Spielberg aims to tell truth about war in 'Saving Private Ryan'
Web posted on: Thursday, July 23, 1998 3:23:09 PM
From Correspondent Paul Vercammen
HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- Following the Civil War, General William T. Sherman wrote in his memoirs, "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."
Apparently not many listened, because most films on war during the 20th century have not only refined it, they've glamorized it, leaving in heroic acts, and editing out the cruelest truths of war in order to earn a certain rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Steven Spielberg wasn't going to fall into that trap when he set out to make "Saving Private Ryan," a movie depicting the attempted World War II rescue of a paratrooper lost behind enemy lines.
"I wasn't going to add my film to a long list of pictures that make World War II 'the glamorous war,' 'the romantic war.'"
The movie, which releases on Friday, is extremely graphic in its portrayal of the savagery of World War II and D-Day, so much that it nearly earned an "NC-17" rating, instead of its current "R."
War has no ratings
"Omaha Beach was actually an 'X' setting," says Spielberg. "Even worse than 'NC-17,' and I just kind of feel that (I had) to tell the truth about this war at the end of the century, 54 years later. I wasn't going to add my film to a long list of pictures that make World War II 'the glamorous war,' 'the romantic war.'"
Filming in Ireland and England, Spielberg took a unique approach to shooting the movie. Instead of featuring bigger-than-life explosions, he took cameras to the trenches, documentary style, with faded color and quick, shaky camera shots. The explosions are evident, but are not the center of the storyline.
"I used the kind of mind-set that the combat camera crew used in WWII and the Korean War," the Oscar-winning director says. "That is, get the footage the best you can and try to get out of there with your life intact."
"He packs the frame with so much and the frame is moving and you say 'Wait a minute. Did some guy's arm just get blown off?'" says Damon.
The reality of war
Hanks said he got caught up in the filming of the battle scenes.
"From my perspective it was as real as real could be, and it was loud, and it was scary, and it was smoke-filled, and it was chaotic," says Hanks. "And it was all fake and I knew it, because they said ready, rolling, action, and cut."
In order to get his cast ready for the reality of war, Spielberg sent the crew to 10 days of boot camp.
"I lost nine pounds in seven days of boot camp and ended up losing over 20 pounds on the film over the course of four months, so you know it was physically exhausting," said Burns.
In order to ensure the authenticity of the film's story, Spielberg hired renowned D-Day author Stephen Ambrose as a historical consultant.
'I hope that every American sees it'
Ambrose gave "Saving Private Ryan" the kind of thumbs-up that any director would love to hear.
"I'm awfully glad this movie has been made," Ambrose said. "And I hope that every American sees it and I pray that the next time we send our young men off to war that we do it having seen this movie and knowing what we're putting them into."
That was the goal of Spielberg in making the film, and the reason he refused to lower the body count to soothe those harping in the politically correct tone.
"If you cheapen it, if you make it more palatable, if you somehow diminish what went on there, I think you end up doing a great disservice to what the movie as a whole is trying to communicate," Spielberg said.
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