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Saving Private Ryan – Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Not only has telling stories of World War II brought director Steven Spielberg Academy Award attention in the form of Best Director nominations and his two Oscar wins, the historical subject has brought forth some of his best and most passionate work. His second Oscar win for director is actually his sixth exploration of the second great war in some way, shape or form. Twenty years have come since this film that began the Spielberg-Tom Hanks relationship that also likely paved the way for the phenomenal HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. In celebration, Paramount is debuting the film on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray on May 8th. This year (As well as last) is seeing plenty of Spielberg jumping to the format and they can keep on rolling. Hopefully Jaws and Munich aren’t too far away either!

Film 

Captain John Miller takes his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in combat. Surrounded by the brutal realties of war, while searching for Ryan, each man embarks upon a personal journey and discovers their own strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honor, decency and courage.

Steven Spielberg’s passion for World War II stories finally takes to the battlefield in Saving Private Ryan. While World War II is probably the most romanticized war in US history, Spielberg isn’t interested in championing the hardships or propagandizing them. The director paints a brutal and honest look at the sacrifices and the viciousness and cruelty of the battlefield. Our characters are choir boys or saints. They’re disturbed, conflicted, violent and not confident in the purpose of their actions.

If you only were to see a trailer and think “Okay, I get what this is”, you’re robbing yourself of what it actually is. From the outset, Spielberg lures you in with some kind of sweet story only to immediately throw you into Normandy and slaughter everyone amidst pandemonium. If you think the wholesome plot structure of “bringing the last Ryan son home” sounds of fluff from a film of the 50s or 60s, Saving Private Ryan agrees with you. Before you can roll your eyes, you’ll find yourself in the company of the troops you’re spending the film with. They are constantly at odds with their mission, questioning why he’s so important and is it worth the losses they take just to please this woman whose sons signed up for this. It brings an interesting dynamic between those who aren’t afraid to question and those that follow by the book.

Those troops are led by Tom Hanks and a full on cast of up and coming actors. Some would go on to solid work and even stardom. You get actor/director Edward Burns who probably joined on twofold to learn from Spielberg moreso than act in one of his films. Barry Pepper was someone that never took off, but you can see why there’s potential with him in this picture. Obviously Vin Diesel was maybe the biggest to come out of this, but he’s minimal here and delivers a rather heartbreaking moment. Of note, if this movie were made in modern times, you wouldn’t know Matt Damon was in the film until you saw it. At the time, he was a big sell for it. And oddly enough, this movie would foreshadow a lot of his high profile surprise cameo roles he enjoys doing later in his career (Like Interstellar, or more recently Unsane).

Spielberg has long been one of our greatest visionaries in terms of action set pieces we have ever and may ever see. The man has a full grasp on his environments and shares that with you. One of his most triumphant moments in his career is the Normandy opening sequence. Its a orchestration of shock, insanity and nonstop intensity. Sure, people will point to the gore, but we seamlessly go from in the boat on the water to storming the beach and taking control of the village. As we follow Tom Hanks through everything, there’s a moment where we see him stand and see behind him just how far he and we have traveled. And you sort of feel astonished and as if wow, that was both quick and long to cover that ground. Its an incredible half hour of film that is rarely matched or topped and without any sort of gimmick to crutch upon.

With 20 years distance, its easy to forget how great Saving Private Ryan was. I’m not sure how it lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love, but that doesn’t matter. Spielberg has done some of his best work here, proving that no matter the genre, he’ll deliver one of the best additions. Using things he’s obviously learned from film war films like that of Kubrick (The sniper scene feels right out of the second half of Full Metal Jacket) and mostly crafting his own. I mentioned Normandy, but there are many all-timer war set pieces in this film that could be argued tops all time. And lets not forget the inbetween scenes are dynamite as well. 20 years later, this film still holds up and is one of our best from the best.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p) Dolby Vision

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Saving Private Ryan debuts on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray as a native 4K title.  This new transfer does change the aspect ratio from 1.85:1 to 1:78:1. Not a drastic change and I wonder if it is just now open matted or if they actually cropped it. Regardless, this new image is outstanding and the film really feel larger than life, even when sitting at home on a non large projection screen. Definition is very strong and every little detail is captured quite crisply.

Depth:  Movements are quite smooth. During the sniper sequence, you get a great example of the feel of spacing in the image between foreground and background. Rapid movements or the weird “freak out” playback style do not bring any jitters or blurring.

Black Levels: Blacks are very natural and are pretty well saturated throughout. No real details are lost when not intended to and no crushing was witnessed during this viewing.

Color Reproduction: This is a war movie, so its not raging with colors, but the natural and more greens and browns based ones we get look quite good and are very well saturated. Fires burst off the screen lovingly and some of the blood splatters will jump out time to time.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Dried blood, dirt, stubble, wrinkles and every little detail is apparent in any given distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean with some welcome grain apparent.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English Original 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Audio Description, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin America) 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese (Brazil) 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Danish, German, Spanish, Spanish (Latin America), French, Italian, Japanese, Netherlands, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish

Dynamics: Wow! Saving Private Ryan has a brand new Dolby Atmos track and this thing is one of the best we’ve heard. Look no further than the first 30 minutes at Normandy to take 1st place in the Atmos race. And not every scene needs to be loud and full of craziness to excel. The quieter moments are also quaint with good distinction, bringing the environments to complete life.  I can’t imagine anyone with a proper setup not truly finding themselves fascinated with this mix.

Height: Bullets whiz overheard, planes swoop over, debris falls, explosions burst, rain falls on you…the ceiling speakers are VERY active here.

Low Frequency Extension: Grenades, gunblasts, walls crumbing down, bullet impact, things crashing, everything just pounds and thunders through your subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: Like the ceiling, the other speakers are incredibly active. You are right in the middle of this sucker. All the chaos is zipping by you with precise and calculated direction. Each speaker is unique and the movements are fluid and forceful.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. No matter how crazy the battle, you can always make out what is said in its natural to environment sounding way.

Extras 

Saving Private Ryan – Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition comes with the 2-Disc Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. All bonus features are on the second disc of the standard Blu-ray edition.

Saving Private Ryan

  • An Introduction (SD, 2:35)
  • Looking Into The Past (SD, 4:40)
  • Miller and His Platoon (SD, 8:23)
  • Boot Camp (SD, 7:37)
  • Making Saving Private Ryan (SD, 22:05)
  • Re-Creating Omaha Beach (SD, 17:58)
  • Music and Sound (SD, 15:59)
  • Parting Thoughts (SD, 3:43)
  • Into The Beach: Saving Private Ryan (SD, 25:01)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:16)
  • Re-Release Trailer (HD, 2:05)

Shooting War (SD, 1:28:05)

Summary 

Saving Ryan is one the greatest war films from one of our greatest directors of all time. The brand new 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release does it some justice. The film looks great and the new Atmos track is incredible. There aren’t any new bonus features (Though the prior ones are very thorough), which I kind of wish they would drop the “Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition” from its title as that would lead you to believe its a different cut or is offering some new supplemental material. It is what it is, its Saving Private Ryan 4K Ultra-HD. And it should be in your collection.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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