Saving Private Ryan

Ian Bremner reviews the Steven Spielberg film about D-Day and after

'We wanted it to look very much like colour newsreel footage of the 1940s.’ ‘We are making a historical document here.’ So say Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, director and star, respectively, of Saving Private Ryan. They want the audience to endure ‘a physical experience’, actually to feel that they landed on Omaha Beach, under fire, on June 6th 1944. Their attempt to replicate this experience uses sophisticated sound editing, computer effects, multiple cameras and limbless extras, plus a battalion of the Irish army.

The cameras and film stock are stripped of their modern lens coatings and shutters to make the footage, its colour deliberately drained, ‘look authentically period’. So the most successful director ever aspires both to have his cake and to eat it: all the gore and sound effects that digital technology can provide, plus a feeling by the audience that what they are seeing is in fact authentic to the period it depicts; ‘realism’ for both the heart and mind. The irony is, of course, that the men who were there would have seen it in ‘normal’ colour; it is the audience whose visual memories of the events come only from contemporary newsreels.

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