Both these scenes are representing different directors’ interpretations of the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach. Darryl F. Zanuck directed ‘The Longest Day’ in 1962. The film was made only seventeen years after the end of the Second World War, and so Zanuck had to keep in mind that some people’s memories of the war were still very vivid. He hired forty-eight international stars, twenty thousand extras and took two years to make this three-hour film. ‘The Longest Day’ won two Oscars in cinematography and special effects. Steven Spielberg directed ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in 1998.
This film was made decades after the war had ended. Historic evidence was more widely known and so Spielberg could make a realistic war film. Many more special effects were available and with a budget of ninety million dollars, Spielberg won awards at the Oscars, BAFTAs and the Golden Globe. The first thing that I think you have to take into account when comparing these scenes is where in the film the clips are taken. The clip from ‘The Longest Day’ is taken from the middle of the film. Many of the main characters have already been introduced and the audience has had a build up to the D-Day landings.
On the other hand, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ has the D-Day landings at the beginning of the film. Spielberg uses the scene as an introduction to the war and so a great effort has been made to captivate the audience. ‘The Longest Day’ is shot in black and white throughout the film. It is hard to distinguish different objects. This is mainly because our generation are used to seeing things in colour, and when ‘The Longest Day’ was released people were used to watching in black and white so it made no difference to them. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is in bleached colour. This is a technical term meaning that the colours have been faded.
The red of the blood though, is strongly visible and has been enhanced to make the blood stand out from the water. The beginning of the scene from ‘The Longest Day’ starts with a subtitle in front of a view of Omaha Beach telling the audience where the battleships are landing. In the background we hear very patriotic music giving the sense of pride to all the war veterans that may be watching. I think that the music is there to make the whole battle seem grander than it really was, unlike ‘Saving Private Ryan’ where the first thing we hear is the lapping of the tide.
The swirling sea shows a great contrast from the peace and calm before the battle, to the noise and unrest of war. This is not a gentle scene though. Giant tetrahedrae are positioned in the sea, their job to rip the bottoms off the boats. The image set is a sinister scene. In ‘The Longest Day’ we next see a shot of the landing craft with a hazy background and an overview of the soldiers. Limited camera lenses provide us with mainly medium shots that are normally static, a much steadier camera than in ‘Saving Private Ryan’.
As a viewer you feel as though you are looking in on the action, more objective, and so you feel like you are watching the battle, not really involved. When focusing on General N Cota (played by Robert Mitchum), the camera is angled slightly upwards, giving the general an air of power and the impression of authority. A centred shot is shown of the general standing casually on the ship. The men around him are seemingly unconcerned about what awaits them. Long shots are occasionally shown. They establish a background and help to set the scene. Not many close ups are shown; the director has chosen to have most scenes taken with a medium shot.
This makes it feel as though you are watching, not participating in what is going on. This in turn leads to a lack of urgency throughout this clip because the camera is shooting from far away and the camera remains static nearly all the time. We are then shown the German headquarters. To make this scene as realistic as possible, Zanuck decided to have the actors speaking in German. This means that subtitles had to be used to explain to the audience what was being said. We have changed from watching an organised army (the Allies) to watching a frenzied, frantic, unorganised German one.
The officers are seen rushing about ordering the nervous German soldiers to position themselves behind beach banks and barbed wire. The director has shown both sides and points of view of the same event. It puts the message across to the audience that the Nazis were only human after all. They were portrayed as human beings, doing what they thought was right, not just villainous ‘bad’ guys. It can also show slight propaganda, even after the war. The audience likes to see the Germans panicking and worried, there was still hatred of the Nazis decades years after the war.
We then come back to the American side. The troops do not seem to be very afraid. We see a fearless Robert Mitchum urging his men forwards as we hear cheering men. The cheering shows unity between the soldiers, again being highly patriotic. There are a limited variety of sound effects. The firing all seems to stop when the General speaks, the camera again giving an upward view of Robert Mitchum, reinforcing his importance and showing his confidence. Considering the amount of gunfire, there is little effect on the actors.
The result is a shock free clip with the audience shown little gore or carnage. The men run up onto the beach, escaping almost every explosion by rolling around on the floor, getting up and running again. The men almost look like they’ve been choreographed to run up the beach. Robert Mitchum is so in control that he calmly jogs up the beach, making this short scene seem very tame. I think the director has done this because the audience did not come to watch the film to see blood, quite the opposite, they were watching it to feel proud of their country and feel a sense of pride.
They wanted to see heroism and many viewers would not want to see how their sons, fathers and friends were killed in action. Once at the top of the beach, we see Cota as a caring man when the famous Hollywood actor talks to a young boy. There is a pointless dialogue section where General N. Cota tells the young boy to go back onto the dangerous beach to get his rifle back. The young boy obediently runs off to try and find his gun. The sequence finishes in full flow with a shot of the Americans and Germans in a full combat. In ‘Saving Private Ryan’ after the subtitles, we see the Higgins landing craft battling against the sea.
Spielberg shot the scene on an overcast day (like the real battle) to make everything seem as realistic as possible. It works well because as a viewer you can feel that it is cold as you hear powerful waves hit the edge of the boats. There are a variety of shots used in this clip; far, medium and close up. We have changes of focus and clear close-ups and there are several shots that have been filmed using slow motion. All of this is mainly due to different filming techniques that have been introduced after ‘The Longest Day’.
A handheld camera is used for this section of the film making you feel part of the action, making the audience more subjective. We are shown a clear close up of Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks). We see him petrified, his hand shaking drinking from a water bottle. Tom Hanks then holds up his head showing us his scared face. You can feel the tension between the men. We see men saying their prayers with religious signs. The nerves are shown by seeing men being sick on the ship and seeing their scared faces. We get an impression of them being real people with feelings and thoughts.
This instantly gives the viewers more of an insight to each character, than in ‘The Longest Day’. Captain Miller’s last words on the boat are ‘I’ll see you on the beach. ‘ These words are followed by silence, so the words are left ringing in your ear. We see and hear the wheel turning as the door goes down. As a viewer you are totally unprepared for what happens next, to me it came as a shock. Again with the handheld camera, we turn round and see lots of men being shot down, many not even making it off the ship. There is a lot of blood and gore shown.
Next we are shown the viewpoint of the Germans. We see guns looking out onto where we have just seen. Actual German characters are not shown we just see the guns. This is a contrast between ‘The Longest Day’. In ‘The Longest Day’ we are shown the Nazi side of the war, but in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ the director has been more concerned with the American aspect of the D-Day landings. Instead of a full dialogue between German captains, we simply have an over-the-shoulder view of what is happening on the beach. Then we are back amongst the men.
Spielberg uses an underwater camera for the next scene. We go underwater with the men falling off the edge of the boat. The sound becomes muted, with an indistinct sound of the soldiers underwater. As the camera bobs in and out of the water the sound from above becomes clearer and you remember everything that is going on out of the water. The harsh sounds from above the water contrast with the underwater sounds. We hear fizzing sounds of the bullets underwater. We see that people are not even safe under the water. People get shot and drown due to the heavy load they are carrying.
Above the water we see chaos and panic and some horrific sights of war. Again we get a view from the Nazi side. This time there are not many soldiers in sight, they are all hiding from the guns firing at them from behind the German pillboxes. This is another contrast with ‘The Longest Day’. In ‘The Longest Day’, people were just running up the beach, not bothering to hide from the shots being fired at them. Also in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ we do not have focus on the main character (Tom Hanks) the whole time, we get an overview of everything that is going on.
In ‘The Longest Day’ the camera follows Robert Mitchum for nearly the whole time, not giving the audience a real idea of what is going on. We then are back on the beach again. We see many remnants of dead people, bodies lying about the beach and more blood. The blood has been kept potent, but the rest of the colour desaturated by 60 per cent. This makes the blood really stand out, adding to the dramatic views we see. Tom Hanks stands up out of the water, he is wet and his face looks scared. He does not represent a ‘hero’. He is in the action, amongst dying bodies and other soldiers.
The camera is angled slightly down on him. Instead of the camera shooting up at him (like Zanuck), Spielberg decided to have the viewers look down on him. This enhances our feelings towards the Tom Hanks, and shows us that the battle was not grand, instead it was an awful traumatic experience. Hanks’ fear in this scene comes through quite clearly. To help show this experience Miller looks round the beach, surveying the carnage that surrounds him. The sound is lowered so that it is a muted din. He watches flames engulf some soldiers, and the image of a soldier searching for his severed arm sticks out in your memory.
Blood sprays in his face. Instead of the flames roaring loudly, they sound like they are a million miles away. This creates the impression of shellshock, needing an explosion of a shell to bring the captain back to the present time. He comes around when his younger comrade asks for his orders. This is the end of the scene. Both of these films have good qualities. Older people that I have asked have told me that they preferred ‘The Longest Day’. ‘The Longest Day is a very nostalgic film, and relies heavily on the era in which it was first shown (several years after the Second World War).
People that went to see it were interested in seeing big Hollywood stars, they were not really concerned about the quality of the acting. It was even rumoured that because there were so many famous actors, they complained that there was not enough screen time focusing on each of them. Another reason why ‘The Longest Day’ is more popular with the elder generation is that there has been a great advance in technology since the film was made, making me, the younger generation, used to films with more special effects.
Although it lacks realism, the showing of blood and guts, the spirit of the war is vividly represented. The heroism of the soldiers is celebrated and leaves you feeling very patriotic. However my favourite scene was from ‘Saving Private Ryan’. In many ways I think that this is my favoured film because it appeals to my generation. We do not want to see a film that has not got realistic scenes, and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ shows us how Spielberg imagines the battle to have been like. Spielberg uses lots of new machinery and introduces special effects to get his ideas across.
He has consulted war veterans, and historians to create as best as possible an accurate account of the battles. Also the film made me think about what my grandparents must have been through and shows acknowledgement and thanks to the older men that fought for us. In this essay I have pointed out the different uses of technology in the films and compared the action fully. It is interesting that both scenes leave the audience feeling a strong sense of patriotism and pride in their country.