Interestingly, Paramount have mounted the film of Saving Private Ryan onto one disc, allowing for maximum picture and sound quality, whilst putting all the extras on the second disc. This is perhaps a technique that Avatar may take note of. It means that the AV quality of the film is suitably stunning, whilst also allowing for a full and comprehensive package of extras.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p encode and when evaluating the picture it should be remembered that the film is actually 12 years old. Doesn't time fly! This means that those used to the pristine, digital perfection of modern blockbusters may well find this transfer a little disappointing. However, as someone who saw this in the cinema and also on DVD - I can confirm that whilst this transfer may have its flaws it is amongst the best transfers I have seen on Blu-ray in terms of improvement over previously available versions. In short - I find it difficult to imagine how Saving Private Ryan could ever look better in the home.
The opening is a pile-driver to the senses, and nowhere is this reflected better than in the transfer. The camera movements are jerky, the colour is drained out of the transfer, and the grain is ramped up. The sense of involvement engendered by the transfer is immense. The ugliness of war is reflected perfectly.
Yet as time goes on, and we push further into France - so the beauty of the transfer starts to open up. Slowly but surely colour starts to return into the frame, and Spielberg takes more time to draw the beauty out of the landscape that is not so scarred by war. One notable scene has the rain falling into a pond, and the definition and clarity of the image simply takes the breath away - an oasis of beauty amongst the carnage. Of course, there are more battles - and when these occur the modus operandi is to return to the style of the opening twenty minutes, but at all times the image is crystal clear, the definition of the image always precise whatever style is being used.
The print is pristine, with very few scratches or blemishes beyond what is intentional, and even in the battle scenes the detail is always high. In fact, small details that were difficult to pick up on in the SD version are now clear to see. The level of destruction and viscera in the battle scenes, for example, are now even more obvious and shocking. Black levels are consistently deep throughout the film and contrast levels are always high. DNR seems non-existent - a pleasure after viewing that infamous other Sapphire Series title - Gladiator
OK, let's get the obvious bit out of the way right at the start. Most of you will know by now that there is an audio glitch on the disc, a problem with the pressing at Technicolor. The problem does not manifest itself on every player, and I was unable to get it to show on mine, but after chapter 15 the audio and picture go out of sync by about 1/5 of a second. They are doing a free recall program and my advice would be to take advantage of this as even if it doesn't show on your player it may do on any future player you may get. Corrected versions should be on the shelves of retailers by next week.
The sound design of Saving Private Ryan was always one of its strongest points with the opening scene in particular always providing demo material. I had high hopes for the DTS-HD 5.1 mix presented here and I was certainly not disappointed.
Obviously it goes without saying that the opening scene is as impressive as it ever was, but the great thing about the film is that the whole mix is similarly impressive. It is not 20 minutes of action followed by 2 hours of a vanilla mix. All the way through this constantly impresses.
The first thing to mention is the balance of the whole track. Whether we are in the midst of the chaos of battle, or simply following a platoon marching through France, the mix is always beautifully balanced. Even in the chaos that sometimes appears, the dialogue is always clear and precise, easy to hear through the sonic chaos. The contrast is beautifully managed. As shells hit and hearing is temporarily lost, the track goes completely quiet, before crashing in again in an audio shockwave that hits the viewer with a perfectly balanced wave. But even the quieter, dialogue driven moments are beautifully managed, with no correction ever needed at reference level.
All the way through the sound scape is wide and expansive. The front separation is wide, and the surrounds are similarly well used. Directionality is beautifully managed, with the sound always perfectly matching events on screen. Ambience is always fantastic whether it be the gentle kiss of rain on soil, the clack of typewriters, or the crunch of shellfire.
The sub is also beautifully used, not only for the explosions but also other subtle effects (the crash of the waves, for example). The soaring score by John Williams is given plenty of room to breathe and complements the onscreen action perfectly.
Anyone who reads my reviews know that I give high marks grudgingly, and indeed have only ever given one full audio mark before. This mix easily matches that, and for this reason - it is getting a full 10/10 from me. Did you realistically ever expect anything else though?
There is certainly a comprehensive extras package presented here, to complement the excellent AV quality on disc one. Sadly, aside from the trailers, everything here is in SD. However, even one of the extra discs from the Commemorative Edition is included.
Spielberg provides a brief Introduction to the film explaining his fascination with World War Two. This is hardly deep or informative, but it is always good to see the great man providing any kind of personal input into extras on his films. Looking Into The Past sounds promising but is in fact only a four minute brief discussion into the historical research behind the film. Slightly more interesting, although too full of the usual Hollywood platitudes is the eight minute Miller and his Platoon. This is about the actors themselves and their casting - and does have some insight. The seven minute Boot Camp featurette is interesting - looking at the physical training the actors went through.
The truly in depth extras start to appear with the 22 minute Making Saving Private Ryan. This covers much of the background to the making of the film, with very little EPK material - providing much interesting insight. Even better is the 18 minute Re-Creating Omaha Beach, a look at the most famous scene in the film, and one of the most famous in cinema history. This is an absolute must watch, even if you don't watch anything else on the disc. This is an essential featurette, as is the 25 minute Into The Breach : Saving Private Ryan which adds interviews with actual veterans into the mix and is a very moving feature.
We are then presented with a 16 minute Music and Sound featurette which shows the soundtrack being recorded, and the 3 minute Parting Thoughts which is a brief interview with Tom Hanks talking about his experience with meeting a veteran, and Spielberg comparing this film with Schindler's List. Then the documentary from one of the supplementary disc in the Commemorative edition is included. This is Shooting War - an 88 minute documentary on second world war photography presented by Tom Hanks. This is a deeply moving, fascinating documentary that is well worth watching. You should be warned that this documentary is sometimes deeply disturbing but is always interesting - and is a moving tribute to the men who died. The second extra feature length documentary from that Commemorative edition is not included here.
Unfortunately, I have had to dock a few marks for the extras being in SD - the same as I did with The Passion of the Christ but as with that disc this package is fascinating and comprehensive. If it had been HD it may well have been pushing a 9.
Never have I found a summary so easy to write. The film is an absolute bona fide classic of cinema - moving, brutal, uncompromising, moral, and philosophical. It is beautifully written, shot, and directed - and every actor brings gravitas to his role. The film can shock you to the core, move you to tears, and challenge you with complex moral dilemmas. The word classic is easily banded around at times, but this film truly deserves that epithet.
Such a classic film deserves proper treatment on Blu-ray and it gets just that (with one noticeable caveat). The picture is revelatory, bringing the beautiful and disturbing images to life with equal clarity and truly immersing you in Miller's world. The DVD sound mix was always regarded as reference material and this Blu-ray takes the sound even further - immersing the listener from beginning to end. The extras package is comprehensive and illuminating, although it loses a couple of marks for being in Standard definition.
It should be noted that Technicolor are in the middle of recalling this disc due to a mastering error that affects the audio / video sync on some players. The latest I have heard is that corrected discs should be on the shelves from Tuesday 18th May so you may want to wait until after that date to pick this up. But pick this up you should - as this is a classic film given top quality treatment and really deserves a place in everyone's HD collection.
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