What Makes Saving Private Ryan's Beach Landing Scene So Brilliant

By Bryan Menegus on at

Some movie scenes are unforgettable, and Steven Spielberg’s reenactment of the Normandy Landing is one of them. Every shot feels chaotic, with indiscriminate bloodshed consistent with this brutal event. But as Nerdwriter1 explains in the video below, Spielberg’s filmmaking choices are anything but random.

For starters, he’s a student of history. In order to capture the feeling of being in the midst of battle, Spielberg borrows techniques from actual World War II footage. The main conclusions include keeping the camera low to the ground and introducing shake during running sequences and after explosions.

A wandering frame in the midst of mass death would be effective in some sense, but Spielberg comes from the tradition of blockbusters, where intention has to be balanced with audience comprehension. For this reason, he shoots the scene from three perspectives: as the Allied troops on the ground, as the Axis troops above, and following Tom Hanks. The camera pans, tilts and zooms between their perspective — instead of cutting — in order to keep viewers aware of where they are and who they’re supposed to be looking at. (Anyone who has watched a more modern action movie knows how jarring a cut-heavy action sequence can be.)
There’s much more to this, so here’s Nerdwriter1's analysis in detail:

There’s a reason this scene resonates with audiences almost 20 years after its release, and it’s because of a meticulous attention to detail, beneath the chaos.