‘Saving Private Ryan’ is an academy award winning film set during the time of D-Day invasion in World War 2. It was made in 1998 and was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. It was a very successful film and won 5 Oscars. Spielberg has made this film to make the audience feel the essence of war and the effects behind it. Spielberg also focussed on making it more realistic and to make the audience a part of the movie. The film is notable for its opening 24 minutes as it contains high level intensity, which depicts the Omaha beachhead assault, June 6, 1944.
In this essay I will be looking at how Spielberg uses presentational devices to create ‘chaos and realism at all times. ‘ ‘Saving Private Ryan’ begins with a single brass instrument playing a slow melchonly sound which gradually builds up to orchestral music. This sounds like the last stand and is reminiscent of funerals. The American flag is shown waving with light shinning through it representing patriotism, power and pride. Then a medium shot is used on an old man as he is walking towards the cemetery, in search of something, with his family walking behind him and looking at him.
Then a series of establishing shots show the background imagery and a lot of crosses. The crosses are white, (symbolising innocence and purity) and are in lines as if soldiers are standing there. The camera then slowly zooms into the mans face as he has fallen to the ground, weeping beside the place he was searching for. This shows his feelings of unhappiness and shows that he is upset. This also makes the audience question, why is he in that state of emotion. The music also adds tension to the atmosphere.
The sound then switches to waves and bombings as the film heads into the next scene. This scene shows a connection between the mans face, the graveyard and D-Day. It also builds tension, which is slowly portrayed with an emotional atmosphere. The next scene begins with the sound of waves crashing against Higgins boats which are taking American soldiers towards the beaches of Normandy. The audience have already been told that this action is set on June 6, 1944, the date of the d-day landings. A close up of a soldiers shaking hand is shown as he takes a drink from his water bottle.
The audience may feel that he is scared, reversing the model of a typical war hero. Other closes up shots of soldiers are shown to introduce briefly the characters who will be important later in the film. The sound of soldiers vomiting and of orders being given can be heard going off. This makes the audience feel nervous on the soldier’s behalf. As the doors of the boats open the audience are confronted immediately with the deaths of the soldiers. Some men slip under water to escape the bombardment and the camera follows.
The sound changes as the audience see men being shot, or drowned under the weight of their own packs. An over the shoulder shot is used to show the German armies power and control as they are shooting the men. As the main character, Tom Hanks, makes his way through the beach, he goes into a state of shock as he witnesses the carnage around him. A medium shot is used to show a man searching for his arm, which has been blown off. A long shot shows the deaths of several men who are on fire. The colour of the fire stands out against the dull colours of the scene.
The fact that Tom Hank’s character is in a state of shock reinforces the image of a non-typical war hero. The following scene begins with a medium shot on Tom Hanks as he is brought back into reality. He looks around and sees carnage everywhere and soldiers shooting at each other. Then a long shot is used showing the imagery in the background and the essence of war. Soon after the soldiers are shown heading towards the beach, trying to get close to the Germans. This is shown in an extreme long shot which also shows the impact of them heading there and everything that was happening at the time.
A medium shot is used as Captain Miller is dragging another soldier who is in pain and in desperate need of help. At this point the scene is put into slow motion as a deafening sound is played. This makes the audience feel shocked and on edge as the scene is put into slow motion. The director wants the audience to know that despite war hitting the American soldiers, they have not lost hope and courage and they are persevering with the circumstance. This shows that the Americans will continue to work with each other and try and emerge victorious against the opposing Germans.
The war is then shown in several different long shots to show the chaos because of the war and to show the soldiers trying to seek refuge as some of the soldiers are in pain and agony. The close ups shows the emotions, feelings and the fear that they are having. We also see action from the Germans point of view as an over the shoulder shot is used to show the Germans advantage of shooting down at the Americans and trying to kill them. This is included to show the audience how the Germans are in control and when all the action is happening, the camera shakes, to make them feel the action.
Soon after high angle shots are used to show medics on the battlefield trying to help the wounded men. Everyone is helpless as blood is scattered on the camera. The director chooses to add this to make it more realistic and exaggerated shots of soldiers being blown into pieces adds to this. Later, the Americans try to climb up the hill to shoot gunfire at the opposing soldiers at the top shooting down at them. Panning is used to show the audience what war would be like as if they were there and it makes them feel that they are involved in the action.
As the American soldiers are getting into position a handheld camera is brought in to, again show the essence of war. As one soldier gets around to the side of the hill to get an accurate aim at the Germans shooting down, an extreme close up shot is used to show the level of concentration that he is using in killing the Germans. The soldier aims at the Germans and recites some prayers as he tries to get an accurate shot. He takes a deep breath before pulling the trigger of his gun and killing them.
Throughout this scene, a handheld camera and panning is used as Spielberg wanted the audience to feel as part of the movie. The shooting continues in the next scene as the Americans appear to be in control. This is because they are running up the hill as the Germans at the top off the hill are still falling down. This is displayed using a medium shot. Soldiers are shown running towards their trenches in a long shot, showing that they are striving and are need of help in order to win the war despite the fact that they can now go to the top of the hill with decreased difficulty from before.
This shows that they are cooperating and are working together to defeat the Germans. This symbolises to the audience that there is a ray of hope for the Americans winning. Later, German prisoners are shown being shot, as they are trying to surrender because they know that they have lost. This is shown from a medium close up angle and then is zoomed in as a close up shot so that the audience can see the agony the Germans are facing, as they are getting shot. The Americans are shown getting revenge by shooting and killing the prisoners.
Spielberg chose to add this so that he could make the audience either sympathise with the Germans or feel relief and satisfaction because the allied forces are proving to be dominant at this point. Soon after screams can be heard as there are large explosions being given off, fire is everywhere burning soldiers and machine guns firing. It was carnage. The tables are turned when we see the Americans in total dominance as they begin to shoot at the German soldiers as they are shown dying and suffering. Then we see a soldier collecting sand and dust of the ground.
He is holding 3 silver tins, and is filling one of them. These tins may represent three countries where he has possibly been to war at as they were labelled, Italy, Africa and France. This man is probably collecting this sand as a memorial and a remembrance to the war. One soldier is shown weeping over the death of hi fellow soldiers. He also possesses a Hitler youth knife, which could be important to him. As the scene heads for an end we see Tom Hanks in an extreme zoom in on his eyes showing his emotions as dramatic music begins to play.
The battle field is shown in extreme long shots as the audience can see the devastation on it. The audience see the dead bodies scattered everywhere on the beach, with some being washed away by the shore. The scene ends with the camera zooming into Private Ryan’s backpack. Saving Private Ryan is undoubtedly one of the best movies made on the d-day invasion. Spielberg clearly shows the essence of the war and has made the audience feel how war would be. The film is well known around the world and it is truly epic.
It is concise to the point and the opening 24 minutes reflect on how excellent the movie is, as there is a lot of intensity. This is why it has won so many awards and nominations, topping them with 5 Oscars. Overall I think Saving Private Ryan is a great movie and Spielberg has used a wide range of camera shots and angles to get his message across to people and that is why Spielberg has been very successful with it. Spielberg clearly used a variety of presentational devices and has produced an authentic movie, which will be remembered for a long time.
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