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Published on November 11th, 2009 | by Chris

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“Private Ryan” Ghastly?!

CNN has a brief interview with the author of a new book (give your agent a bonus!), historian Antony Beevor, who seems to have a beef with "Saving Private Ryan."  First off let me say I agree with some of what he's got to say in the article.  I especially think he's right about people forgetting that the Allies didn't just "show up" on D-Day and that was it.

He admires the famed Omaha Beach opening -- "Probably the most
realistic battle sequence ever filmed," he said -- but described the
rest of "Saving Private Ryan" as "ghastly."

As a historical document, no, its not a true account of what happened, neither do I think it tries to be.  Not even close.  As a movie, though, with a pretty harsh message for those who understand it, I think its pretty damn good.

"It's sort of a 'Dirty Dozen' cliche of the worst form," he said.

He has expanded on the criticism in a lecture. "Spielberg's basic story line had great potential. It shows the tension between patriotic and therefore collective loyalty, and the struggle of the individual for survival: those mutually contradictory pressures, which in many ways lie at the heart of war," Beevor observed in the talk.

Although I think the comparison to "The Dirty Dozen" is completely unfair, the rest are good points....  "DD" was a great film, but for totally different reasons than "Ryan."  Apples and oranges.

So what does Beevor prefer in the way of a Hollywood treatment of D-Day? Another project Spielberg had a hand in, "Band of Brothers."

"On the whole I think [it] was pretty close to the truth," Beevor said of the 2001 HBO miniseries, which Spielberg and Tom Hanks executive produced. He called it "incomparably more realistic" than "Saving Private Ryan."

I'd also suggest that given a) There was a true-to-life body of work to pull upon (Ambrose's book) and b) There was 10+ hours of screen time to work with, vs. 3-ish for "Private Ryan"...  yeah,  you're going to get a better picture of what it was like.  You've got room to develop the characters, to follow through with more stories (nay the entire story), and actually get the facts right.  Personally I put the two on about equal footing, two sides of the same coin as it were.

I'd also venture to say that Mr. Beevor might've missed the point of "Ryan" entirely.  "Earn this," Captain Miller said.  There's your point, for all of us.  Metaphor can be a beautiful thing.

And the best war movie? Beevor looks away from Hollywood for his answer: 1965's "The 317th Platoon," a French film set during that country's war in Indochina.

I will have to turn up a copy of "The 317th Platoon" somewhere and give it a go.  Can't say its crossed my radar.  Going off that one line alone, it could prove an interesting viewpoint of a war just ended for the French, and just beginning for the US....

Link: D-Day historian: 'Ryan' not best war film - CNN.com


About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.



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