Spielburg’s aim in creating Saving Private Ryan seems to have been to show war in its full horror. None of the usual Hollywood glamour and gloss which is found in many other war films or the ‘rough diamond’ character given to every person. “War is horror” says Spielburg “and some of the carnage and chaos at Omaha Beach were captured by combat cameramen. That 25 minutes is my attempt to portray the landing as honestly as I know how. ” Every character has more than one flaw, and Tom Hanks’ character is just an average soldier, no special skills, even though he is the leader.
In most war films, the leader of a squad is given at least one outstanding attribute, but as Hanks says, his character is “… not a professional fighting man, but someone who responds to the demands of the time… ” and that he “… just wants to win the war and go home. ” It can be seen in a number of other war films that the soldiers, the fighting and death itself is glorified. Death in combat is a great thing, not so in Saving Private Ryan. One man is shaking and crying with fear as another looks on with pity before scooping up earth from the ravaged battlefield to keep as a souvenir.
Another myth stripped away, at least in part, is that of all Allied soldiers being near angelic in their behaviour and attitudes, whilst the Axis soldiers are portrayed as cruel and sadistic monsters. In Saving Private Ryan however, surrendering Germans are shot, others are left to burn as they tumble out of the flaming remains of a watch tower. This also portrays the anger, hatred and resentment felt by the Allied troops towards the Germans in particular. They were trying to dispel all the previous myths about war.
As Spielburg says, the war films produced during the World War Two were not allowed to show the realities of war, they were propaganda films, and so every character was a hero, every defeat was made to look like a victory. Spielburg has in my opinion successfully achieved this. There is nothing glorious about the 25 minute scene on the beach. The ‘red sea’ image is particularly powerful. The corpses floating in and out with a sea red with blood. They’ve also tried to achieve the effect of combat footage.
To do this the cameras for the combat scene were handheld, as this is the only way real combat cameramen and film all the action. Because of this, the camera shakes when there’s an explosion, and often spends long times upside down, to represent it being dropped and the time it took the cameraman to scramble out of his foxhole to pick it up. This effect worked quite well and in a cinema, where there would be a big screen, you might almost think you were there. Another effect they’ve aimed for is that of real soldiers.
To do this the actors who play the soldiers sent to rescue Private Ryan were trained for six days by Captain (retired) Dale Dye of the US Marine Corps, who has made a career out of training actors to behave like military men. Tom Hanks and the other actors playing the men in Miller’s squad were turned over to Dye for six days in the field, sleeping under canvas and undergoing a gruelling training regimen. “We were playing guys who were tired, cold, miserable, and wanted to go home,” says Hanks.
“And I can guarantee you in those six days we were tired, cold, miserable and wanted to go home. ” In the end however, I think the training and hard work was worthwhile, they are very credible and believable characters, which makes the film that much more realistic. In conclusion, I believe that Spielburg has achieved his main aim and the several effects that he wanted to achieve. Saving Private Ryan is a much more realistic war film than most, even if it does still have that tendency to glorify the Americans.