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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 9/30/99
(updated 11/9/99)




Saving Private Ryan

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs



Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan
1998 (1999) - DreamWorks S.K.G./Paramount (DreamWorks)

Film Ratings: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/B+

Specs and Features

169 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:33:34, in chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, documentary, Into the Breech, message from director Steven Spielberg, 2 theatrical trailers, cast & crew bios, production notes, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned



Saving Private Ryan (DTS)

Encoded with DTS 5.1 Digital Surround
Saving Private Ryan (DTS)
1998 (1999) - DreamWorks S.K.G./Paramount (DreamWorks)

Film Ratings: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A++/C

Specs and Features

169 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:25:37, in chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, message from director Steven Spielberg, 2 theatrical trailers, cast & crew bios, production notes, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1 & DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned


Note: the following review has been updated to include
a comparison between the Dolby Digital and DTS versions.

"That boy is alive. And we are gonna send someone to find him. And we're gonna get him the hell out of there."

It's hard to comprehend, as we live out our daily lives in today's modern world of convenience, the kind of sacrifice that was asked of an entire generation of Americans, not so very long ago. 50 years seems like forever, but almost all of us have family stories of World War II, and how it affected our grandparents and eldest relatives. I remember, as I watched Saving Private Ryan that first time in the theater, that it was all too easy to imagine myself and my friends in that situation. My generation, the so-called Generation X, has never been tested like that. We've had no World Wars, no Vietnams. We've had no challenges of our mettle. How would we respond in that situation? How would I respond? Would we be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom? That, I think, is the real genius of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. I don't think you can sit through this film and not ask yourself, "What would I do in that situation?"

The film starts on perhaps the most important day of the war - the D-Day invasion on June 6th, 1944. We watch as thousands of Average Joes storm the beach at Normandy, only to be cut to pieces in a hail of German machine-gun bullets and mortar fire. In the ensuing chaos, small groups of men manage to make their way up the beach. And faced with the choice of fighting for a chance at survival by breaking through the German lines of defense, or simply dying on the beach, slowly the American and Allied soldiers claw their way to victory.

One such group of men is led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks). After scaling the cliffs and overcoming the odds in the first wave of the invasion, Miller and his men are given a seemingly ridiculous mission. It seems that somewhere in midst of the vast war, a private named Ryan has lost three of his brothers in action. The Army has decided to spare his mother the agony of losing all her sons, so Miller and his men are ordered to go deep behind enemy lines in France, to find Ryan and bring him home. Along the way, they'll risk their lives in what seems a hopeless task, all the while thinking that no one soldier could possibly be worth it.

Director Steven Spielberg has, with this film, created perhaps the single greatest testament to that generation, and that specific day, yet captured on film. Certainly, (for better or worse) Saving Private Ryan will be remembered by more people that any other record of those dark days. It is also arguably the most accurate, visceral account of the events of D-Day. Spielberg chose wisely to eschew a traditional Hollywood filmmaking style for this film, opting instead for a gritty, hand-held, combat-camera feel to the picture. The result, particularly the first 30 minutes (which recreates the invasion at Normandy itself), is one of the most effective pieces of war filmmaking you will ever see. Spielberg places you right in the midst of the action with Miller and his men, with gunfire whizzing all around. You experience your own small form of shell shock, as you watch wave after wave of young men being shot down and blown to bits.

Once the invasion ends, and we focus more on the story of the film - the actual search for Ryan - the characters become all too human. Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon and the rest all fit together perfectly. We come to understand each of their characters, their fears, and the unspoken bond they begin to develop with each other. These are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, fighting because they must - fighting because freedom doesn't come free, and the price of freedom must be paid in blood.

Saving Private Ryan is the first of Steven Spielberg's true blockbusters to find its way to DVD, and it would be hard to find a film more perfectly tailored to the format. The film simply looks terrific, and sounds even better. It's presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and is enhanced for anamorphic capable displays. The print used for the new high-definition transfer (from which these DVDs were mastered) is of beautiful quality. You'll see very little dust and dirt. The print does exhibit a certain degree of coarse grain, but this is entirely by design. That effect, combined with the hand-held camerawork, and the always slightly muted, washed-out color, creates a very realistic, gritty, newsreel look to the film. But despite the grain, fast action and movement, you'll see very little digital artifacting, and there is only slight edge enhancement visible. At all times, the contrast is excellent, as is level of detail in the dark picture areas. In fact, there's crisp detail everywhere to be seen - just look at the footage of the battle scene, with its high-speed shutter, and slow motion moments. You can see every clump of dirt blown into the air by explosions.

As good as the picture is however, it's the audio that really impresses on both versions of this disc. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound version is an all-out assault on your ears. The mix is crisp and clean, with deep, rich bass. The dialogue sounds natural, and John Williams' haunting but hopeful score is woven lightly though it all. And the rear channels are given a tremendous workout, both dazzling you with the gee-whiz directionality of gunfire, and the numbing thump of exploding bombs, and creating perfect ambient fill. This is a very spatial mix, creating a very nice three-dimensional sound experience. You'll hear the sound of a ricochet right next to you, and hear the screams of soldiers off in the distance as well. And we're just talking about the first 30 minutes! The downpour of a rainstorm is perfectly rendered in chapter 8, and you can almost feel the Mustang fighters as they roar by overheard in chapter 19.

Moving on to the DTS 5.1 version, I would have thought it would be hard to improve on the Dolby Digital mix, but DTS manages to do just that. The difference isn't one most people are going to really appreciate, but if you have good sound equipment, you'll notice that the DTS mix is more natural sounding. If Dolby Digital gives you gee-whiz directionality, DTS creates a more natural, seamless 360-degree audio environment. The audio is slightly clearer sounding - easier on the ears, but just as enveloping, if not more so. And you'll hear more subtlety in the surround sound mix - for example, the faint popping of more distant gunfire is clearer and more pronounced. Listen to the end of the battle sequence, as Capt. Miller drinks from his canteen and his hand shakes slightly - the major thrust of the battle is over, but you'll hear pockets of fighting still going on in the distance. Whichever audio version of this film you buy, this is wonderful DVD sound, period.

As far as extras, this title isn't exactly loaded... but what you do get is of excellent quality. You start off with a series of subtle (and tastefully done) animated menus screens, featuring key images from the film. There are two theatrical trailers (the original and re-release versions), both of which look great, and are presented in full 5.1 audio. There is a brief message from the director, in which he reveals his motivations for making the film, and promotes the D-Day Museum. There are pages and pages of cast and crew bios, and production notes. But my favorite supplement is a really good documentary on the making of the film. It runs some 25 minutes, and includes interviews with the cast and crew, historian Stephen Ambrose (author of the acclaimed Citizen Soldiers), and several survivors of the actual D-Day invasion. It also features authentic footage of the real battles, interviews with the family the story was based on, and even clips from Spielberg's earliest war movies, made as a teenager. It's important to note that this documentary was omitted on the DTS version, due to the greater space requirements of the DTS sound data (the DTS version's layer switch also occurs a couple of minutes earlier in chapter 12).

I don't think Spielberg has ever recorded a commentary track for any of his films, but I sure wish he would have started with this one. I would have loved to hear the stories - can you imagine listening to him talk with Hanks, Ambrose, and Dale Dye (the former Marine Captain who whipped the actors into convincing soldiers for the film)? That would have been cool. Still, commentary or not, what you get here is enough to do the job - even if it just whets your appetite for more.

Saving Private Ryan is simply an amazing film - a vivid, emotion-wrenching experience that everyone should undergo at least once. And there can be no better way to experience it than on DVD. DreamWorks has produced yet another satisfying entry in their superb (if small) line of discs. I must say, it's about time Spielberg acknowledged this format. And thankfully, whichever version you choose, this is one DVD you will definitely NOT want to miss.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Saving Private Ryan


Saving Private Ryan (DTS)


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