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Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan  

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  1. 1. Does Saving Private Ryan belong on the AFI List?

    • Yes
      5
    • No
      7

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  • Poll closed on 03/16/19 at 07:00 AM

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Amy and Paul storm the beaches of 1998's Steven Spielberg WWII picture Saving Private Ryan! They plunge into the disorientation of the storied opening sequence, look at what the film means to the Greatest Generation, and ask whether Sausage Party could take Private Ryan's place on the list. Plus: A look at the latest controversy between Spielberg and Netflix.

For A Night At The Opera week, who would you cast as the modern day Marx Brothers? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

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I've only listened as far as the intro, but I'm going to have to go ahead and call a bit of shenanigans regarding the Mrs. Robinson Incident (MRI) from last week. I take issue with the hosts basically dismissing what was said by saying, "that's not what the filmmakers were intending" and how they wouldn't have "viewed it as sexual assault." I'm sorry, but even so, isn't applying modern day moral attitudes to historical films pretty much what this podcast has been doing since day one? The listeners and the hosts. Every episode begins with Paul specifically stating that they are watching these movies to see if they stand the "test of time" and if they are worthy of inclusion on a list of the all time best American movies. This, to me at least, suggests that there should always be at least some discussion on how the themes and plots of these movies relate to present day. To just say, "well, that's not how it was originally intended" could basically be used as the argument for EVERY movie they have discussed so far.  (e.g. "Stingo was a creep." "Yeah, well that's not what the filmmakers were intending, so...") 

I just find it disappointing. What happens in The Graduate is absolutely relevant to the #MeToo movement - which is happening right now. In my opinion, I enjoyed the movie even more because of those parallels. And I'm not saying, and I don't think anyone was suggesting, that the whole episode should have been devoted to it, or that the hosts would even have to agree, but I feel like to completely ignore it or dismiss it a huge oversight.

Also, a huge issue people had wasn't just the idea of the sexual assault, but the suggestion of "why him?" Even if the filmmakers' intention wasn't to show sexual assault, I really don't think their intention was to write How Mrs. Robinson Got Her Groove Back, either. 

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I was worried the Saving Private Ryan ep would be overly focused on minutiae of filmmaking (sound design, etc.) but am very happy with the direction the discussion did go. I pretty much agree with Paul & Amy here, but go a little further - I question this story and basically don't like it much at all. When thinking about it, I keep coming back to Vin Diesel's death scene. Instead of just being dramatically shot, Spielberg and the writer have to wrap it all in this scene with the little girl and how she reminds him of her niece and then he gets shot. To me it's like, you spend all this time on accuracy but then it's telling these emotionally manipulative scenes, which to me is the opposite of accurate. They don't fit together. Even the whole story of saving Ryan, as Paul said, it's about pleasing the mother which is a strikingly cheesy way to frame the whole thing.

I'm no big fan of war movies, and the others we've seen on this list weren't my favorites either, but I'll say I vastly preferred Platoon and Apocalypse Now to this one. In fact, it's making me look at those two a little more favorably than I previously had.

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I was worried the Saving Private Ryan ep would be overly focused on minutiae of filmmaking (sound design, etc.) but am very happy with the direction the discussion did go. I pretty much agree with Paul & Amy here, but go a little further - I question this story and basically don't like it much at all. When thinking about it, I keep coming back to Vin Diesel's death scene. Instead of just being dramatically shot, Spielberg and the writer have to wrap it all in this scene with the little girl and how she reminds him of her niece and then he gets shot. To me it's like, you spend all this time on accuracy but then it's telling these emotionally manipulative scenes, which to me is the opposite of accurate. They don't fit together. Even the whole story of saving Ryan, as Paul said, it's about pleasing the mother which is a strikingly cheesy way to frame the whole thing.

I'm no big fan of war movies, and the others we've seen on this list weren't my favorites either, but I'll say I vastly preferred Platoon and Apocalypse Now to this one. In fact, it's making me look at those two a little more favorably than I previously had.

I think we’re on the same page - although I ranked this higher than Platoon and Apocalypse Now on my personal list. It felt very manipulative to me. I mean, it’s effective, but kind of cheap. I remember watching this movie the first time and it was so obvious which characters were going to die and when. It’s like whenever a character revealed anything about their past, they were painting a target on their back. I mean, when Ribisi tells the story about his mother, who didn’t predict that he was next on the chopping block? The movie (almost) seems to be aware of this too - what with Miller withholding his past from his men. Like the reason he’s survived so long is because he’s kept his past private. And once he reveals his past...

I like it, but I’m not completely sold by it either.

ETA: After thinking it over, I just dropped it below Platoon.

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I could have sworn I had seen this movie as a teenager and now I'm 100% doubting myself. I think I've only seen clips - like when they find Nathan Fillion and he starts crying because his brothers were too young for war and what a heartbreaking thing to think you're the one in war and your brothers still die.

What I do remember about when this came out is that my mom, my aunt, and my grandfather saw this in theaters together, and I remember my grandfather (WWII vet) loving it. He was very very picky about his war movies (if only y'all could've heard him rant about Pearl Harbor) and this one definitely passed his test. I think I had also said that Platoon was on his faves list as well when that episode came out, but I found out via my mom I was actually thinking of Patton, which was definitely one of the literal 3 DVDs my grandfather owned (the other two being A River Runs Through It and A Beautiful Mind).

So I guess I should actually sit and watch this from start to finish lol.

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It’s a good film, but with five Spielberg movies on the list I feel like one could be cut, and this is the one.

The battle sequences are brilliant short films into themselves and certainly unimpeachable on a technical level, but the whole thing is hurt by that framing device with Old Man Ryan, which seems to come from a different movie and confuses the film’s message about war. In interviews, Spielberg once said he saw Jeremy Davies as the audience surrogate and the character he most identified with. Now, that's an interesting idea and makes for an interesting conclusion to that guy's story: he argues for saving the German soldier early in the film, then is too scared to try saving his comrades in the final battle, then comes face-to-face with the same soldier at the end and shoots him. That's an interesting, complex, slightly cynical take on the war. But then after that we have to return to Old Man Ryan for the final sequence. Ryan was never the audience surrogate! He was the MacGuffin!  What is this framing device doing here?

I think Paul is right about Schindler's List feeling like a much more personal story for Spielberg and this feeling more like he just wanted to work within a genre. He does some amazing things with that genre, but as an "all time great" I think it's hurt by the muddled story focus.

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6 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Now, that's an interesting idea and makes for an interesting conclusion to that guy's story: he argues for saving the German soldier early in the film, then is too scared to try saving his comrades in the final battle, then comes face-to-face with the same soldier at the end and shoots him.

Oh, man. I HATED that! It had been awhile since I've seen this, and I had totally forgotten about this moment. It was just too convenient. Or, if you'll forgive me, a bit too "cutesy." It's one of those things where someone will point out, "Oh, but something like that actually happened," but it's also one of those things where writers (should) go, "Yeah, but no one will believe it." It took me right out of the moment when I was like, "Wait! Isn't that the guy..?"

Like you said, I like the idea behind it, but in execution, I found it to be a bit clunky. I also agree, if you're going to take off a Spielberg movie, this is the one I would take off.

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I can't believe nobody brought up the epic takedown of "Saving Private Ryan" by none other than William Goldman, which originally ran in Premiere magazine and is collected in his book "The Big Picture."  Goldman loved most of the first two-thirds of the movie (with a few important exceptions), but goes into terrific detail on why the third act is "phony manipulative shit."  Here's a blog post that reprinted it:

https://achtenblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/saving-private-ryan-goldman-essay.html

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

Oh, man. I HATED that! It had been awhile since I've seen this, and I had totally forgotten about this moment. It was just too convenient. Or, if you'll forgive me, a bit too "cutesy." It's one of those things where someone will point out, "Oh, but something like that actually happened," but it's also one of those things where writers (should) go, "Yeah, but no one will believe it." It took me right out of the moment when I was like, "Wait! Isn't that the guy..?"

Like you said, I like the idea behind it, but in execution, I found it to be a bit clunky. I also agree, if you're going to take off a Spielberg movie, this is the one I would take off.

Yeah, I think the biggest reason it doesn't work as well as it should is that it doesn't have the right focus within the narrative. If this were the actual climax of the story then maybe it would have more impact, but at the same time the movie is busy giving similar focus to Ed Burns and Matt Damon because . . . reasons.

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1 hour ago, JackLechner said:

I can't believe nobody brought up the epic takedown of "Saving Private Ryan" by none other than William Goldman, which originally ran in Premiere magazine and is collected in his book "The Big Picture."  Goldman loved most of the first two-thirds of the movie (with a few important exceptions), but goes into terrific detail on why the third act is "phony manipulative shit."  Here's a blog post that reprinted it:

https://achtenblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/saving-private-ryan-goldman-essay.html

This review rules

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I really love this movie even though I feel there are some serious problems with how it tries to convey its super simple raison d'être.  The horrific/haphazard violence the characters go through, the elder Ryan bookends, and Miller's "Earn this" seem to beseech the viewer to consider what soldiers have gone through "for us" and how we should honor their sacrifice by doing the best with our lives.

We all know Spielberg is the master of schmaltz and this movie is very much that.  It's bombast just dominates and muddles it's message yet I appreciate it nonetheless.

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32 minutes ago, IsraelOrtiz said:

We all know Spielberg is the master of schmaltz and this movie is very much that.  It's bombast just dominates and muddles it's message yet I appreciate it nonetheless.

Spielberg's technique papers over a lot of problems, always has.

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7 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I'm no big fan of war movies, and the others we've seen on this list weren't my favorites either, but I'll say I vastly preferred Platoon and Apocalypse Now to this one. In fact, it's making me look at those two a little more favorably than I previously had.

Agreed on all counts.  I was pretty hard on Platoon, but I think Platoon mostly holds together better than this. (Although I might change my mind again when I rewatch Platoon and hear Charlie Sheen's stupid voiceover work again.)

There's a couple things in the screenplay that I think are really bad.  First, I think it's such a weird move that one theme of the movie is the characters talking about how stupid the plot of the movie is.  You've convinced me, characters of the film: the idea that General George Marshall would alter his war strategy to appease a mother in Iowa IS a pretty dumb premise.  Secondly, relatedly, after they go through the dog tags, and they're talking about how hard it might be to find Ryan, Miller is basically like, "Maybe if I just call his name, we'll find him, wouldn't that be stupid? LOL."  And then Miller calls his name and immediately gets the information needed to find him.  And it is stupid.  Also, you get the sense that the writer learned the phrase FUBAR while writing this and was just fucking tickled by it.

Then the Spielberg schmaltz doesn't help either.  John Williams' score comes off as more manipulative than moving, and Old Man Ryan's breakdown has echoes of the worst scene in Schindler's List, when Schindler inexplicably breaks down about not having saved more people.  The comic relief bits didn't really work for me on this rewatch either.  For example, though the Nathan Fillion fake-Ryan scene is funny, it's 100% meaningless to the film and is only in there so that the film could be 10 minutes longer and a small amount funnier.

At any rate, I agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion so far, that this film shouldn't be on the list.  Is there anyone out there who wants to argue that this is one of their top 5 favorite Spielberg films?  I'm pretty sure it's not even in my top 10.  No disrespect to Spielberg, who I believe has made more masterpieces than anyone on the list other maybe Kubrick, and has a deeper bench of near-masterpiece films than anyone on the list other than maybe Wilder and Hitchcock.  But this film is not one of them.

 

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18 minutes ago, bleary said:

Old Man Ryan's breakdown has echoes of the worst scene in Schindler's List, when Schindler inexplicably breaks down about not having saved more people. 

At least the Schindler scene (and the flash-forward to the real Schindler Jews) works better because the whole movie is actually about Schindler trying to save people. Trying to transfer that kind of earned emotional climax over to a character who was absent for most of Saving Private Ryan just wasn't going to work. Maybe if the old man had been revealed as Ed Burns (as Goldman thought it would be) or Jeremy Davies the scene still would not have been great, but at least it would have made sense.

On the characters commenting on the stupidity of the plot: I think that can work too, if the point of the movie was to be cynical about the war and how soldiers were treated. But again the sentimentality of the bookends basically destroys that reading.

I also have Platoon and Apocalypse Now above this on my list.

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2 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

D1FTFLEX4AANs4o.jpg

I'm glad whoever did this didn't put them front and center.

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8 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I think we’re on the same page - although I ranked this higher than Platoon and Apocalypse Now on my personal list. It felt very manipulative to me. I mean, it’s effective, but kind of cheap. I remember watching this movie the first time and it was so obvious which characters were going to die and when. It’s like whenever a character revealed anything about their past, they were painting a target on their back. I mean, when Ribisi tells the story about his mother, who didn’t predict that he was next on the chopping block? The movie (almost) seems to be aware of this too - what with Miller withholding his past from his men. Like the reason he’s survived so long is because he’s kept his past private. And once he reveals his past...

I like it, but I’m not completely sold by it either.

ETA: After thinking it over, I just dropped it below Platoon.

It's manipulative but every Spielberg movie is. It's arguably what he does best.

I agree with every criticism everyone had of this movie but it really worked on me this viewing. I think I just needed a really maudlin, schmaltzy movie when I watched this. I suspect I'll probably forget most of this in a few weeks because, even though it worked, I'm not expecting much long term impact.

I definitely saw this in theaters and I genuinely didn't remember much of anything (I didn't know everyone died, for example, which is kind of the whole point). I was also kind of meh about the movie in general. 

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16 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

It's manipulative but every Spielberg movie is. It's arguably what he does best.

Yes, and really, you could argue that’s the point of all movies. They’re all trying to make you feel one thing or another. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I think my problem was that the manipulation wasn’t as well hidden as it could or should have been. It was kind of smacking you in your face the whole time. From the opening and closing shot of a faded American flag blowing in the wind.

Dont get me wrong, I voted for its inclusion on the list. At least, as the list stands now, I don’t see any reason to drop it. I’m just saying, if you were to drop a Spielberg movie, this would probably be my choice.

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Right, and I think you can be manipulative without it being maudlin or cheesy or stereotypical or basic. E.T. is probably also highly manipulative, but it isn't hackneyed. Maybe there's subtle differences and we can all tolerate this to our own thresholds though.

My take here is not so much that manipulation is awful in of itself, but that it severely clashes with the documentarian style and does lead to a somewhat nonsensical narrative.

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17 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

Yes, and really, you could argue that’s the point of all movies. They’re all trying to make you feel one thing or another. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I think my problem was that the manipulation wasn’t as well hidden as it could or should have been. It was kind of smacking you in your face the whole time. From the opening and closing shot of a faded American flag blowing in the wind.

Dont get me wrong, I voted for its inclusion on the list. At least, as the list stands now, I don’t see any reason to drop it. I’m just saying, if you were to drop a Spielberg movie, this would probably be my choice.

Yeah, all movies manipulate but Spielberg in particular. It's just that he's especially good at it. So, we (normally) either don't notice or don't care. There's the story about Jaws where someone told Spielberg the tank wouldn't physically explode like that and Spielberg's response was something like "I've had them for two hours. If I say it explodes, they'll believe it."

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17 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

Yeah, all movies manipulate but Spielberg in particular. It's just that he's especially good at it. So, we (normally) either don't notice or don't care. There's the story about Jaws where someone told Spielberg the tank wouldn't physically explode like that and Spielberg's response was something like "I've had them for two hours. If I say it explodes, they'll believe it."

That’s what I mean, though. I agree he’s (normally) very good at it. I just don’t think he’s as good here because you can see the cracks more due to the weaker story elements. Saving Private Ryan is no Jaws.

ETA: I just noticed we both did a parenthetical “normally.” I don’t know why, but that makes me giggle :) We’re parenth-buddies.

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So, speaking as someone who generally doesn't like Spielberg's movies and has never seen this one, what I'm hearing is this the one I should definitely see.

It is interesting seeing the criticisms leveled at this film feeling similar to how I feel about his other films. (At least as best as I can recall.  The one possible exception being Jaws and possible Close Encounters, which I am still curious to see how my opinion of Jaws lands when we get to it).

I think when people accuse a film of being "emotionally manipulative", I think they're trying to communicate something different than "something that was able to evoke an emotion in the viewer as was intended."  Though exactly what, I have never been able to split that semantic hair to a degree that has wholly satisfied me.

Apart from possibility the difference is in reference to being blatant or in your face (as Cameron stated above), I think the phrase, "unearned emotional response" also gets used and seems to also dance around what is off to the viewer.

 

2 hours ago, bleary said:

You've convinced me, characters of the film: the idea that General George Marshall would alter his war strategy to appease a mother in Iowa IS a pretty dumb premise.

Logically speaking, does that mean, single children can't serve in World War II at this point?

A story my uncle told me, of the "always a little suspect that this was just a story passed around." There were seven brothers, comprising all the children of a couple, all stationed on the same ship in WW2.  It sank.  The family lost all of it's children that day.  So the army decided that they weren't going to station all siblings altogether on the same boat, or location or what-have-you, so that something like that wouldn't happen again.  My uncle was stationed in Korea, and if I'm doing my math, it would have been in the 50s.  For some reason idk if he actually served in the war or not.  I feel like, he didn't, given the way he talked about it (which wasn't much).  But I give that context for being around in the era shortly after WW2 and there was at least a story, if not an actual policy (which seems a lot more sensible than the plot of this movie, which I didn't know that was the reason for the rescue until the podcast.)  I wonder if that was the basis for this movie (because I have a really hard time believing that war that spawned a book like Catch-22 and had the last time capital punishment* was invoked on a U.S. troop for desertion would have a policy of risking that many people to save one life).  Maybe I could use "the google" to verify the basis of this movie or my uncle's story.  But, heh, I'm lazy.

*: This would have probably been a more interesting WW2 movie - one that you usually don't get to see. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Slovik#In_popular_culture 

 

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18 minutes ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

I think when people accuse a film of being "emotionally manipulative", I think they're trying to communicate something different than "something that was able to evoke an emotion in the viewer as was intended."  Though exactly what, I have never been able to split that semantic hair to a degree that has wholly satisfied me.

I think about this. In general, I feel like calling a film "manipulative" as a criticism is not that helpful, unless it's backed up by some deeper analysis (at which point you may as well just forego the pithy term and just present the actual analysis). To me it's along the lines of calling a film "overrated," a meaningless descriptor unless backed up by further elaboration on exactly who is overrating it and how.

I think when people complain about "manipulation," it can actually mean one of a few things:

1. The manipulation is too noticeable and the film did not conform to my personal preferences of how obvious it should be. Some people don't respond to the big-hearted Spielberg style but love a Scorsese movie where there are loud Italian gangsters screaming at each other. Is the latter less obvious? It depends on your taste.

2. The manipulation is working in the wrong direction, against the purposes of story or theme. (I find this the most relevant kind of criticism and generally try to steer a film discussion down this road.) This can also be a CAUSE of the filmmaker's manipulation becoming too obvious to most viewers.

3. A little bit of "toxic masculinity," in that the critic is proceeding under the assumption that open emotion is bad in all forms. Stuff your feelings down like a real man! (Also: see the Spielberg/Scorsese example above.)

My advice is for people to just scrub the word "manipulative" out of their criticism of dramatic storytelling and just talk about one of the above! And also maybe take time to examine your own perceptions and how they impact your reception of the work.

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OK, replace any mention I made of 'manipulative' with 'pointlessly cheesy'

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