brutally murdered. I believe these are considerably more shocking than all the blood and gore. Next, an over the shoulder shot of the Germans machine gunners, the people who are carrying out the butchering is given. This is so that the audience can feel as though they are in the shoes of the Germans. The over the shoulder shot is also useful as you can see contrasting the positions of different soldiers. Spielberg then uses a long shot to show the audience where exactly the Germans are firing. The camera then focuses on another boat. This boat is still filled with soldiers; however most of them are dead. The gurgling sound of air bubbles rising can be heard and so can the sound of men falling into the water. This is very realistic as men are drowning because their equipment is weighing them down. They are exhaling under the water- hence the reason for the air bubbles. Along with the other sounds, bullets whizzing through the water are heard. The audience are shaken because a man is shown drowning. This is shocking. The camera goes above and below the water which so that the viewers feel as though they are a soldier that is gasping for breath. The camera moving up and down shows a stark contrast between what it is like above and below the water. Above the water it is hell, bullets flying around, dead bodies everywhere and explosions going off every other second. On the other hand, below the water it is peaceful and quiet. Although it is quiet it can be perceived as hell as people are drowning and are getting shot. Captain Miller is seen in the water, helping a comrade. He is talking to him as would any other soldier. Then the man he is talking to gets shot. This is both shocking and realistic because, one, a man has been shot and the audience didn’t expect it and two, this proves that there is no warning in war. It parades that in war you can be talking one minute, and dead the next. For a few moments, the camera is on the ground, tracking Miller, to see how he reacts to his comrade’s death. The audience want the camera to track Miller as they are intrigued as to how he will react. In the third scene, Spielberg shows the idea of being shell-shocked. As a shell loudly crashes into the beach near where Captain Miller is walking, the soldier’s are shaken about. This results to him becoming shell-shocked and in looking disorientated. This is shown by the camera shaking, which adds more chaos to the scene. Another way the audience realises that Miller is shell-shocked is that he loses his grip on the iron hedgehog he is resting on. As Miller is confused the camera zooms into him in a slow, jerky manner. This creates the idea of helplessness, and that he can only just kneel there looking around at every other soldier. This gives us an idea of them being helpless, and it shows all the chaos happening around him. The sounds while he is shell-shocked become muted, and you can only faintly hear the destruction of the shells, and the shouts from men screaming from all of the pain they’re going through. The colours become sort of darker, but clearer as confused and helpless men search around for their missing arm, or lay on the sand holding their wounds in great anger and pain. There is also a lot of aggressive shouting, as men, drowned out by gunfire and bombing shout words of help and pain. It shows the anger and the desperation that they are feeling. The repetition of phrases such as: “Grenades! Grenades! ” , shows the desperation and franticness that they’re feeling in the battle. It also tells us that the noise is too much to only shout it once, and having to repeat may make it easier to hear. During the time that Miller is shell-shocked he is wide–eyed. This proves that he is finding it hard to concentrate. While he is shell-shocked the only thing that he does is stare at terrified soldiers that are trying not to get shot. The way the camera is used is very effective as the audience gets to see all the wreckage that is happening and they also get a chance to see things from Miller’s perspective. It also lets the audience know what shell-shock feels like. What’s also effective is the way the cameras are set out, such as an over-shoulder camera. This shows the beach scene from his angle - showing what other people are doing as he looks round at everyone. It gives the audience a chance to view things from his perspective, and to view all the wreckage that is happening. It also gives us an idea about what the shell shock is like. The atmosphere that is being shown during Miller’s shell shock is the horror of war. It shows all the damage, and all the pain that the soldier’s are feeling. Miller tipping the bloody water out of his helmet on to the ground can also show that it a horror. He just simply tips it over and places it on his head, without really showing a care. This is because it’s war, and there’s really no time to care about what is in your helmet. The sounds while he is shell-shocked become muted, and you can only faintly hear the destruction of the shells, and the shouts from men screaming from all of the pain they’re going through. The colours become sort of darker, but clearer as confused and helpless men search around for their missing arm, or lay on the sand holding their wounds in great anger and pain. There is also a lot of aggressive shouting, as men, drowned out by gunfire and bombing shout words of help and pain. It shows the anger and the desperation that they are feeling. The repetition of phrases such as “Grenades! Grenades! ” shows the desperation and franticness that they’re feeling in the battle. It also tells us that the noise is too much to only shout it once, and having to repeat may make it easier to hear. After becoming his old self Miller moves about a lot. The way the camera keeps up with him is by using a tracking shot. This means that the camera focuses on just Miller, even when he moves around. This allows the audience to see where he is going, be able to see what Miller is doing and also what is happening around him. Another very effective piece of camera work in this scene is the way the camera de-saturates the colour of the whole picture. This is put very good use when the audience sees surrounding soldiers and the blood at the edge of the sea. This effect emphasises the blood making it more gory, horrific and realistic. It also makes the image seen by the viewers much scarier and menacing because everything is grey. The audience get scared as grey is associated with things like storm clouds and overall dullness. Apart from emphasising the blood and gore, de-saturation of colour can also make the atmosphere seem dull, downbeat and more negative. There is quite a lot of gore in the next scene. It involves many men being killed in the most disgusting manner. An example is a man whose guts are hanging out of his body. The audience find this shocking as it is sickening. The man who is injured shouts “Mamma! . This makes the audience feel sympathy towards him as he is helpless and will probably die. This is realistic as many of the men who fought in the war were young so they therefore missed their parents. Perhaps the most shocking part of the film is when the medic is killed. In war terms he is very important as he has medical knowledge. When he gets shot, many soldiers try to help him; however, while the other soldiers are attempting to heal him, he gets shot. This is shocking as he was just help and the soldiers who helped him did everything they did for nothing. Later on in the scene a medic is shown treating a fallen man who is fatally injured. Senior officers tell him to stop treating him as he is a lost cause. He refuses. They then order him to stop. He refuses again, saying that he is nearly done. Soldiers then drag him away to stop him. This is done as the soldiers believe that they would rather have a live medic and a dead soldier than having both of them dead. When the medic is dragged away he screams at the top of his voice: “Give us a chance, you fucking sonofabitch! ” to Miller. This is realistic and shows that soldiers were loyal and would sacrifice themselves to save another. While fighting Miller and one of his comrades mange to share a joke. The soldier says to Miller: “if your mother saw you do that she’d be upset. ”. Miller replies by saying: “I thought you were my mother. ” This demonstrates that despite having seen pure horror and the death of many people soldiers still manage to have a lark. Though they joke, it is still relatively tense. This is suggested by one of the soldiers praying. The background sound of other soldiers talking had been muted, and only Private Jackson’s prayers could be heard. This causes the viewer to focus on him rather than everyone else and creates a tense atmosphere. There is also a man crying. This gives the effect of shock to what’s recently happened, and makes you feel sympathy for him, creating a more realistic effect to the film. In the last scene on the beach, Miller’s hands are shown shaking again. This adds some anxiety to the scene as he is being shown as nervous and his hand is wavering hurriedly. When seeing this, the audience believe that there could be some more fighting to come. After the hand is shown there is an extreme close-up of his face and eyes, one that is very similar to the one that was used on Ryan. Spielberg did this to hint to the audience that Ryan and Miller are linked. By replicating the image of Ryan with Miller, the audience then think that Miller along with Ryan has seen some dreadful things in his life too. After the fighting has ended, Miller says: “Quite a view. ” while looking in the direction of the beach. Spielberg then uses a long shot to show the beach. This shows the entire beach covered in bodies. What Miller says is ironic as it ‘quite of view’ normally refers to something pleasant. In this case what the audience see certaintly isn’t. The bodies appear helpless as they are moving up and down the beach, being pushed by the weak tide. In addition, the edge of the sea is a bloody red as the blood of the strewn soldiers has diffused in it. Immediately after the camera shows all the dead bodies along the edge of the water the camera hovers across the beach to show the audience a bag that says ‘Ryan S’ on it. While the camera goes towards the bag the audience see more dead soldiers. This is shocking as it allows them to see the true havoc and destruction wreaked by the war. The bag bewilders the audience as it says ‘Ryan S’ on it. They get puzzled because the movie is called ‘Saving Private Ryan’, and they are unsure as to how Ryan can be saved if he is dead. I believe that Spielberg accomplished his goal in producing a very shocking a realistic film. Spielberg achieved his goal by using various sound and camera techniques. These included: de-saturation of colour, tracking shots, panning in all directions and the use of different diegetic and non-diegetic sounds. I believe that the most important tool used by Spielberg to make this superb introduction was the use of diegetic sound. These included gunshots, explosions, voices, and the sounds of water. Yet, in my view, the best tool used was silence, used when Captain Miller became shell-shocked. The reason why I think this is because when the audience heard nothing they immediately knew that something was wrong. If any other sound was used the audience would have been clueless as to what was happening to Miller. In summary, I believe that the introduction to ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was extremely effective in it being realistic and shocking as it showed the true and respectful side of war
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