Eighteen years later and Saving Private Ryan remains a vital and emotionally relevant film that speaks to audiences while displaying the horrors of war. With that film, Steven Spielberg seemed to have set out to disprove François Truffaut’s famous statement that it’s impossible to make an anti-war film, because it’s hard to capture war in a way that doesn’t excite the audience but instead shows the horrible realities of combat and the price that is paid by the men and women in service. Whether or not Spielberg achieved this is up for debate, but his ability to capture the chaotic nature and anarchic sense of brutality on the battlefield is not. Why, then, does Saving Private Ryan succeed at this while others have failed?
YouTube user Ryan Hollinger has posted a video essay looking at Spielberg’s film, pondering why its shaky cam and abrupt cuts work within one context but not in others, like The Hunger Games or Battle: Los Angeles. Part of it is due to historical context, of course, knowing that these events (however dramatized) actually took place in June 1944, makes them more compelling. But the other part all falls down to the various styles and decisions made by Spielberg, his cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, and editor Michael Kahn. By adopting a vérité style that includes bleaching out the colors and using a metallic color palette while using immersive shots that place viewers into the action, Spielberg and team were able to reduce the glamour of the theater of war and emphasize the maelstrom of the beach. Hollinger meticulously looks at the various editing and cinematography techniques employed in the filmmaking, going through that opening beach scene while comparing to historical photographs and remembrances of that fateful day.