The Opening battle scene in Saving Private Ryan

In the few moments preceding the landing of the ships at Omaha beach, we see the scene from a subjective Point-of-view high angle shot (POV high) which detaches us from the scene and allows us to see an establishing shot of the action. We also see the scene from a normal subjective POV shot; this includes the audience and allows us to see what is happening as if we are actually there. The only sound we hear is diegetic.

The sound of the sea is one that connotes to most people calm and peace; it is cleverly used in this scene to create an instantaneous contrast between this calm and the chaos of battle about to occur. The action, in the first couple of minutes of the film is realistic. We start off with a Close up (CU) of a metal hedgehog (metal cross to stop tanks) and then go straight into seeing the landing boats as if we were a passenger in one ourselves.

We can see the soldiers in the other boats crouched down trying to avoid the sea spray and some that are vomiting over the side of their boat; either through fear, or seasickness. The camera flicks to a CU of Captain Millers shaking hands. This has a great effect on the audience, because they realise the fear, and nerves that the soldiers must have been feeling before they went into battle. We zoom out of captain Millers’ face so that we can see the other soldiers on the boat and their individual reactions.

I noticed that there were two main responses to the nerves that the soldiers were feeling and this had a profound effect on me; one soldier was eating some sort of bread (almost as if it was his last meal) this symbolised to me that he expected either not to come home from the battle or that he would be eating something better later on when they celebrated; the second reaction was to pray to god or kiss some kind of lucky charm- this indicates that they felt that they would need divine intervention to win. As the landing craft doors open, all hell breaks loose; most soldiers do not even make it off the boats alive.

We see the attackers from the defenders point of view and see the way that all of the English and American soldiers are shot down by the German machine guns. This subjective POV high angle shot, suggests at the superiority of the defenders and their fire power. We go back to seeing the scene from a subjective POV. In desperation to get away from the raining bullets, some soldiers threw themselves off the sides of their boats. The camera follows these men, and due to the absence of non-diegetic sound, the diegetic sound of the explosions and gun-fire becomes muted.

This adds a sense of realism to the film, because Spielberg has gone against what we would normally expect in a war film- instead of some dramatic overlaying piece of music there is nothing. This in fact creates more drama to the film because it allows us to fully digest the sounds that you would hear if you went to war. Contributing to the sense of realism, Spielberg took an almost documentary style take on the way the first scene was filmed. By using hand-held cameras Spielberg said that he ‘was able to film the sets much like a newsreel camera man following soldiers into war.

By using this method of filming, the shock of war is revealed to the audience. As we see Miller appear out of the sea, the camera slows down, this allows us to take in the carnage that is apparent on the beach front. Part way through the ‘invasion,’ captain Miller becomes confused, because of shock, and the camera slows down so much that it is like seeing the battle in slow motion, also the colour of the screen is ‘washed out,’ adding to the drama making the confusion seem an almost dreamlike state, which many other soldiers would have entered as well. The first non-diegetic is introduced and a low whistle replaces all other noise.

We see one soldier from Millers subjective POV and the fear that the man is feeling is portrayed through the way that he is cowering behind one of the hedgehogs and crying to himself (in a state of shock. ) We return to a medium close up (MCU) of Millers face and can see the confusion as he watches several of his men die. The non-diegetic whistling rises in pitch and stops all of a sudden as a soldier shouts at him ‘What do we do now sir? ‘ This question reveals the uncertainty of the soldiers who were involved at the battle of Omaha beach and once again portrays a feeling of realism.

Miller recovers from his confusion and orders his men to ‘move out and clear the beach. ‘ With this small show of re-assertion, the audience is brought back to the gruesome reality that is taking place around them. As the soldiers are moving out, Miller sees one fallen on the ground and decides to try and drag him to safety. A shell is fired and kills the man who he was dragging, but also triggers the same washed out confused effect that happened before, this time however it represented shell shock.

This is a realistic event that would have happened as many soldiers were temporarily deafened by the loud explosions, to add to the realism, the camera lens is sprayed by blood and mud by the explosion just like a normal soldier’s eyes would be. Miller quickly stands up and makes a break to the sea wall, some people would see this as an act of desperation, because the men who have already tried to do that, have ended up being shot down but by some miracle Miller makes it. He starts to relay to the rest of his time several orders.

The camera view switches between the attackers’ subjective POV shot and the defenders subjective POV high angle shot. This allows us to see the battle from both points of view. Seeing the carnage from the attacker’s point of view allows us to feel the panic and fear that the soldiers would have done, and seeing the battle from the defenders point of view, we get a sense of the ease of which the Germans massacred the English, this adds to the shocking nature of the film. Miller and his team proceed to move along the beach until they are stopped once again by enemy fire.

Taking refuge behind a wall, we see (through the use of a Long Shot- LS) that on the crest of a hill there are two Germans with machine guns firing down at them. The LS shows us just how easy it was for the Germans to pick off the opposing side; they could fire from nearly fifty feet away and yet still cause devastation. Once again the shock that an attacking party would have had is portrayed through the conventional action. The use of ‘conventional action,’ is seen in so many films that it becomes a ‘natural thing’ yet is still effective now as it was when it was first used.

For example in this particular film convention is used throughout the first seen “Guns always kill outright,” “Screaming means you are in pain or scared,” and “running means that you are panicked or desperate. ” Each of these is used in the film to create a sense of realism. The battle is turned when a young Sniper marksman is sent into an impact crater where he has a clear shot at the two German Machine gun operators. We see a CU of the Sniper’s face and then immediately go to a LS of his victim.

This camera workmanship, allows us to fully appreciate the skill it took to pull off such a shot. This is adding a new dimension to the film: Awe. Saving Private Ryan shows us the grime, the noise, the pain and the shock of war, leaving us with a sense of awe for those who fought to keep our country safe in both the First and the second world wars. The diegetic sound of the sniper rifle firing adds to the realism because it connotes finalism and a cleanliness to death. As the battle ends, the camera flicks to a CU of Captain Millers shaking hands.

This is a repeated ‘frame’ from before only this time the meaning is completely different. The shaking signifies relief that the battle is over, and also the horror of what was sacrificed to do it. The camera zooms into an Extreme Close Up (ECU) of captain Miller’s eye and then to all the dead bodies left behind on Omaha Beach. This is covered by both diegetic and non-diegetic sound. The diegetic sound is that of the waves, which connote peace and calm (the lull after battle) and the mournful cries of seagulls.

The non-diegetic sound is an emotional, moving ‘strings’ instrumental piece, this can connote the regret, pain and sadness that the soldiers would have felt for their fallen comrades. The saying ‘the sea ran red,’ is literally brought to life and makes a final impact of shock on the audience. In conclusion, the opening battle sequence of “Saving Private Ryan” was made both shocking and realistic through the iconic images displayed throughout the scene and the acts of selflessness that are portrayed through the characters actions.

The first scene had an impact on me personally. This was: “I strongly feel for the soldiers and their fallen comrades, because this film has shown me what they had to go through to protect my future. The ‘jerky’ camera movement created a sense of realism and made me feel as if I were with the soldiers at the battle of Omaha Beach. I also feel that the absence of non-diegetic sound aloud me to take in the sounds that make up a fighting soldier’s world. “