In a historic and artistic context, here’s a question that would bother Spielberg if he thought about it for a second: what if there was no such thing as special effects? If we take the special effects from his movies, would they still be great? What, you’re waiting for an answer? Just like every Spielberg movie, we find Steve desperately clinging to special effects like a fish to water. Like Bush to oil. Like Uwe Boll to a video game-to-movie conversion (last one is not necessarily bad, by the way).
Just like everybody else, I was amazed by the “realism” of the first 5 minutes. Once you get past the battle scenes, there’s not much to work with. I’m glad people (as manifest in the growing number of low reviews here) are starting to realize this.
Let’s set aside the absurdity of the “plot” (I use ‘plot’ very loosely). That’s just a vehicle; a pretext; an excuse to use special effects (Spielberg’s one and only leverage). The main plot is that a mother lost a number of her sons, so the general (or whatever his rank was) thinks she shouldn’t lose her last remaining son, Ryan. He reads a letter Abraham Lincoln sent to a mother who went through a similar experience during the civil war. Using musical cues and closeups, Spielberg is not trying to tell us how to feel; he’s practically *begging* us to do so. After all, he knows better than anybody that people will – during the course of the movie – realize that the battle scenes aren’t that numerous or long, so there better be some story to back the movie up.
Since he knows that he’s addressing a crowd that made movies like Armageddon and Independence Day box office hits, he (correctly) realized that the script needs to be comprised of one element only: text. So long as the script contained text, it was good enough. And he was right. With enough flash and special effects, he was able to appeal to the idiocy of the average American, a tactic mastered by Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay and their likes.
Now, back to the ‘plot’: once you set it aside, you’ll realize that this movie is trying to instill many ideas into the minds of the movie goers. When he shows German soldiers, he shows them from a distance, so by not giving them a face, a human side, he teaches us that it’s totally OK to thrill at killing them. Bad German bad! After our heroes free a German, Spielberg makes is very clear that he came back later to kill Tom Hanks. Spielberg is saying: they should’ve killed him the first time. The only good German is a dead one, apparently. Astonishing dishonesty and malice on the part of Spielberg. Not a trick was a spared to demonize every single one of them.
Unlike masters of movie making (a title Spielberg will never come close to) like Scorsese and Coppola, he desperately needs musical cues to tell when to feel sad, fearful, excited, etc. His approach to emotion is so utterly sappy, shallow and downright laughable that it’s virtually impossible for him to let the scenes and the story speak for themselves. He must have very clear cues to give the viewers signals. The music is like a slap in the face. Spielberg manifests in moments like “tell me I lived a good life”, grabs you by the throat and ORDERS you to shed a few tears. Insulting. Pathetic.
The only good part in the movie is the whole scene of the mistaken identity, where they realize this whining little weakling crying his eyes out is not the Ryan they wanted. Other than that, and looking at the chutzpah of the musical cues, the absurdity of the plot, the dehumanization of the Germans and the hilarious warfare errors, the movie is only good for another laugh, albeit not one Spielberg was aiming for.