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Thursday, May 17, 2018
Saving Private Ryan in 4K: easily the best way to watch Spielberg's war epic
Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan got a
lot of good press when it came out, for its tribute to those who fought and
died to save our western civilization from the German Nazis. It also garnered
praise for its powerful and graphic depiction of what it was probably like
(Hollywood influences notwithstanding) to have made that deadly but vital beach
landing on June 6, 1944.
This is the perfect time of year, approaching
America's annual Memorial Day celebration and the anniversary of the Normandy
invasion, for Paramount to reissue a 20th Anniversary edition of Spielberg's
film with an absolutely spectacular conversion to 4K disc with HDR – a UHD
treatment that's a very pleasant surprise, indeed.
It's a pretty good movie, too, though it would
have been better if they'd forgotten the "saving mission" aspect of
it and just continued to document Tom Hanks' group as they fought inland after
establishing their beach hold. That opening (actually the second sequence after
a bit of a narrative hook) is probably the best look at the horrors – and
heroes – of war that I've seen, an unforgettable bit of movie making that puts
those men's sacrifices into perspective for those who've never had to endure
what my father's generation did in order to make the world safe for us.
On the other hand, documenting the fighting
from the beach and inland was done already in Darryl F. Zanuck's "The Longest Day,"
the 1962 masterpiece that looks at the big (as in "really huge!")
picture surrounding Operation Overlord, the invasion of the European mainland. That
black-and-white movie starts the night before Spielberg's film and portrays the
beach landing in context – as one vital part of a multifaceted operation.
As a baby boomer whose father's Halifax bomber crew
flew over France the night before the Normandy Invasion, I appreciate the broader
context of The Longest Day; heck, you'd never know from Spielberg's film that
there was a lot more going on than the beach assault. In fact, the overall
Overlord was so vast that the opening assault in Spielberg's film actually occurs
about halfway through The Longest Day.
These films should be shown in high school
history classes around the free world, lest we ever forget the heroes who were
our fathers and grandfathers.
My dear and gentle wife won't sit through the frightening
horrors of Saving Private Ryan, but I argue that the graphic nature of the
scene is necessary to shock today's desensitized pop culture - for whom blood
and gore are just the latest horror movie or video game outing. And, as I noted
in my review of the original Blu-ray, "these D-Day scenes, with their
horrifying images and spectacular use of surround sound, immerse you in the
experience so much so that you almost feel as if you're there - all while
celebrating the reality that, thanks to the people who were there, you can watch
the film from the comfort of your home theatre and don't have to be there
As far as the story is concerned, once John
Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men have accomplished their mission of getting
ashore and securing their section of the French coastline, Miller is ordered to
assemble a squad and head inland, through not-yet-liberated countryside, to
search for Private James Ryan. It's a mission of both compassion and PR, because
Ryan's three brothers have already given the ultimate sacrifice to the fight
for freedom and the grand Poohbahs of the U.S. military decide to send him home
to ensure the war effort doesn't completely destroy his family's lineage.
Sound contrived? Watch the supplements that are
on the accompanying Blu-ray and you'll see that it's a lot closer to the truth
than you might expect.
Hanks and his team, battle-hardened veterans
(the excellent cast wears its characters' experience behind their eyes) are
faced with the prospect of giving up their lives (and of course some do) to
save the life of a faceless stranger (Matt Damon) who, to them, is being given
a free ride home from the hell they all want to escape.
Like life, it isn't fair. It isn't justice; it
just is. And they have their orders.
The theme of the ultimate value of a human life
pops up repeatedly through the movie - from the opportunity to help some small
children to the urge to wreak vengeance on a Nazi soldier they hold responsible
for gunning down one of their mates. Oddly enough for Hollowwood, though, the
film presents the events matter-of-factly and lets you draw your own
conclusions, rather than beating you over the head with back dated morality.
Hats off to Spielberg for this. I don't know
the man, but perhaps he saw this film as too important for slipping in the liberal
dogma that so often pollutes films such as this. Or, as I noted in my earlier
review, "perhaps he realized that it's because of the people who
sacrificed…that all of us are free to spout whatever dogma we choose today.
"But we've lost so much. Our forefathers
gave their lives to ensure our freedom, yet today we are no longer nearly as
free as we were even 50 years ago - the creeping loss of freedoms adding up so
that, while we're free to ride a bicycle, we're no longer free to do it without
the helmet mandated by Big Government. Okay, that's a pretty minor example, but
count up the freedoms we're losing today and it's a frightening scenario. Heck,
some of us are no longer free to express our opinions if they're deemed by
others to be offensive or "hurtful".
"This isn't the world the heroes of 'Saving
Private Ryan' saved, and subsequent generations should be ashamed to have
squandered so much of their heritage in the name of comfort, ease, and
Indeed, my baby boomer generation has a lot to
answer for, and Saving Private Ryan is a good reminder of that.
At the very end of the movie, the elderly Ryan
remembers Hanks' character's final words to him and questions the value of his
own life. It's a powerful and emotional gut punch from a gifted director who can
play his audience like a fiddle.
Steven Spielberg has done a superb job of
showing us that, rather than these young Americans being a bunch of gung ho
jocks intent on crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war (or killing babies),
these kids knew exactly what they were doing, and why. And they – and millions
of their brothers in arms - not only saved the fictional Private Ryan, they
saved every one of us who came after.
Lest we forget.
A superb example of 4K…
Paramount's 4K UHD treatment of this film really
knocked my socks off. I had expected it to offer an upgrade over the old
Blu-ray, like most of the 4K discs I've seen to date, but when I fired up the
4K HDR disc it was as if I'd never seen the film before. I kid you not: this 4K
version looks absolutely spectacular, and if you've never seen Saving Private
Ryan before, this is definitely the version to try.
I was never happy with the look of the original
DVD or Blu-ray. The film's original "faded" look imparts a kind of
documentary feel to the film, as if it were shot live in June of 1944, but I
expected that to translate to an okay but not great 4K upgrade.
Boy, was I wrong! This 4K HDR version leaves me
with nothing but superlatives to say. The colours still look kind of faded, but
my goodness – it's amazing how the 4K treatment has upped the colour ante
anyway, so much so that I think this is one of the best 4K upgrades I've seen. Add
to that the fine detail 4K allows, which is evident on uniforms and faces and
sets, and the incredible dynamic range provided by HDR, and you have a really
great 4K disc presentation.
The audio, Dolby Atmos that's backward
compatible for mainstream home theatres, matches the visuals beautifully, offering
a dynamic and enveloping soundtrack as ordnance whizzes around you. But it
isn't all bombast (or bomb blast!); the audio in the quieter scenes is just as
realistic and enveloping (just not as loud!) and contributes to an overall feeling
of being there.
In all, this is a compelling and high-quality 4K
release I recommend highly.
As mentioned, if you haven't yet bought Saving
Private Ryan, this is definitely the version to get, even if you don't yet own
4K equipment. That's because Paramount has also included two Blu-rays (one for
the feature and one for the substantial number of supplements) and a code for a
The extras appear to be identical to those on
the original Blu-ray, and that's fine with me.
Among the goodies is Steven
Spielberg discussing his interest in WWII and how it led him to make the film, the
research done for the film, the evolution of the screenplay and the director's
There's also a feature on the cast in which Spielberg,
Hanks and others introduce their different characters and explain how the actors
worked together. Boot Camp includes memories from the cast about the intense training
regimen they went through thanks to Captain Dale Dye.
Making Saving Private Ryan sees Spielberg et al
discuss the film's look, production design, costumes and photography, while Re-creating
Omaha Beach is pretty self-explanatory – but very interesting.
There's also a feature on the film's music (yet
another great John Williams score) and sound, and some Parting Thoughts in
which Spielberg and Hanks share their thoughts on the experience of making the
Add to that "Into the Breach: Saving
Private Ryan - a 25-minute documentary with the cast and crew and "Shooting
War" (a Hanks hosted/narrated documentary on WWII combat photographers in
Europe and the Pacific theater of war) and you have a fully featured package.
Saving Private Ryan should be on every high
school's curriculum, but I doubt it will be until there's a sea change in who's
in charge of education. That's not only a shame, it's also a damning testament
to the revisionist, politically correct age in which we now live.