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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - June, 2010

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"Saving Private Ryan" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

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Synopsis

After surviving the hellish landing on D-Day at Omaha Beach, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) is handed an even more difficult assignment.  Amidst the chaos of the Normandy invasion, Miller must find a paratrooper named James Ryan (Matt Damon), who has lost all three of his brothers in combat, and help return him home to his family.  As the immense scope of their task sinks in, Miller’s squad begins to question the logic of their mission, as in this case “the mission is a man.”

 

Specifications

  • DreamWorks
  • 1998, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore
  • Directed by Steven Spielberg
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Moderate

Commentary

This is one of my favorite movies of all-time.  While I happen to be a big World War II buff, the story is gripping enough to attract even those with little care for war films.  The moral conundrum of risking the lives of many men for the life of one solitary soldier is well played out throughout the film and really makes the viewer think about how they would respond in a similar situation.  The introductory landing sequence at Omaha Beach is still the most visceral and outright petrifying piece of filmmaking I have ever seen.  While the incredibly graphic violence throughout the film can be a turn-off for some, it is completely realistic and gives the viewer some semblance of what our brave soldiers went through to secure our freedom.  The acting is superb throughout and there is some great character development.  You find yourself really caring for each of the characters, which make their inevitable deaths more poignant and upsetting.  Direction and cinematography are superb, as is John Williams’ soundtrack.  This film certainly deserved the five Oscars that it received in 1998 and is a must-own in my book.

Technical

I’ll go out on a limb here and venture that I’m not the only Secrets reader (or writer) who used the Omaha Beach landing scene on the original DVD as a demo when family or friends came over.    As good as sound was on the original DVD, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray is even better.  Clarity and dynamics are improved over the lossy DVD track, as is the ability to pick out the more subtle sounds throughout the film.  Surround use is incredibly effective, with the explosions and gunshots coming at you from all directions.  Bass is powerful, but except for the German Panzer and Tiger tanks at the end of the film, not terribly deep.   The powerful dialogue is clearly presented, so there is no need to fiddle with your volume control in order to hear individual lines.  Picture quality is also a huge step up from the DVD.  There is now far more detail visible in the picture, and the Blu-ray has been mastered with a more natural, warmer tone.  The DVD was always a bit cool to my eyes, pushing colors to a grey/blue shade that created a very washed-out look.   Black levels and shadow detail are improved on the Blu-ray as well.  The film’s signature grainy look has been retained, which really fits the subject matter well.  There are a few shots that appear a little soft or out of focus, but they do not distract from the viewing experience.   I also liked some of the “lens flare” shots that have been included in the Blu-ray release as it makes you feel like the footage was shot on the fly by a combat photographer.   Overall, this is a fantastic demo disc to show off your system.

Note:  There was a minor audio/video synch issue with some of the original discs (starting around chapter 15).  Paramount very quickly shipped out corrected discs, so make sure that you get one of the newer versions.  You can spot the “corrected” version by the yellow UPC box on the back of the packaging.  The original discs had a white UPC box.

Extras

Extras are pretty much the same as on the DVD versions and are almost entirely in standard-definition.  Included are the following featurettes:  “Looking into the Past,” “Miller and his Platoon,” “Boot Camp,” “Making Saving Private Ryan,” “Re-creating Omaha Beach,” “Music and Sound,” “Parting Thoughts,” and “Into the Breach: Saving Private Ryan.”  There is also “Shooting War,” a feature on World War II combat photographers that I really enjoyed.  The only high-def extras are a couple of trailers for the film.