"Saving Private Ryan" Cinematography Question

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Jack White, Mar 17, 2011.

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  1. Jack White

    Jack White Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I love this movie - not perfect mind you, but I've loved it since it premiered. I just watched it again on Blu-ray tonight. There is one thing that bugs me about the cinematography that maybe someone out there can answer.

    What's the artistic justification for the over-exposure (or as I refer to it - the 'bleaching effect') in several parts through-out the film?
  2. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    My guess is that Janusz Kaminski and Spielberg wanted the movie to look that way, so they did a bleach-bypass look (aka "silver retention") in the lab. They felt it was the visual style they wanted, and it helped add a grim, bleak look to the battle scenes. This particular look goes back to Moby Dick in 1956, but to me, it was really popularized by Vittorio Storaro. This won Kaminski his first Oscar, and the film was a huge critical and financial hit, so I'd say he knew what he was doing.

    That alone wasn't the movie's biggest contribution to the look of later films & TV shows. The real trick was the use of the 45-degree shutter during battle scenes, which produces an ultra-sharp (but jerky) image with almost no blurring, at the expense of exposure. This look is constantly overdone in practically every action TV show on the air today. Whenever I see it, I yell out loud, "hey, everything is now super-sharp and jerky, so get ready for action!" Such a cliche...
  3. GreenDrazi

    GreenDrazi Truth is beauty

    Atlanta, GA
    Part of the reason was to convey to the American public that D-Day was not a nice day at the beach as had been previously portrayed by John Wayne and Co. in “The Longest Day.” In fact, it was a confused mess and a bloodbath at Omaha Beach for the Americans - especially for the first wave - and the film effects help to convey the reality of just how grim the situation was.
  4. TheCassidy

    TheCassidy New Member


    To me, the cinematography was the real star here and the mood it conveyed was one of uneasiness and foreboding with the "look" really underscoring the events depicted in the film.

    The fact that it's been copied in several war films since - including Gladiator - is a testament to it's impact and legacy, I feel.

    I remember reading an article in American Cinematographer about the film at the time, I wish I still had the issue.
  5. Plan9

    Plan9 Mastering Engineer

    Toulouse, France
    Agreed... Even the low-budget B-movies are doing it now.
  6. Oatsdad

    Oatsdad Oat, Biscuits and Abbie: Best Dogs Ever

    Alexandria VA
    I watched the "SPR" BD last week - hadn't seen the movie since 2000 or so, and I updated my old review. I found it funny how I had to warn readers about the movie's odd visuals back in 1999, whereas now the picture doesn't look unusual at all - what was "out there" in 1998 is indeed cliche in 2011!
  7. Ghostworld

    Ghostworld Forum Resident

  8. Claviusb

    Claviusb A Serious Man

    Spielberg and Kaminki went with that shutter because they were recreating the look of Eymo cameras, which was standard issue to combat cameramen back then. They also had the modern coatings stripped off the lenses to match what was available at the time of D-Day. Those coatings were developed later to supress any flare that gets into the lens (among other things), which is why you see those odd vertical streaks any time there is a fire or bright light in the shot. When most people see the flaring they think they have a bad DVD copy or there was some sort of lab monkeying to get that effect.
  9. GreenDrazi

    GreenDrazi Truth is beauty

    Atlanta, GA
    One thing to note on the Blu-Ray release vs the DVD is that they backed off of the color saturation found on the DVD and makes it a much better looking film IMHO. And is much more true to what I recall seeing in the theater.

    A good comparison at dvdbeaver.
  10. nosticker

    nosticker Forum Resident

    Ringwood, NJ
    I have it, and it's a prized treasure. Little things, like attaching a drill to one of the cameras to shake it and thus simulate the effects of gunfire on the German POV shot. I think I know which shot that is. What inspiringly incredible work!

  11. PNeski@aol.com

    PNeski@aol.com Forum Resident

    New York
    I never cared for the look of this film,and didn't think it should have won,wasn't
    Thin Red line out that year,A far better looking film
    Most films where they do things like limit the color look bad,not B&W ,and Not color
    This film and Minority report look grainy at times,
    where when you have someone like Storaro doing it ,it can work very well
    Look at the Little Buddha
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden MichiGort Staff

    Livonia, MI
    Ridley Scott went absolutely bonkers with this in the opening battle scenes of "Gladiator". It makes me a bit queasy, and, aside form the jerkiness, is not unlike the effect of all of those 120Hz/240Hz motion blur reducing modes on LCD TVs.

    I wasn't crazy about the movie, but the makers of the first "Final Destination" movie used this technique in a novel and effective way to create an eerie atmosphere in an otherwise quite moment leading up to one of the movie's death scenes.

  13. ROLO46

    ROLO46 Forum Resident

    This shutter angle/bleach look was used to great effect in BoB and Pacific.
    Arriflex combat cameras of the 40's gave this look
    Good for freezing fast action,film stock of the period helped too
    What stock did Spielberg use?
  14. SgtPepper1983

    SgtPepper1983 Forum Resident

    Berlin, Germany
    I think Full Metal Jacket was the first war film to make use of that 45-degree shutter.

    As almost always with Spielberg's films, they tend to influence what's coming after them quite heavily. SPR is not exception.
  15. Oatsdad

    Oatsdad Oat, Biscuits and Abbie: Best Dogs Ever

    Alexandria VA
    All I know is that Ryan's purple-shirted granddaughter is still hot! :D
  16. Jim T

    Jim T Forum Resident

    if we had "smell a vision" it would change many perceptions about war. It is a great film.

    I also think that The Razor's Edge with Bill Murray is over-looked. If you haven't seen it you should.
  17. guidedbyvoices

    guidedbyvoices Diver Dan

    Alpine, TX
    I always felt the bleaching helped make it look similar to black and white without actually being black and white. Make it feel a bit like how I picture old WWII flicks but with a twist or kind of like a memory fading
  18. Raylinds

    Raylinds Martinis, music and glowing tubes

    Great film!
  19. wayward

    wayward Forum Resident

    Mtl, QC, Can
    Didn't Kaminski win his first Oscar in 1994 for Schindler's List?

    Love the look and motion characteristics of the cinematography for SPR; regret not picking up the American Cinematographer issue covering the filming & film when I had the chance.
  20. SBurke

    SBurke Nostalgia Junkie

    Philadelphia, PA
    I've long wondered what it was specifically that was used to create the look of "Saving Private Ryan." Very nice to have stumbled on this thread.
  21. Paradiddle

    Paradiddle Forum Resident

    This will probably be one of the first Blu-rays I get after getting a player. I'll never forget seeing this in the theater back in 1998...the opening D-Day scene was the most intense theatrical experience of my life, bar none. I agree that the film isn't perfect, but it did kindle an interest in WWII for me that continues to this day.
  22. doubleaapn

    doubleaapn Forum Resident

    Trophy Club, TX
    Hmmm - an interesting topic, and one i've discussed in the past with a couple of film-geek buddies I have. I have always been at odds with the general consensus in terms of how the battle scenes were filmed, namely in that I felt the cinematic choices utilized distanced me from the "participation" element instead of drawing me in. All I had read about before seeing the film was how realistic the scenes were and that you felt immersed in the battles, but what I experienced was, for lack of a better description, a "gimmicky" presentation that didn't feel like involvement as much as overt cinematic wizardry. I was totally conscious of the obvious "filmmaking" and that distracted me from the goings-on in the narrative, primarily in the battle scenes.
    I have seen the film a couple of times since and can appreciate the artistry, but still can't shake the sense of artificiality. It probably doesn't help that the techniques have been used to the point of overkill since... and with diminishing returns, I might add. (I can barely sit through a Ridley Scott movie these days.) SPR remains a good film for many reasons, however I can't agree upon the cinematographical choices as being high on the list as to the reasons why. Just my two cents...

  23. rburly

    rburly Sitting comfortably with Item 9

    I very much agree. It did give the film that grim reality look without having to go to black and white. It added to the authenticity of the movie.
  24. Jack White

    Jack White Forum Resident Thread Starter


    I have found that surround sound (whether in a theatre or at home) makes a big difference in those battles scenes. I remember the first time I saw the film in a theatre. I must have been sitting in the 'sweet spot' for sound in the theatre, because I was ducking bullets due to the sound effects.
  25. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer

    The West
    Agree. The foley and sound design in that film was as important as the cinematography IMHO. I recall seeing it in a great place we have here and feeling almost overwhelmed emotionally. One of the few movies to haunt me for several nights.

    The look was also used in the HBO series 'Band Of Brothers' right?

    dan c
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