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There is arguably no name more synonymous with blockbuster filmmaking than Steven Spielberg. The Ready Player One director has continuously set the standard for spectacle over the course of his lengthy career, with films like Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark all representing standout moments in an already stellar filmography. Then there's his 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan, which is in a league of its own. In fact, I'm here today to tell you that Saving Private Ryan isn't just a good Spielberg film; it's his best.
Right off the bat, it needs to be said that there are essentially two different types of Steven Spielberg movie in Hollywood: the family-friendly adventure and the hard-hitting, gritty drama. For the sake of reference, the Indiana Jones franchise represents the former, while films like Munich and Schindler's List represent the latter. That said, Saving Private Ryan arguably stands out for having the most full-bodied emotional experience of any Spielberg movie. Yes, the film ultimately provides a visceral, bloody and downright nasty depiction of war, but it's also full of lighthearted humor, gut-wrenching death scenes, and sequences of genuine brotherly bonding between the main cast of soldiers on their quest to find Private James Ryan.
That also doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the film's status as a technical marvel. In fact, twenty years after its initial theatrical debut, the Normandy invasion scene arguably remains the benchmark for modern war films. If you need a refresher course in how good it truly is, check it out, below.
That scene hit theaters back in 1998, and it still feels like the gold-standard for war movie filmmaking. From the sound design and the realistic performances to the unflinching depiction of brutality and Spielberg's sheer ability to maintain a coherent sense of logic amid all of the chaos, Saving Private Ryan's opening battle remains a masterclass in action filmmaking and dramatic storytelling. Then, things only get more complicated and intricate from there as the filmmaking legend weaves a history lesson, non-stop action and character-driven drama together into one cohesive narrative from start to finish.
Now, some of you obviously will argue that Steven Spielberg has delivered similarly-intricate adventures in other projects. That's not an incorrect assessment of his work. However, Saving Private Ryan stands out among the pack for Spielberg's ability to balance genuine authenticity with a level of scope that's rare to see without an abundance of CGI backing it up.
Such a legacy can also be seen when looking at most forms of World War II pop culture that have debuted in the years since Saving Private Ryan initially premiered. Look at almost any World War II video game that features a D-Day invasion sequence; the chances are that you will find at least one element from that gameplay that mirrors a moment crafted by Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan.
You don't believe me? Check out the following clip to see how the aforementioned D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan lines up with the depiction seen in 2002's Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.
You might be asking what the point of this comparison is right now. Well, it's important to note these similarities because it shows how much a Steven Spielberg movie has colored the overall pop culture perception of one of the most iconic battles in human history.
However, despite the sheer scope and scale of the film, Saving Private Ryan never loses sight of the personal nature of its story. While some contemporary war movies can get bogged down in the spectacle of their narratives (see: Dunkirk), Saving Private Ryan consistently circles back to the inner lives of its characters and their desire to get away from the war after the completion of their mission.
You've seen the battle scenes, but to hammer that last point home, you need to re-watch Tom Hanks' famous monologue scene as well. Check it out, below.
Of course, that's my take. What's yours? Do you think Saving Private Ryan is the best Steven Spielberg movie ever made, or do you think another entry in his filmography holds that honor? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and make sure to check out Spielberg's latest directorial effort with Ready Player One, which is now in theaters.