Top10Films Presents Classic Scenes #2

saving private ryan d-day steven spielberg world war 2 omaha beach

Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”

“Uh sir? Where am I to be during all this?”

“Saving Private Ryan” has, arguably, the best opening sequence of any war or action movie ever made. It is relentless, authentic, dramatic. It takes a 21st century audience back to the Normandy beaches with the all the terror of bullets whistling past ears, spitting in the sand or tearing the flesh of your neighbour. Director Steven Spielberg takes an intricate and realistic view of the American experience of infamous Omaha beach. It was here that the allied army lost so many men due to badly executed and organised pre-battle planning. The paratroopers sent in earlier were either dead or lost somewhere in northern France, while early morning bombing had missed it targets. That meant American soldiers, slowly making their way to the beach – code named Omaha – were sitting ducks to well-fortified German positions and heavy armour. It was the most terrifying morning of these soldier’s lives. For many, it would be their last day alive. Spielberg presents this momentous event as it actually was: brutal, frightening and life changing. At its core, however, is a tribute to those courageous men who would ultimately turn the war back in favour of the allies.

The Germans have the beach heavily fortified. Anti-tank obstacles lay strewn across the beach.

saving private ryan

The American soldiers – making their way to the beach in Higgins boats – are sitting ducks to the German guns. Some soldiers are hit immediately, others try to jump over the sides of the boat to avoid the gun fire but are drowned by the weight of their heavy equipment. Those that get on the beach then have to make their way to the beach head.

saving private ryan

The beach is full of dead American soldiers.

saving private ryan

The lucky few have to now fight back. Their mission – to destroy the German gun emplacements and fortified positions.

saving private ryan spielberg d-day

Tom Hanks, as Captain John Miller leads his team into battle.

saving private ryan

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Shubhajit Lahiri Reply

    Though the impact of Saving Private Ryan has diminished over the years for me, I still distinctly remember the visceral, harrowing and truly unforgettable opening Normandy beach sequence. It was awesome. Great screencaps there!!!

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    Rodney Reply

    First time i saw this film, I felt sick to my stomach. Harrowing isn’t the word; this film is essential viewing for all young people who grow up thinking war is something they see on TV- a distant event not related to them. For me, this is Spielbergs best film of the 90’s.

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    mark Reply

    I always thought the second big battle scene, with its knife through the heart moment, was a better piece of cinema than the opening salvo. This was despite the fact Spielberg and Kaminski perhaps undercranked the camera’s shutter speed just a bit too much.

    But in terms of the whole film, there are two other strangely affecting moments.

    The first is when the guys are going through the dog tags looking for Ryan’s name, turning it into a callous competition and forgetting that they have an audience.

    The second is the assault on radio hill – not so much because it’s an action sequence, but due the fact Spielberg shows most of it through a sniper’s eyepiece from an observer’s (Jeremy Davis) POV… It was the same kind of cinematic device Pasolini used at the end of Salo when the libertines were taking turns watching the teen tortures/rapes/murders.

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    Dan Reply

    @Mark: Mellish’s death in the second major battle scene is definitely one of the most harrowing I’ve seen on film. You highlight some great moments in Saving Private Ryan which do show how the film has plenty going for it after the D-Day landing which is what immediately springs to mind when thinking about the film.

    The dog tags scene is terrific as you say. Very affecting.

    I really like Spielberg’s use of the sniper’s eye-piece throughout the film. He uses it from both points of view and works so well visually to bring the viewer into the action.

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