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Realism In Saving Private Ryan Opening Scene Film Studies Essay

Analysis on the opening scene of “saving Private Ryan”, what methods does the director use to present war in a realistic way? In this essay will provide a detailed analysis on the methods implemented by the director Steven Spielberg, to present the opening battle sequence of “Saving Private Ryan” in a realistic manner. This film centres itself around D-Day of the Second World War. The battle sequence is illustrated to a great extent to show how shocking the previous World Wars were. The director uses several ways to demonstrate how the war was severely terrifying, and for this uses many cinematic techniques which add to the effect of presenting the opening battle scene to being more realistic. Principally the three main methods that were operated in the film include lighting, camera angles and Mise En Scene. In addition “Saving Private Ryan”, presents a realistic depiction of the lives and deaths of the allied forces during World War II, hence its documentary style for a film. Moreover the film has received great recognition along with some criticism, winning five Oscars in 1999. Spielberg desperately wanted the film to be realistic and unconventional to any other war movie, to a point where $12 million was spent primarily for the opening scene. The opening scene is set out in Omaha Beach which was one of the main entry points into German-occupied France in Normandy. Saving Private Ryan revolves around this assault where Captain John H. Miller and his men search for a paratrooper Private James Francis Ryan. Whose three brothers have already died in action, and he is the only surviving son missing in action.

Spielberg implements a variety of different techniques throughout the opening scene, to add astonishment in order to engage the audience and present a first person perspective. He used such things as desaturated colour, which added to the dulled effect, which brought out the great tragedy and emotions in the film. By adding desaturation to the colour made the deaths seem more explicit, dark and deeply disturbing. In addition the portrayal of the old newsreels allowed the audience to feel as if they were really there witnessing the events that were taking place in the 1940’s. The battle scenes are overly surrounded with blood. Stark enactments of deliberate mutilation and random dismemberment depict the too numerous lives that are horribly wasted. The sanctity of life is presented to the audience with lack of meaning; death is illustrated through out the opening scene as continuous and ordinary. The film questions the value of human life and what is valid to sacrifice for it. The opening battle scene is an excellent example of this. 

Sound is a key factor utilized by Spielberg to add realism. Through out the opening battle scene sounds of gunfire fill the air as the soldiers make their way towards the beach. The soundtrack consists of loud noises, for example, gun fire and exploding bombs. This feature reinforces various points in the scene where dialogue is barely audible, this particular layout is deliberately done so by Spielberg to emphasise to the audience how in reality but in particular, war the difficulties present were. Moreover such small but vital details as these allow the audience to realise what it was truly like for the soldiers on the battle field. In this scene there is too a lot of confusion presented by the muting of sound, which is shown by the way that the soldiers react mainly because of shock and the fact that death cannot be escaped. This rich use of depriving sound adds to the anxiety and anticipation of the scene, including the creation of realistic chaos typical of intense military conflict. Spielberg applies innovative ways of sound placement and sound deprivation to help reveal character and reinforce central ideas and themes. With the sound effects rising, such as the clanging of the bottle and the man being sick at the begging of the scene, makes the audience aware of the growing tension. Furthermore regarding sound, Captain Miller’s moment of confusion shows the idea of being shell-shocked. As a bomb loudly crashes into the beach near where Captain Miller is walking. This is greatly shown by the camera shaking to add more chaos and shows that there is more destruction in this scene. Spielberg purposefully used a shaker to vibrate the camera to approximate the impact of explosions. As Captain Miller is shocked, the cameras zoom into a close up of him in jerky slow motion. This creates the idea of helplessness. Many films use blank munitions for sound affects that mimic gunfire, but on the contrary Spielberg instead used weapons with live rounds. The realistic effects of the gunfire and the innovative placement of sounds create a rich cinematic experience, in order to present realism.

Moreover Spielberg too applies the use of camera shots to present “Saving Private Ryan” in a realistic portrayal to the audience. What’s more effective about the scene is where the soldiers are still on the engine boat, immediately after the boat door opens, chaos suddenly enters the film. An unforeseen event occurs as German soldier’s fire their guns at the only recently arrived Americans. At this part, Spielberg has the cameras set over the German soldiers’ shoulder with their identity concealed. Such actions from Spielberg illustrate to the audience that no matter what nations participate in the war, nothing good can come from conflict, in this case war. This long shot is also effective as it gives a clear view of their dominance and acts again humanity. As the soldiers are suddenly taken down one by one with the sound of the rushing bullets, the handheld cameras are immediately brought out. They follow the few remaining survivors into the sea. As the camera drifts above and below the water, chaos suddenly emerges as if the individuals present were drowning. This is too presented because the sound is muted as if it were the soldiers own lack of senses not working in his time of turbulence. Spielberg uses haphazard cameras to follow the soldiers into the battle. It has the audience directly feel as if they’re apart of the action because they can view and experience the battle themselves. This allows the audience to feel more involved in the whole experience as if they’re following the soldiers, and taking part in the war themselves. There are a series of long shots of the soldiers but soon changes to the point of view of the Germans once more. This is a great technique as other conventional films only demonstrate the battles being from one-side but using an over-the-shoulder shot for the point of view makes the Germans appear more powerful as they are looking down upon the soldiers and therefore have an advantage. In this scene we can also see that the most common emotion felt is confusion as many soldiers appear to be lost and traumatized because of the terror they witness. The second section of the opening scene was in instant chaos. As the camera turns away from the iron hedgehog and set to a close up of Captain Miller nerves, which is shown through his shaking hands. Also as the camera zooms away from the single image of Captain Miller, the director emphasises how significant his presence is in the war. When the men are shot down underwater there are various close up shots of the wounded, to try and encourage sympathy for the suffering war veterans went through for society as a whole. This is made realistic by Spielberg hiring actual amputees being casted into the film. In “Saving Private Ryan” the camera focuses on capturing key moments of torment. The film consists of some men jump over the sides of the boat to avoid gun fire, only to be drowned by their own packs.  The air is heavily filled with smoke and the sound of screams.  Image after image of unforgettable carnage is displayed, and at one point, everything seems to slow down, and the sounds grow distant, as though time were standing still.  Overall Spielberg has clearly made several attempts to illustrate the film “Saving Private Ryan” in a realistic manner, in which I believe he has succeeded.

Moreover the soldiers were in authentic uniforms and weighted down with heavy guns and seen shaking in fear, praying, and throwing up. Soldiers that survived that day to tell their story helped provide details about what they experienced.

In conclusion I believe the opening battle sequence presented the audience with a realistic depiction of D-day, in which included the severe death that occurred through out the war. This depiction was portrayed and directed by Spielberg’s spontaneous direction. Therefore providing an uncontrolled lay out to how the soldiers reacted, resulting in a better and realistic scene. The images shown were extremely shocking and brutal but showed the audience what fighting in war was really like and how several soldiers suffered and died. I believe that Steven Spielberg succeeded in putting realism in the film, because the film portrayed a real-life situation and in war, chaos would be inevitable. The film shows that soldiers were put in difficult situations and became confused and shocked because of what they had bear witness to. I enjoyed the opening battle sequel of “Saving Private Ryan” because of its interpretation of the war, the reality of war and the in-depth emotions. Also because it was not a conventional war film and its representation of the horrific D-day. The effects used are outstanding and it shows that the little things make the big things happen like the desaturated colour used in the flashback as it looks like it is actually from 1944.

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