Thursday, February 3, 2011

Epic #8 - Saving Private Ryan (1998)

War is the worst thing ever. I am completely, utterly convinced of this by watching this movie. Saving Private Ryan is supposed to be among the most accurate war movies out there, and it is brutal, violent and chaotic. Just like real war. War sucks, and the people who fight it deserve all kinds of respect. Saving Private Ryan really demonstrates that.

Saving Private Ryan is a World War II movie, directed by Steven Spielberg. It opens with the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. I've been told that this is one of the best cinematic war scenes ever, and it is very good. I haven't seen very many war movies, so I can't really judge it as compared to other scenes, but on it's own it's obviously very good film making. It's this huge, crowded, chaotic scene, and it's noisy and dirty and people are dying, and within it there are all these tiny little horrible moments. People are picking up there own arms, and people are just avoiding death, and then being killed shortly afterwards. In one section, a group of medics save a soldier and congratulate themselves, only for the soldier to be shot through the head. The whole scene is filled with these kind of moments. We don't even know any characters yet. All we're watching is the warfare; that's all we have to focus on. It ends with a shot of the bodies on the beach, with the ocean with all the blood in it washing over them. It's a very powerful scene.

The Plot: Basically, three brothers from the same family, the Ryans, all die in combat. There's one brother left, Private James Ryan, and they, they being the government, decide to send him home, since all the brothers are dead. Because war isn't very organized, they don't know exactly where he is, so they send out Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks, who sounds distractingly like Woody in this movie,) and a squad of soldiers to find him, including Daniel Faraday from Lost. The major source of conflict in this movie is, obviously, World War II, but conflict also arises from the fact that eight men are being sent out to risk their lives for the life of one man. A huge theme in the movie is making the decision between doing the decent thing, and doing the practical thing. Saving Private Ryan is the decent thing to do, but is incredibly impractical, a lot of people are put in a lot of danger because of it. This is really what the movie is about.
This is movie is made up of definite exciting events, with calmer sort of interludes in between them. Obviously in a movie you need both exciting scenes and calm scenes, but in this movie it's very pronounced. Because this is how most action-y movies are structured, it gives the film a very action-y movie feel. It is a action-y movie of course. It's definitely a war movie, and, beyond the gritty realism, a pretty standard one, judging from the war movies I have seen. It's a very good standard war movie though. After all, the war movie is a tried and trusted genre, and this is certainly a very good movie that treats war with the dignity that it deserves. Well maybe not war itself per say, that's a tricky subject, but definitely the people who fight it. It's ground-breaking in its violent and accurate portrayal of war, and definitely summons up respect for soldiers, but beyond that it's a war movie. Now that I think about it, I have to wonder why our friends at the American Film Institute don't have a list of the best war movies. Seems like an obvious choice, over, say, the oddly specific genre of "Courtroom Drama." Strange.
Saving Private Ryan won five Oscars, including Best Director, but did not win Best Picture. It actually lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love, which is considered one of the greatest award snubs ever. True story.

Saving Private Ryan is, so far, the best movie I've seen through The Project, which is good because that's what's supposed to happen. The Ten Commandments was very "Look we have Technicolor and lots of extras," making it's epic-ness kind of forced, and Reds was, frankly, long and boring. Saving Private Ryan entertained me through the entire film, I enjoyed all of it, it was good film making, and it was just a good movie. It's a very powerful movie made about a very powerful subject matter. You can not question the American Film Institute. It cannot be done. I am not, however, to the point where I would actually seek out the movie to watch it again, which is a shame. Fingers crossed for All Quiet on the Western Front, then.

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