The #54 War Movie Of The Last 50 Years

Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was hailed as a masterpiece immediately upon its premiere, and that ranking doesn’t appear to have dimmed in the collective reckoning in the nine years since. Well, I thought it was overrated then, and after watching it for a third time last night, I’m more convinced than ever that my initial reaction was the correct one.

The case for SPR generally runs along these lines: the opening 25 minute Omaha Beach sequence is groundbreaking in its technique and realism, and the remainder of the film is a powerful tribute to The Greatest Generation, a reminder of what they sacrificed for the rest of us in World War II. There are variations, but generally it boils down to realism and patriotism as the reasons SPR is great. It’s telling that few, if any, advocates of SPR have anything to say about the film’s script (written by Robert Rodat, who also wrote Fly Away Home and The Patriot), which is, at best, maudlin and sentimental.


Omaha Beach – It’s one of the great stories of American history: the D-Day landing and the hard slog up the beachhead in the face of overwhelming German firepower. It’s a sequence that appears in a number of different WW2 movies, most notably Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One and the multi-director epic The Longest Day. There are also variations of it in, among other films, Allan Dwan’s The Sands of Iwo Jima and Don Siegel’s Hell Is For Heroes, the former features a beach landing under heavy fire, the latter a suicidal uphill attack on a German bunker. Another noteworthy comparison is Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, which was released a few months after SPR, is just as viscerally intense, but with none of the moral or filmic complications of Spielberg’s film, and also features an extended assault on an uphill bunker, one that is superior to SPR‘s in just about every way. Watching the sequence again, I was surprised at how small it seems. There’s no sense of the vast 10 mile expanse of the beach, we’re pretty much confined to the same 300 yard stretch of sand through the whole attack. Spielberg’s never been strong on continuity, a problem which repeatedly comes up here: the same shots (especially a POV shot of the German machine gun firing at the same half dozen troops, which we see at least three times) repeat several times, and appear to have no geographic relation to the main thrust of the plot, which is how Tom Hanks destroys a bunker, thereby making the beachhead safe for the invasion (the absurdity of which should be self-evident). The sequence appears to function in real time, making the whole of the Omaha Beach landing appear to take about 20 minutes, when in fact it stretched on for several hours before the troops were finally able to break through.

Spielberg’s decision to show the battle from Hanks’s point of view is especially limited, in that it reduces the heroism of many to that of one: the star and protagonist. In SPR, Spielberg repeatedly reduces the general and the epic to the specific and generic. Thus the massive Omaha Beach landing is reduced to a half dozen guys in a small space fighting one gun and a handful of Germans. In the same sequence in The Longest Day, a massive array of troops must crawl under enemy fire to set up a bangalore torpedo and take out one of the many bunkers on the beach. Soldier after soldier volunteers to run out there only to get shot, as true a depiction of collective heroism in war as I’ve ever seen. In SPR, the nameless soldiers’ deaths are instead often reduced to macabre jokes: a GI wanders the beach holding his severed arm (a shot lifted from Akira Kuroawa’s Ran), a medic frantically works to save a wounded man, only to have his patient get shot in the head as soon as he says “I’ve stopped the bleeding!”, Hanks barks commands repeatedly to his radio man, but the third time he pulls him over he’s missing his face and the radio’s been shot, Hanks gives a comical look and throws the radio away.


So, the Omaha Beach sequence is neither epic in scope nor particularly noble in character, nor original in plot. What about in its film technique? Speilberg shoots the sequence with a shaky handheld camera, with desaturated color, both of which were (and are) supposedly revolutionary. And indeed, the use of a handheld camera was revolutionary. . . when Roberto Rossellini and the Italian Neo-Realists started doing it in Rome, Open City 53 years before Saving Private Ryan. The shaky POV action sequence is a recurrant trope in war, action and horror movies, and had been for years before SPR. Spielberg may have been the first to splash blood and mud on the camera, but I’m not sure. Similarly, his may be the first film where we see people being shot underwater, a dubious achievement at best. As for the color, well, as with his decision to shoot Schindler’s List in black and white, it’s an homage to the war movies he grew up watching (and the documentaries shot during the war, which were very often shot in black and white. And it’s hard to be original when you’re making an homage. Yes, Saving Private Ryan is far gorier than a film like The Longest Day. But is that really what we mean by realism? More blood?

The Rest Of The Film – Given much of the talk about SPR, you’d think the film ended when Omaha Beach was taken. But no, there’s over two hours left of film time to go! Two hours that basically consists of generic characters doing stupid things for no clear reason and ascribing great meaning to them, with the occasional justification for war crimes thrown in.

1. Generic Characters – Like many a war movie, SPR‘s characters are a collection of representative types, both in genre iconography and as a PC multicultural mix. There’s the captain who’s sick of killing, but serves as a father figure to his men (he’s even a school teacher back home), played by Tom Hanks; his sergeant, big and gruff but also brave, honest and protective, Tom Sizemore; the medic, smart and sensitive, as horrified by war as Alan Alda and who also fills the role of the soldier who takes abut his mother, Giovanni Ribisi; the wisecrackin’ kid from Brooklyn, Ed Burns; the Southern sharpshooter, lifted whole straight out of Howard Hawks’s Sergeant York, right down to the pre-shot prayer, played by Barry Pepper; the New York Jew, there to remind us of why the Germans are bad, played by Adam Goldberg (who will always be Chandler’s roommate Crazy Eddie to me); the big dumb Italian who carries a rosary, Vin Diesel; the cartographer/interpreter who knows nothing of war (think Lawrence Of Arabia), quotes poetry, translates Edith Piaf and who functions as our surrogate in the group: we meet the other characters through him, Jeremy Davies; and finally the holy grail himself, Matt Damon as the corn-fed blonde Iowa farmboy (a type which appears as a symbol of wasted youth and innocence and possible homoerotic desire in The Sands of Iwo Jima, but functions as the American ideal here). A brief sequence with Pvt. Ryan’s mother is as generic as possible: a white picket-fenced farmhouse amidst amber waves of grain. I swear there’s even an apple pie cooling on a window sill. Many films, war films in particular, use this kind of generic character setup. But it’s telling that films like The Big Red One and Platoon don’t follow that structure, as both Samuel Fuller and Oliver Stone actually fought in wars, unlike many a war movie writer or director.


2. Doing Stupid Things –

A. The initial stupid thing is the mission itself. Back in Washington, a secretary discovers that three of the four Ryan boys were KIA on the same day. A debate ensues with Gen. George Marshall over whether or not to find the fourth Ryan and send him home, despite the fact that he’s missing somewhere far behind enemy lines and any rescue mission will likely lead to many more men being killed to save one. In an astounding display of irrationality, Marshall reads a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to a Mrs. Bixby, expressing his regrets over the loss of her sons during the Civil War. (Note that in the reaction shot to Marshall’s reading, his staff member is framed next to a portrait of George Washington, in case we don’t know who Lincoln is, I guess). Somehow, this letter is so moving to Marshall and his staff that they decide Mrs. Ryan cannot be allowed to sacrifice as much as she did for the cause of freedom, though there’s nothing but respect, sympathy and admiration in Lincoln’s sentiment. The power of the letter is supposed to trump any question of the utility of wasting several lives to save one, though there’s no logical reason for it to convince us of that fact.

B. The next stupid thing occurs when the small band reaches the besieged town of Ramelle (fictional, naturally), where Ryan is supposed to be. It’s a bombed-out village, with no inhabitants. Except, of course, for a French family who for some unknown reason are still in their half-destroyed house when the group arrives. Inexplicably, the father tries to pass his daughter to the soldiers, and even more inexplicably, Vin Diesel disobeys direct orders, takes the daughter, stands out in the open and gets himself shot by a German sniper. There’s no reason for any of this to happen but expediency: Spielberg wants to show us some civilian French, he wants to show off Pepper’s sharpshooting, and he wants to subject us to a long death sequence for Diesel (which is also apparently why the sniper never shoots him again, but instead waits five minutes for Pepper to get into position before looking for a second shot).

C. Disobeying orders is a recurring type of stupid thing in SPR, most clearly when the wisecrackin’ Brooklynite refuses to assault a machine gun, and then wants to shoot a German POW and Hanks won’t let him. Insubordination of this type would hardly be tolerated in a war, let alone from a veteran like Burns who’s been with Hanks for several months. Hanks, of course, defuses the tense standoff by sharing a little bit about his life back home. If only someone had thought of that at My Lai.

D. The final battle is a seemingly endless series of stupid things. Why do the Americans so desperately protect the bridge when they planned to blow it up anyway? Why do they wait until the Germans show up to string the wires for their mines, both in the street and on the bridge? Why do they have Davies carrying ammunition from point to point under heavy fire instead of stocking the ammunition in their foxholes and sniping points before the battle? Why does Davies cower in fear instead of saving Crazy Eddie’s life? The answer to that last one is simple enough: Spielberg is asserting that we, the audience (for whom Davies has been the surrogate throughout the film), and especially the brainier types out there, are incapable of functioning in the horrors of war, and were we placed in the same position as The Greatest Generation, would be entirely worthless. And did I mention the absurd deus ex machina at the end of the sequence?

3. War Crimes – I’d always remembered that it was Davies at the end of the film who shoots the POW, committing the film’s major war crime. Watching it again, I was surprised at how often these murders occur. In fact, the film can easily be interpreted as a coming-of age story in which we learn how necessary it is to execute POWs because they shot at us first. After the Omaha Beach sequence, the Americans shoot defenseless Germans in a trench and murder surrendering Germans with their hands raised in the air. The emotional power (and graphic bloodinesss) of the preceding beach landing is apparently supposed to justify the murdering of these POWs, just as the death of the medic is later supposed to justify the murder of the German that Burns causes so much trouble over. These crimes reach their culmination when Davies, after cowering throughout the final stages of the final battle, assassinates the German soldier he let kill Crazy Eddie, as that soldier is telling his compatriots what a coward Davies is. Davies, of course, had been the one stridently protesting Burns’s attempts to murder the other POW. Thus the audience member, after being shown their own cowardice, is asserted to be a murderer as well. It’s one of the most insulting things I’ve ever seen on film, and I can’t believe how many people are willing to let Spielberg get away with it. How can this film be taken as a glorification of The Greatest Generation when it shows them repeatedly engaging in the same brutal habits as the pure evil Nazis of Schindler’s List? It’s like the Bixby letter: the overwhelming assertion of emotion precludes any logical examination of what the film is actually saying.


Finally, I have a couple of minor quibbles with the film. The opening sequence shows an old man wandering through a cemetery with his family following. He stops at a grave and the camera slowly zooms in on his eyes. From there we cut to Tom Hanks preparing to land at Omaha, thus setting up an identification of the old man with Hanks. The slow zoom on the eyes is often a precursor to that person’s flashback. Of course, it’s Pvt. Ryan who is the old man, and what follows can’t possibly be a flashback (Ryan wasn’t at Omaha, he parachuted behind enemy lines). The only purpose of the zoom appears to mislead the viewer into believing that Hanks will live and thereby increasing the shock when he dies and we realize the old man must be Ryan. This kind of incoherent manipulation is something a director of Spielberg’s caliber should be better than. Also the faded US flag we’re shown twice appears to have 50 stars, which is two too many for 1944, but maybe that’s intentional. The old Ryan appears to know exactly where he’s going in the cemetery, though this is supposedly his first time visiting Hanks’s grave. Also, Hanks’s grave is conveniently placed such that there’s lots of space for Ryan’s family to stand well behind him, instead of bunched together like all the other grave markers.

To conclude, here are 53 War Movies I’ve Seen from the last 50 years that are better than Saving Private Ryan:

Paths Of Glory
Bridge On The River Kwai
Hiroshima mon amour
The Horse Soldiers
The Guns Of Navaronne
Lawrence Of Arabia
Hell Is For Heroes
The Longest Day
The Great Escape
Dr. Strangelove
Zulu
The Train
Shenandoah
In Harm’s Way
The Heores Of Telemark
The Battle Of Algiers
The Dirty Dozen
Hell In The Pacific
The Sorrow And The Pity
Patton
A Bridge Too Far
The Deer Hunter
Apocalypse Now
Kagemusha
The Big Red One
Breaker Morant
Das Boot
Gallipoli
The Killing Fields
Platoon
Salvador
Top Gun
Empire Of The Sun
Full Metal Jacket
Good Morning, Vietnam
Glory
Henry V
The Hunt For Red October
Europa Europa
Last Of The Mohicans
A Midnight Clear
Schindler’s List
Gettysburg
Braveheart
Starship Troopers
The Thin Red Line
Three Kings
Black Hawk Down
Pearl Harbor
Master And Commander
Gods And Generals
A Very Long Engagement
Munich

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26 thoughts on “The #54 War Movie Of The Last 50 Years

  1. The two “German” soldiers who are shot trying to surrender at the beginning of the movie were speaking Czech. They were saying, “Please don’t shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech, I didn’t kill anyone, I am Czech!” They were members of what the Germans called Ost [East] Battalions, men–mostly Czech and Polish–taken prisoner in eastern European countries invaded by Germany and forced into the German army. So not only was it a war crime, but the men weren’t really even the enemy.

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  2. Two minor quibbles: The cinematography of the opening sequence was considered revolutionary because of the shutter angle and photochemical processes used, not because of handheld camerawork (a bit of a lazy assertion in an otherwise well-reasoned piece). Also, Diesel was shot and let die in what is commonly referred to as a honeypot (the sniper was waiting for someone to come save him, thus maximizing his blahblahblah–arguably stolen from Full Metal Jacket). Though I will agree that the whole setup is flawed. If you want to check out another in-depth takedown of this bullshit classic I’d suggest checking out Curtis White’s writing on the film. He has a few funny things to say about Old Man Ryan’s daughters’ cleavage on top of everything else.

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  3. I just got off the phone with Armond White, and boy was he mad. He said I was halfway through this inane article when I felt the need to vomit. He said you made him throw away his Lemon and Garlic Shrimp Lean Cuisine he was so sick. Anyone who knows Armond knows that nothing makes him happier than his Saturday night Lemon and Garlic Shrimp Lean Cuisine, followed by a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream. Do you understand that you ruined Armond White’s Saturday night? The night he dresses up as Eddie Deezen and watched 1941 while Boston’s debut album serves as a soundtrack? Did you know that Boston’s debut album syncs up perfectly with 1941? Did you know Armond called you a cretinous hipster and then hung up on me? Thanks a lot. A great article.

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  4. Yeah, Ryan is a piece of crap. I personally don’t think much of Speilberg’s other output. Is Ryan an outlier for you or more of the same from the Speilberg’er?

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  5. Thanks for the comments folks.Anonymous #2:I learned about the honeypot thing after writing this and it makes complete sense. But we see the sniper turn back to his trap after (presumably) some time looking off somewhere else. If he was laying a trap, surely he would have been focused on Diesel and the rest of the group.Anonymous #3:Give Armond my apologies. I hope he doesn’t starve.Virgilx:I’m actually a pretty big Spielberg fan. I think he gets a bad rap from critics in general for reasons that have less to do with his films than they should. SPR’s my least favorite of his movies, and I consider all of Jaws, Close Encounters, ET, Raiders, Temple Of Doom, Empire Of The Sun, Schindler’s List, AI and Munich to be great films.

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  6. There’s no doubt that justification for the story line (i.e., save Private Ryan) is almost insufferably sentimental. But that’s Spielberg. (Think the endings of ET, Schindler’s List, War of the Worlds, etc.)Your remarks about the opening scene, however, just come off as churlish and needlessly contrarian. What you see as macabre humor I see as macabre brutality – the radio operator without a face, the man picking up his arm, the soldier who briefly takes off his helmet only to be shot in the head that second. In other words, the reason the Omaha beach scene is almost universally lauded is not because of the gore but because how the gore is portrayed: namely, the random, WANTON brutality, where one death is as undignified as another. You might say this is common in war movies – well, not to this extent. There’s a nihilistic disregard for the “meaningful” death that is surprising for any director, but for Spielberg above all.(To me, it doesn’t matter if the cinematography is considered revolutionary or not, though anon 2 says there’s more to the story than you’re letting on. But it *has* been influential – basically copied, for example, in Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima movies.)Also, your claim that Spielberg tries to justify the war crimes Americans commit seems to be totally unfounded. At worst, the bloodiness of the beach scene explains the shootings immediately afterwards, but to say that it *excuses* them is another claim altogether, and not fair to Spielberg.(Finally, your listing Pearl Harbor as better than SPR just about convinces me you’re not serious about this. Michael Bay is totally lost in that movie, flailing around without an idea of what he’s trying to create. Write an article justifying that piece of trash, please. I want to hear your defense.)

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  7. Raiders was good/great, Temple too. But I can’t get over how a lot of folks say Crusade was the best out of the series. Crusade basically took a lot of what was cool about the Indiana Jones and made it more of a comic book than necessary. Otherwise, I forgot to mention in my earlier comment, good entry/post/article/critique (I don’t the proper noun to describe this blog situation, unless you have a preference).

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  8. anon #4:I think that as regards the sentimentality in Schindler’s List or ET (or Empire Of The Sun), you can say Spielberg ‘earns this.’ Not in SPR, though.As for the cinematography, it may very well be as anon #2 says, I’m no cameraman. But all I’ve ever heard when critics praise the opening sequence is the shaky subjectivity of the handheld camera and the desaturated color palatte. neither of which are especially revolutionary, whether they get copied (in films produced by Spielberg, no less) or not.Pearl Harbor I think is more interesting and distinctive visually and less ideologically problematic. But it’s close between them. Pearl Harbor’s probably #53.virgilx:I agree Last Crusade is my least favorite of the three. It might be Spielberg’s sloppiest film.

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  9. have always been an unabashed fan of the film, and while you make some strong arguments, some fresh – the Hanks reveal is all to obvious and a tad maudlin/hokey *same with the scene with Mrs. Ryan, both, I can what concede.Others I have heard for years, namely the stereotypical characterization and the deus ex machina. As for the characters, it’s hard to give depth to characters as needed, and I’ll argue it’s ultimately pointless. While The Thin Red Line is a film which spends far more time with the characters, these characters are soldiers, i.e. it’s a fragmented section of life which art can rarely capture. Along this same notion, Mailers The Naked and the Dead is considered a masterpiece of war fiction, and the characters are just as stereotypical on the surface in race/religion depictions. Yeah, it could be better, but give a comparison when it did work, and odds are it’s similar rank and file, it’s just a bit more polished.As for the deus ex machina, this is the largest quibble I have. Really, when the end result of the planes coming is to have only Ryan, Upham, and the Burns character alive is hand of god intervention? 6 of 8 of the group are dead, not to mention the battalion Ryan was serving with?When they finally retreat to the “alamo” Capt. Miller gets shot before he can help blow the bridge.His only option is to fire heedlessly into the oncoming tank, as if to say, “what was all this for.”The point of the having the planes come in to the scene is explained by the voice over of the American General, still matched to the carnage on the shores of Europe.He is taking credit for saving one piece of hay in the haystack, as virtually every likable character from the 8 is dead, leaving only the Loudmouth Brooklyn kid (who does seem to leave his shell at the end of the film for a bit) and Upham, who’s pacifism is washed away in the war machine.Had they waited 2 hours or merely decided not to bait the Germans to battle, the planes and reinforcements would have come, and the fight would have been there for the Allies to take in a walk, leaving Pepper, Hanks, Seizemore, and yes, I’m prone to it to, Crazy Eddie, still alive.They died, the general gets the credit, and this equation is what I’d like to think is going thru Capt. Miller’s head when he implores Private Ryan to earn this.

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  10. I’d add “Enemy at the Gates” as another superior war film that also includes a lot more about the strategy of a sniper. In that film, the sniper would never stay and try to take two shots from the same position, because he’d be picked off too easily.The underwater effect in the opening sequence is startling partly because the sound changes. It seems like an environment that should be safe, but then it’s not. Spielberg used this effect way back in “Jaws.”

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  11. Two words, pal: PEARL HARBOR. And BOOM goes your credibility like the ammunition magazine of the USS Arizona. If you think Pearl Harbor is a better war movie than ANYTHING I just cannot take seriously anything you have to say.

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  12. I’ve heard that sentiment from a lot of anonymous people, “pal”. But nobody’s bothered to actually say why they think Pearl Harbor’s so bad.Have you actually seen it?

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  13. “How can this film be taken as a glorification of The Greatest Generation when it shows them repeatedly engaging in the same brutal habits as the pure evil Nazis of Schindler’s List?”I don’t think the carefully planned genocide of nearly 6 million people is really comparable to the killing, in the heat of battle, of enemy soldiers trying to surrender. And I never thought Spielberg was trying to make us approve of the “no quarter” killings in SPR, just presenting them as part of what happens in practically every war. (Cf. John Keegan, THE FACE OF BATTLE.)“Watching the sequence again, I was surprised at how small it seems. There’s no sense of the vast 10 mile expanse of the beach, we’re pretty much confined to the same 300 yard stretch of sand through the whole attack.”But it’s not trying to tell the story of the entire battle; it’s trying to show how one group of Rangers helps clear one of the beach exits. As for the time compression factor (20 minutes vs. several hours), this is a flaw in every war film I’ve ever seen, they all radically from “Paths of Glory” As for the 50 star flag: I always thought this was meant to be a flag flying over the present-day cemetery, not a flag from 1944.I’ve only seen SPR once, when it was first released, and in left me in helpless tears. Looking back, I’ve become increasingly aware of problems with the script, which is one reason I haven’t watched it on DVD. But whatever its flaws, SPR deserves credit for making it possible for Spielberg/Hanks to exec produce BAND OF BROTHERS.

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  14. Some responses to recent comments:– I haven’t seen Enemy At The Gates, but have heard good things about it.– The murders in SPR aren’t “in the heat of battle” they are after the battle, when the enemy is unarmed with their hands in the air.– The comment about the scope of the D-Day sequence isn’t necessarily a criticism, just something I hadn’t noticed before. The Longest Day does a great job of demonstrating how long the soldiers were pinned down on the beach, as does (IIRC) The Big Red One.– The flag thing was obviously minor, but it just struck me as odd.– Haven’t seen Band Of Brothers either, but again, have heard lots of good about it.

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  15. Hey sean,just wanted to add two entries two the list of war-movies better than SPR: the russian “Idi i smotri” (Come and See) and the german “Die Brücke” (The Bridge), the only two real anti-war movies I know…

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  16. Thanks Magnus, I haven’t heard of those, but I’ll keep an eye out.There was a Russian film from the mid-90 about the Chechen war that was pretty good, can’t remember what it was called though. . . .

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  17. In SPR the defenders may have had their hands up, but the attackers still had “their blood up,” as the British say, and the battle certainly wasn’t over for them. I have never been in a battle, but I have read fairly extensively in the history of last century’s two world wars, and have a strong sense that English-speaking troops (American, British, Australian, etc.) on the attack often followed an unwritten rule: if the enemy surrendered without offering resistance, or without inflicting serious casualties on the attacker, they would be taken prisoner and sent to the rear. But if the attackers kept shooting it out at close range and killed men in the attacking squad, platoon, or company, and then tried to surrender, their attempts would often prove futile and they would be shot on the spot, sometimes to the tune of remarks such as “<>Too late<>, chums.”This harsh code certainly violates the Geneva Convention, but it also conforms to the emotional reality of the battlefield, on which the urge/willingness to close with and kill the enemy can’t always be switched off in a matter of seconds. And consider the message a surrender attempt at close range and after a bloody firefight is sending: “Yes, when you were 50 yards away I was willing to fight and kill your comrades, but now that you’re 20 yards away, I want to surrender and survive the war in a POW camp, while you continue to fight until you’re killed, seriously wounded, or mentally broken.” Not that my opinion matters either legally or morally, but I have sadly concluded that the refusal to accept enemy surrenders <>on the immediate battlefield itself<> is not so much a war crime as simply an inescapable part of war. What I do consider a war crime is the deliberate shooting of groups of prisoners <>after<> their surrender has been accepted, something the Waffen SS did to hundreds of Canadian soldiers in Normandy and American soldiers in the Ardennes.

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  18. After watching the end of the Omaha Beach sequence on DVD today my views remain unchanged: the Germans are shot either while trying to surrender or trying to escape (the fleeing soldiers mowed down in the trench are seen carrying weapons). At the end of the film Upham kills “Steamboat Willie,” whom he believes (rightly or wrongly) to have behaved treacherously, then tells the other prisoners to run away. This is hardly a typical war crime, and considering Upham’s previous behavior, one likely to be seen as the act of a coward trying to expunge his shame and not a lesson in how war demands utter pitilessness.

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  19. The killing of Steamboat Willie at the end is meant to show that for either the liberal viewer or the naive conservative there is no way to engage in war without engaging in terrible acts. The shooting or the decision not to shoot prisoners happens four times in the film and each time it is there for a reason.The first time after Omaha beach shocks you (that is unless you read history). The second time Upham represents those who believe there can be a just war but one can still not get one’s hands dirty and so Steamboat Willie goes free. The third time the Germans who are attacking the village simply shoot the surrendering Americans because it is expedient (the battle is still on, these Americans just now killed their comrades, why leave them in your rear?). The fourth time Upham sees his naivete thrown in his face when he sees Willie fire the bullet the eventually kills the Hanks character. When Upham kills Willie it is out of shame because he indirectly caused Hanks’ character’s death as he convinced Hanks’ character to let Willie go when there was no way to guarantee he wouldn’t rejoin the battle. From Willie’s POV, there is no way that Willie would / should have walked blindfolded to the nearest American patrol. In modern warfare there is no such thing as granting parole as if it was some pretend war. Parole was a 19th century concept that was in fact frequently violated. It was just something that temporarily put the enemy unit out of action. There is nothing pro war about these instances. A pro war movie has no blood, people who surrender get treated nicely and go live in Hogan’s Heroes’ barracks and the good guys never do bad or contradictory things. But if you read military history — in particular oral history told by those who lived it — you will see countless examples of soldiers who had — to our eyes — ambivalent attitudes toward their enemies. One day they could look with admiration toward their enemies and the next day think nothing of shooting until told to stop by a superior officer — even those who surrendered. On the other side, surrendering was a terrifying thing because you put your life in the hands of someone who has pledged to kill you. One other moment is very telling in SPR that is when the jewish soldier is killed by the paratrooper after they have engaged in hand-to-hand combat. When the paratrooper is descending with the knife the American is trying to get him to stop. He says: “let’s talk about it”. This speaks to the absurdity of the situation. Just now both of them were shooting, biting, kicking and grenading each other and now suddenly the American wants to take a time out as if it was a football game or a soccer game. In all these cases, the characters have had to surrender their humanity and engage in the dirtiest business.

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  20. I know it: I’m playing it at my theatre n September, along with two other Lee Marvin World War II movies that are better than <>Saving Private Ryan<>: <>Hell In The Pacific<> and <>The Dirty Dozen<>.

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  21. The underwater effect was stolen by Spielberg…almost exaclty – with the sound changing and bullets going into the water with blotches of red – a direct rip-off – from a far superior anti-war film: Gallipoli.

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  22. I found this whilst randomly cruising the internets and decided to throw in my two cents. Overall, I think you make some good points. However, there are few things that need to be addressed IMO…1) Originality – while SPR is lauded by some critics and moviegoers for “originality” in the beach landing scene and others, that is more a fault of theirs, than of the film itself, don’t you think? If they are easily amused by a shaky cam and blood splatter, isn’t that their beef? Besides, Omaha Beach is Omaha Beach and war is war – there are only so many ways it can be portrayed on film, especially when you’re talking about an historical event that actually happened and happened in a certain fashion. To pick apart each sequence and call it a copy of some other film that was made earlier is kind of reaching, IMO. It’s a war film, about World War II, of which there have been made dozens of films over the years. I mean, so SPR had people getting shot underwater, and running through MG-42 fire, and getting blown to pieces, and some other movie had that before Spielberg’s… so what? It’s the D-Day landing. What else did you expect to see? Something completely new and different from the other film depictions of the D-Day landing? Why? Personally, I thought the scene accomplished exactly what was intended… to show the audience what war really is – brutal and random and horrific and relentless and unforgiving. Someone commented before me about “undignified death”. I think that hits the nail right on the head. As for Hanks’ crew making the beachhead safe, I chalk that one up to the fact that it’s a movie, not a documentary. Maybe that bunker was the last one in that area, Maybe it was the last one on the beach… or maybe in a movie called “Saving Private Ryan” (and not “The D-Day Landing”), they want to get on with the story of the men who are going to try and do it. Trust me, I am a nit-picky film buff, but sometimes art needs to be given a bit of leeway in the interest of communicating a particular story, rather than the whole story.As for the “absurdity” of trying to save him in the first place? I see your point about him being cut-off behind enemy lines and all that, but as far as rescuing him in the first place? You bet your keester they would’ve given it a shot. It is a common practice, even in today’s military, to give the last surviving sibling a free ticket home and an honorable discharge if his/her other siblings were KIA/MIA.The “war crimes” you speak of may very well be considered war crimes, but as a veteran I can tell you this much: when you are pitched in battle with an enemy who is trying as hard as he can to end your life and those of your friends and comrades, and who has succeeded in ending the lives of some of those friends and comrades, you get angry. In World War II, there were no “Geneva Convention Enforcement Officers” hanging around and handing out demerits for executing prisoners or shooting those who surrendered. It’s not nice, it’s not right, but you’d better believe it happens. I don’t think Spielberg was trying to push this on the audience at all – just show them once again that this is war, and war is hell. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. According to those gentlemanly “unwritten rules” about not firing on unarmed men, our own 501st Airborne paratroopers weren’t to be touched by German weapons until they landed during the D-Day invasion, but dozens (possibly hundreds) were strafed by machine gun fire before they ever made it to the ground. I’ll say it again… war is hell.As far as Pearl Harbor is concerned… man oh man, don’t get me started. Talk about absurdity. At least SPR had the “decency” to make up characters and a story line based around the true story of the loss of all five Sullivan brothers (mentioned in the film as further “reason” to send the last Ryan brother). In this sense alone, Pearl Harbor borders on blasphemy. Michael Bay took REAL people who were REALLY there at Pearl Harbor and amalgamates their heroic deeds into characters for his shitty movie. Talk about maudlin and sentimental!! Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character alone takes the story of two or three actual people and smushes into one for more Hollywood “oomph”. Apparently the self-sacrifice of actual human beings wasn’t good enough to carry a Bay/Bruckheimer picture, which, what do you expect from the duo who brought us “The Rock” and “Armageddon”. Never mind that on top of all this, we get Affleck and Damon (themselves amalgamations of real people) going from the Pearl Harbor attack to the Doolittle Raid (yeah… because military pilots know how to fly every single plane in the corps at the drop of a hat), and the ridiculous three-way baby-daddy drama between them. Then there’s the “soul-less war-monger” portrayal of Japanese people, the corny soap opera script, the countless technical errors (including things like planes and weapons present in the movie that weren’t designed/invented until the 1950’s), misspellings of American ship names, etc. etc. etc. You can find lists online about how many historical and technical errors there in the film – it’s something like 185. While you may counter with the fact that SPR has quite a few technical and/or historical errors as well, here is the difference… SPR, as the title indicates, is a STORY, set in WWII, about SPR. By Michael Bay’s own account, Pearl Harbor was intended to be an accurate portrayal of the events of December 7th, 1941 (at least the main attack sequence was). It should be obvious, but Michael Bay is one of the worst directors out there, period. His films consistently suck ass, and he fills in the holes of his scripts, stories, and plots, with $100 million worth of CGI. The fact that he specifically rambles on about how much research and detail they put into the film just makes it all the more sad and pretentious.

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