on 6 November 2004
It is probably pointless offering a quick resume of what this film is about - I can't imagine there are many people who haven't seen Spielberg's take on a true story about efforts being made to ensure the safety of the last remaining Ryan after his three brothers have been killed in action. An intriguing piece of human interest, if not humane interest - you have to believe the generals who ordered this were mainly concerned with avoiding bad publicity. Amazing! Half the world is engaged in defeating Hitler, and the Pentagon has time to worry about bad publicity! Doesn't it just make you wonder exactly what sort of control the military exert over journalists these days, just how much truth you can expect to filter back from the battlefield?
Anyway, enough of this cynicism. Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' is a magnificent piece of cinematography. It is not the greatest war film ever made. There are many ahead of it - from Buster Keaton's "General", through the original, Lewis Milestone "All Quiet on the Western Front", or even a certain film about a Herr Schindler.
Spielberg does capture a lot of attention by his graphic, visceral portrayal of the D-Day landings. Many have hailed this is the closest anyone has ever come to the true experience. I wasn't at D-Day, but I can assure you, when a lot of people out there seem intent on killing you, you do not see the world in technicolor or hear it in surroundsound, but you do tend to lose your fingernails trying to claw your way into the ground, and what the DVD can't offer you are the smells, dry taste in your mouth, and brittleness and vulnerability you feel in your skull and teeth.
"Saving Private Ryan" is a good story, brilliantly directed and well acted - Tom Hanks conveys honesty and dignity impeccably. And the film does accurately re-enact that self-consuming myth that the USA saved Europe and can be trusted to save the world. Sorry, the cynicism is creeping back in again. However, it is worth making the point that I've noticed too many reviews which seem to luxuriate in some macho belief that this is what war really looks and sounds like ... so you must be a tough guy if you can watch it and not mess yourself ... but there are not enough reviews which note that there is an ideological dimension to this sort of movie. Maybe Spielberg doesn't intend it, but the Hollywood machine certainly pushes that message.
So here we have yet another opportunity to market the movie. Presumably it'll be re-released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day ... and I can hardly wait for the centenary version. This time you get a cool little metal box, and some extras explaining how they recreated D-Day, Spielberg talking about the film, a review of the real story, and more. I half expected a handful of sand, a spent bullet, and some dog-tags. Presumably, they'll save that for the centenary edition.
Presumably, if you're a major fan of the film and collect everything about it, you'll want to add this to your collection. But I can't help wondering precisely why it was necessary to re-release it yet again ... except, of course, to earn some more money.