In the opening sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’, the director, Steven Spielberg, does clearly establish the characters, the setting or the storyline, very obvious to the audience. However, in the first few shots, he does give a few hints towards these points.
As the credits role, they are in white, on a black screen. The credits are accompanied by a tune played on a bugle. The bugle is once or twice combined with a military style drum role. Both these instruments are commonly associated with the military and therefore provide with the first hint about the film.
As the credits end, we see a close up shot of an American flag. The flag almost fills the entire but does allow some sunlight to creep around the edges of it as the sun is situated directly behind the centre of the flag. The colours on the flag are faded, but are kept strong by the sun. (See camera shot sheet.)
This shot then cuts to the next.
The new shot is a close up of a pair of feet. The feet shuffling slightly as they slowly move forward, all the time being followed up close by the camera. As the feet keep walking shuffling forward, the camera pans up the legs and to a mid shot of the back of a mans body and head. As the camera still follows the mans back, we can see that he is walking along a path, surrounded by neatly cut, well looked after grass lawns. On his right hand side, brightly coloured flowerbeds and tall trees border the grass lawns. To his left, there is a short concrete wall. Behind that wall, we can see where the dark blue sea meets the harsh purple coloured sky. The time of day is either early morning or early evening.
As the man continues to walk, the camera pans around him to show his face and the rest of his body. The shot is now a long shot. We can now see that the man is old by looking at his face and face he shuffles along. Behind the man, are a large group of people and we can assume, as one young man is taking photos of him, that these people are his family.
The shot cuts from a long shot to a mid shot.
The shot now, is partially obstructed by a tree. We see half of the man and less of the family. The camera pans round slightly as it zooms in towards the face of the man (creating a mid shot), the family come into view again. We now see most of the group, however two people are not totally visible. The way in which this is filmed tries to illustrate the point that these two characters are as important to the current main character, the old man.
The next shot is from POV (Point Of View) of the man and can be seen on the camera shot sheet. We see a long shot of an area of the neatly cut, deep green coloured grass, surrounded by trees and flowerbeds.
We then see a mid shot of another American flag. It is partially blocked by the small branches of the trees that surround it.
The next shot (see camera shot sheet) is of a French flag. This shot is similar to the pervious, but this time containing a French flag as supposed to the American.
The order in which these flags appear also makes point. It illustrates that although there is a French part to this film, the story is going to be more about the American part as, since the end of the credits, the American flags have out numbered the French two to one. These shots have been edited and have been filmed in conjunction with special lighting effects, as the sunlight would be to bright on the flags for them to be the dark yet bold colours that they are. Lighting effects are also used to make the flags stand out in front of the trees behind them.
The next shot is a long shot of the man who we have followed, entering a cemetery filled with marble crosses. As the man continues his way further in the cemetery, the camera zooms out, revealing more and more crosses. The crosses are all the same colour and are all made of the same material. As there are so many, we can assume that these crosses are those of casualties of war. By now, the shot has changed to an extreme long shot. We can now see crosses stretching off to the back of the screen. This large amount gives the audience a sense of sadness that this many people died and creates a solemn mood. In the shot, there is a man in what looks like a military uniform, stood with his hat off in front of a cross. The main character now walks back into the shot and the camera moves in towards him before he comes to a halt in front of a particular cross. As the camera reaches a mid shot of the man, he collapses to his knees with his hands covering his face. As he collapses, the young man who was previously taking photographs shouts “Dad” and runs over to help his father. The man has an American accent. As the young man gets to his father, the shot changes to a close up of the old mans face, still covered by his hands.
The bugle music that has been playing all the time up to now stops, and the man removes his hands from his face. He removes them slowly and we see his face. His face is old and wrinkled and he looks upset. He has tears in his eyes and one running down his face. As the camera zooms in towards his face, the sound of waves crashing up to the waters edge can be heard. When the camera reaches an extreme close up of the old mans wet eyes, the shot changes.
The next shot is of the beach that we could just hear. We get the idea that it is a wartime beach because on the sand, nearly in the middle of the screen, is an anti-tank obstacle. We can the sea, but because the camera angle is so low, we cannot see the horizon. In the centre of the screen, the words “June 6, 1944” appear in white writing. A few seconds later, they are followed by the words “Dog Green Sector, Omaha Beach”. We are now sure that there is a world war two involvement in this film because Omaha Beach is where the D-Day landing craft landed in Normandy.
The shot then changes to a long shot of six or seven landing craft speeding through the water.
This shot last about two seconds before it changes to a long shot of just one of the boats (see camera shot sheet). This shot, like the one before it last about two seconds.
It then cuts to a close up of the hand of one of the men onboard. The shot is dark and it is difficult to see. The hand is shaking violently in all directions. The hand reaches towards the belt of the man and retrieves a drinking canteen. The mans other hand takes the canteen from the shaking one and opens it.
The camera follows the good hand in a close up as it rises and reaches the mans mouth. He takes a drink as the camera zooms out past the other men on the boat. All of the men are dressed in army uniform and all have guns.
I think that the way Steven Spielberg has started this film works very well.
The hook beginning is very successful in the way that, you want to know who that man is. You can’t just leave that man knelt in front of a cross and not find out whom he is.
When I first saw the film, I immediately assumed that Tom Hanks played the part of Private Ryan but when he dies, that keeps you thinking.
I think that the beginning sets the story going well and all the way through you want find out who the old man is. Although the film does not introduce all the important characters at the start, the start sets it all out well and gives you insight into what it is about.