The quest to save a young soldier from the killing fields of Normandy takes second place to the search for human decency amid the chaos of war, in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. His harrowing depiction of the Omaha beach landing during WW2 is among the most arresting opening sequences in film history - enough to secure Oscar kudos in 1998 for the director, and for Tom Hanks as the Captain in charge of the rescue mission.
Spielberg introduces this Commemorative Edition (marking the 60th Anniversary of D-Day) by outlining his mission to "make a film about the veterans, for the veterans," - among them, his own father. It seems Spielberg was led by divine providence (or some other paranormal force) as evidenced in Looking To The Past, focussing on the research and development process. His jaw drops in astonishment as the crew stumbles upon the headstone of Captain Richard Miller - the man on who this story is based - just a stone's throw from where they shot the bookend scenes of the film.
There's more eye-opening behind-the-scenes footage in Making Saving Private Ryan as cameras follow Spielberg on location. He reveals his initial unease at not having any storyboards to work from and the subsequent feeling of liberation as he's forced to think on his feet - something that might've concerned the actors as buildings explode around them. But the camaraderie between cast and crew is obvious when Hanks, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore et al give "Steve" outlandish ideas about how he should set up the next shot - "do it from the shell's point of view," offers Hanks.
Recreating Omaha Beach is a compelling journey behind the scenes of the much talked about landing sequence. Special Effects technicians and stunt specialists reveal the secrets of blowing up actors convincingly: "the most you want to have someone on fire is 15 seconds," reckons Stunt Co-ordinator Simon Crane. Tell it to the guy with the petrogel suit.
Fighting For Authenticity
Real-life war veteran Captain Dale Dye provides the comic relief in Boot Camp, following those namby-pamby actors through endurance training. "I shoot at them with blank ammunition, I beat them up, I make them crawl and sleep in the mud," he cheerfully explains. Of course the stars do a lot of whining although Barry Pepper seems to derive perverse pleasure out of his military guise - lazily chewing on a toothpick and stroking his gun with unusual affection as he gives an interview between takes.
Hear more from cast and crew in Miller And His Platoon. As well as studying the film's central characters, Hanks and Spielberg express the reservations they had about working together and possibly jeopardising their long-standing friendship. There were no such qualms for composer John Williams who's collaborated with Spielberg on virtually all his films dating back to The Sugarland Express (1974). The featurette Music And Sound opens a window on this close working relationship and also gives the low-down on those eardrum-piercing sound effects - in particular for the landing sequence, which didn't employ music at all.
Capping things off, Spielberg and Hanks sum up their experiences of making the film in Parting Thoughts. Disappointingly they don't offer a feature commentary, but it's the only snag in what is otherwise a potent arsenal of extras.