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Saving Private Ryan Film Essay

War movies often rely on the visual to communicate the events and emotion of each scene. This works up to a point, but viewers cannot fully relive battle in this way. Background music and limited sound effects make war movies generic, predictable, and sometimes historically inaccurate. In contrast, Gary Rydstrom uses sound to communicate emotion and portray realistic battle scenes in a way that makes the viewers feel as though they are actually part of Saving Private Ryan.

One unique aspect of this movie, as opposed to other war movies, is that there is no background music in the battle scenes. Music in movies tends to make viewers realize they are watching the movie, but without it, the experience is so much more authentic. The battle scenes are shot with a handheld camera, giving them a shaky and chaotic feel. Because of this, the viewer does not really get the chance to experience the full breadth of the battle through the shot. Humans experience sound at all angles, as opposed to the one angle at which we experience sight. The dynamic sound effects of the battle scenes can completely engulf the viewer, helping them to have the full experience of trauma. Rydstrom paid particularly close attention to certain sound effects in these battle scenes to help them be as historically correct as possible. A variety of gunshot noises appear in each battle scene, each one corresponding to a different weapon. Also, a variety of distinct shot- impact noises illustrate the scene.

The sound of the bullet hitting the soldier’s helmet in the beginning of the first battle scene is the beginning of many more shot-impact sounds to come, each representing a probably fatal wound. These shot- impact sounds enhance the viewer’s emotional response to a scene. They are so crisp that every time someone is shot, the viewer cringes and feels overwhelmed just like the characters onscreen. The shellshock noise that Tom Hanks’ character experiences happens once in the first battle scene on the beach and once in the final battle scene at the bridge right before he dies. This internal sound allows the audience to experience the battles through the eyes of Captain Miler (Hanks) and shows that his character struggles emotionally and physically in handling the situation, a side of himself that he tries to hide from the soldiers under his command. This allows the viewer to sympathize with Miller and creates a more emotional atmosphere.

When the Americans learn that the Germans outnumber them and have multiple tanks in the last battle scene, this feeling of suspense becomes heightened. What really makes this feeling so ominous is the sound of the tanks approaching and how they echo off of the buildings in the quiet final seconds before the fighting begins. This external sound against the lack of much ambient sound causes the audience to experience the same anticipation as the characters onscreen because neither knows when the fighting will ensue.

Ambient noise plays a large role in the realness of Saving Private Ryan. In the scene where the rescue team is resting for the night, the audience hears thunder-like explosion noises behind the conversation, which represent the continuity of the war. In addition to all of this, Rydstrom uses sound to creatively transition from one scene to the next. In one scene where the group is walking, it starts to rain. The camera pans in on the raindrops falling, and gradually, the sound of a raindrop hitting a leaf transitions into the sound of firing guns, which catches the viewer off-guard.


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