Saving Private Ryan D-Day Anniversary DVD Review

Saving Private Ryan is one of the few films you can watch multiple times, never losing the impact it had the first time around. Today marks the 60th anniversary of D-Day and to commemorate the occasion, we get a new release of the Spielberg classic. This new 2-disc set isn't the most spectacular DVD release of all time, but the audio and video presentation is some of the best on the market. This disc is also available in a box set featuring two other documentaries. Captain Tom Miller, played by Tom Hanks, leads his troop through the brutal D-Day invasion. As they make their way up the beach onto to calmer ground, Miller receives special orders to go into enemy territory to retrieve James Ryan (Matt Damon) who's three brothers have been killed in combat. Little do they know it's all for publicity. Not only must Miller keep up the spirits of his troops who are against the rescue mission, but fend off countless enemy bombardments on their way to try and get the Private back home. This is, almost without any doubt, the greatest war movie ever made. This is not an action film, but a drama with some of the most horrific battle sequences ever put on film. Within the first ten minutes you'll see a man drown, watch a soldier look for his arm that has been blown off, and blood filled water soak the beach. None of the violence is glorified as the stunning washed out color tones don't allow for it. Amazingly, the best sequence in the film is not an action scene, but a moment when Miller and Ryan sit down in a war torn town. Here, Damon shows why this is his best performance as he recollects an incident with his brothers. Though he laughs telling the story, it's actually quite heart wrenching as you know deep down he's not sure why he was the only one left. This is a film that has no dull moments, never seems to drag on, and ends up being one of the best movies of all time. (***** out of *****) Saving Private Ryan is presented in 1.85:1 widecreen. This is a bit sharper than the previous release and some of the unnecessary grain has been cleared up. Still, this is meant to look like old war footage (and make is seem like your right there on the beach with them) so it's not perfect, but it should never really look any better than this. Black levels are superb and the almost monotone color scale simply looks great in high definition. There are no noticeable compression problems or scratches on the print. This is the way the movie was meant to be seen. (*****) This disc is available in two different sound formats, a standard 5.1 release and the version reviewed here, the glorious DTS surround version which is available only in the 3-disc box set. This is a booming soundtrack, one that features surround speaker usage and bass unlike any other disc on the market. Compared to the first release, this disc features better separation in the front channels and easier to understand voices thanks to better overall clarity. Sound wise, this disc ranks right up there with "The Haunting" as a home theater fanatics dream disc. Also note there is a 2.0 surround track included as well, but it of course doesn't come anywhere near the explosive DTS track. (*****) Packaged as a 2-disc set (made to look like an ammo box), this set has a bevy of special features, though slightly limited. There is no commentary track and Spielberg is famous for saying he won't do them. Still, there is no reason why some of the actors could not have been brought together for a commentary. Every feature resides on disc two and is split into eight separate sections. This is basically one long documentary chronicling the making of the film and the history behind it simply split up to make it seem like a lot more. First up is a brief two and a half minute intro by Spielberg who talks about his own history of war films and his father's experiences in the war. Second is Looking into the Past which looks at the research the famed director did before shooting the film. Next up is Miller and His Platoon, roughly an eight minute look at the characters and the roles they play. Boot Camp looks at the training the actors went through to prepare for their roles and has Captain Dale Dye go over why this is so important. Next on the menu is a making of featurette that runs about 22 minutes. It covers most aspects of the production with some excellent behind the scenes footage. Going down one notch on the menu brings you to Recreating Omaha Beach, an 18 minute look at how the epic opening scene was created and also some interviews with veterans who took part in the event. One of the last features is Creating Music and Sound which not only interviews John Williams, but shows him behind the scenes conducting his orchestra. Also featured is Gary Rydstrom who was the sound editor who talks about what Spielberg wanted. Finally we come to Parting Thoughts, a brief four minute short that has Spielberg, Hanks, and some other cast members talking about the film. (****) If you have yet to add this film to your collection, this is the version that should be on your shelf. As mentioned before, you can also purchase this set in a box set that features two extra hour and a half documentaries on separately encased discs. One is entitled Price for Peace which covers the war from Pearl Harbor to the US occupation of Japan. It is presented in widescreen and features a surprising 5.1 surround track. Tom Hanks hosts the second documentary entitled Shooting War which looks at the photographers who captured the war on film. These two documentaries are also available separately. Crammed in between all of these discs is a booklet that has information about the film and the events that inspired it. This is the best way to own the movie, but if the extra discs don't excite you, the stand alone 2-disc set will serve its purpose just fine.
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