By 1998, heroic war films had fallen out of favor in Hollywood, and an entire generation was in danger of forgetting the sacrifices made in World War II, if they ever learned about them to begin with. Steven Spielberg, himself the son of a WWII veteran and extremely passionate on the subject from an early age, changed all that by lending his singular vision to a heartfelt film with a sweeping scope that few other directors could achieve. Saving Private Ryan is the mission of a small squad who has miraculously survived the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Three of the four Ryan brothers have recently been killed in action, leaving young James the family's only surviving son, and the army wants to send him back home alive. Unfortunately, he's one of several paratroopers lost behind enemy lines, and finding one soldier in the middle of the war won't be easy. The movie is a testament to the bravery of American fighting men, an education in the ways of war, but also a reminder of the value of life
While not a redux of Schindler's List's black-and-white period photography, Saving Private Ryan does employ a restrained range of colors, much of the movie taking place outdoors under overcast skies. The 1.85:1 image shows some instance of grain, but also video noise, and the film element seems surprisingly dirty, fraught with tiny scratches and specks, but not so much to make us think it might be a deliberate choice. While the disc does capture the overall cinematic feel I remember, this is not exemplary HD video quality.
See now, right here is where you're going to be glad you spent the extra dough on the good full-range surround speakers, which within minutes are drafted to assault the audience with weapons from all over, not just the high whiz of bullets but big old booms. Rain and discrete off-camera voices will ensure your money's worth, too. This Oscar winner for both Sound and Sound Effects Editing remains a milestone for its quantity, variety and accuracy of vintage audio, as attested to by veterans, despite the fact that some of that old machinery doesn't exist anymore, for reference.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation is highlighted by two prolonged setpieces, the landing on Omaha Beach and the climactic final stand against a German armored division. (A portion of this second sequence was even featured on DTS Demonstration DVD #4.) Even if we have the stomach for all of the graphic violence, the relentless attack of the enemy imparts palpable stress, despite the relative safety of the home theater. And the quiet scenes have bombs going off in the background too, so we'll need that subwoofer for those and for approaching tanks and the big guns, too. Seldom has any movie been as well-served by its audio as Saving Private Ryan.
Editor's Note: The initial production run of Saving Private Ryan on Blu-ray Disc apparently has an audio synch error that can affect audio/video synchronization toward the end of the film on most Blu-ray players. Reportedly the problem is less noticeable on the PS3 than on other Blu-ray players. The following was sent to us from Paramount concerning a recall and replacement program for the disc:
"Technicolor has set up the following toll-free numbers for consumers who have already purchased the Saving Private Ryan Sapphire Series Blu-ray, which provides details on how they can receive a replacement copy-US and Canada: 888-370-8621, UK: 08000-852-613. Consumers can also return the Blu-ray to the stores where they purchased the product to receive a replacement. Technicolor expects to have replacement discs available at retail no later than Tuesday, May 18."
Although Disc Two is a Blu-ray, the content is borrowed from previously released DVDs and delivered in standard definition. Specific to the movie are a series of featurettes, most just a few minutes long, each touching upon a different aspect. Following the Introduction are "Looking into the Past," "Miller and His Platoon," "Boot Camp," a broader "Making Saving Private Ryan" (the longest, at 22 minutes), "Re-Creating Omaha Beach," "Music and Sound" and "Parting Thoughts." Also included is a freestanding mini-documentary, "Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan" (25 minutes).
Also here is Shooting War: World War II Combat Cameramen, Richard Schickel's 88-minute made-for-TV documentary from 2000, about the men who photographed the real action, hosted by a Cast Away-bearded Tom Hanks. Two trailers are included as well, and these are the only items in HD.
While I must admit some disappointment in the lackluster video master and the dearth of new, HD extras--what does Paramount's would-be-prestigious "Sapphire Series" logo mean if the Blu-ray is little more than a port of the DVD?--the movie and its home theater mix are one for the ages.
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