How the Directors of ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ make the opening sequence of their films appeal to an audience? Essay
This assignment that I am writing is to compare both of the opening sequences of ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Throughout my essay, I will be considering location, characterisation, dialogue, sound effects, symbolism and camera work, but firstly, we need to know what the key ingredients are that need to be used by a Director to make a powerful opening. From my point of view, I think that a good film needs a variety of things – suspense, action, comedy and romance. It also needs a good plot from start to finish. If a Director can utilise these features, then the film is sure to be able to captivate the audience.
I will proceed to tell you about the story of both films. The Gladiator ‘Gladiator’ was produced in 2000 and was directed by Ridley Scott. The story is about a Roman General by the name of ‘Maximus’. Maximus is adored by the people and especially the ageing Emperor, ‘Marcus Auerlis’. Before the death of the Emperor, Marcus Auerlis claims Maximus to be the new heir over his son – Commodus, which then leaves Maximus and his family condemned to death. Unable to save his family, he is put into the ‘Gladiator games’ – hence the title ‘Gladiator’.
Maximus now only wants to look into the eyes of the man that will feel his revenge. During the opening sequence of ‘Gladiator’, you see the middle part of Maximus’ body as he is walking through a cornfield. He stretches out his arm, and runs his fingers through the corn and you hear the distant shouts from children. Soon after, the pace of action quickens and you see Maximus talking to herds of people. He was a leader and everyone obeyed him. Horses and men come, wearing armour and holding weapons – that’s when I first realised battle was about to break out.
There is not much dialogue in the first ten minutes of the film, but whilst Maximus is talking to the herds of men, you hear the following phrases:- “Will they fight sir? “, “Unleash hell” and “strength and honour”. ‘Strength and honour’ shows us that they were prepared for battle and wouldn’t give up. Whilst Maximus is speaking to the Romans, a panning shot shows many men with horses, then as Maximus gives orders, a close-up shot shows the strength and determination in his face. Soon after, mid-shots show a group of men riding on horses – ready to fight.
I think that the camera work in this film was excellent and the close-ups, mid-shots and panning shots show determination of the battle about to begin. After the speech of Maximus, the pace of action turns very quickly into the battle – men being stabbed, screams as flame throwers, arrows, axes, swords and cannons penetrate through their bodies. Men dying everywhere and the panning shot that shows this is brilliant. In this camera angle you see how many people were injured and dying – if not already dead. Long shots show the dead on the ground – blood and bodies everywhere. You see the fright in the horses’ movements and screams for help.
Not only were there horses in the film, but at one particular moment, a dog runs in from nowhere and sinks his teeth into the leg of a man who is fighting against Maximus and his people. During the opening credits of the film, the music is very nostalgic and slow, then it fades as Maximus walks through the corn and gives his speech. As soon as battle breaks loose, the temper quickens and creates a lot of suspense in the beginning. At the end of the battle, everything turns into slow motion and a brilliant mid-shot shows a few men fighting and then you hear a panting noise – the breathing of a man who is in pain and suffering.
Shortly after, a close-up shows the face of an old man who was indeed the Emperor – Marcus Auerilis. My first impression of this particular point in the film, shows that it was a memory. A memory of Maximus in his home land – a farm – with a cornfield. You immediately notice the cornfield because of it’s rich golden, yellow colour. This is very distinctive. At the opening credits, there are rich colours – red and black with a white mist swirling through. Whilst the battle occurs, the scene is set with dark and dull colours – black, grey and blue. These colours represent hatred and war.
These colours match the setting and neatly set the opening. Saving Private Ryan ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was directed by Steven Spielberg in 1998. The film is about three brothers who were killed during World War Two, fighting against the Nazi empire on June 6th 1944. The mother of those sons is due for a death letter from the army later that day, but shortly before, the army discover that there were actually four brothers. They then set out on a mission to find the other brother by the name of ‘Private James Ryan’ and send him home, but they are unsure whether he is dead, or alive behind enemy lines.
At the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, you see the American flag. The colour is faded and this proves that it is old and had been kept in that place since the war started. Personally, I believe that this shows American patriotism. A few moments after, an old man is seen walking down the street with his family not far behind. This man quickens his walking pace and shortly after, he enters a cemetery. You are then able to see all the grave stones in the distance (panning shot). The angle shown, shows you all the people who died to save their country.
This moment made a big impact on me and suggested to me, American patriotism. It was amazing to see how many lives were lost during the war. After this panning shot, the man walks up to one particular grave stone and falls to the ground in tears. His family rush up behind him and offer their support. There isn’t any dialogue at the very opening – only American style music. You hear this as soon as you see the flag and the music was funerial and military like and I sensed achievement and proudness, then it fades.
You can only hear the man’s footsteps as he is walking to the cemetery, but at the specific moment when he breaks down into tears at the grave stone, you hear a woman saying “Dad? ” The pace of action quickens, then you hear the crashing of waves hitting boats. Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks is shown – nervous and petrified. The camera shows his hand trembling to reach his water bottle which was a brilliant way to show emotion. There isn’t any music at this point in the movie, but you do hear a soldier being sick.
You hear an officer bellowing out orders and then you see a mid-shot of the landing craft creeping up the shore. Everything is silent until you hear the sound of bullets soaring through the air, then penetrating through several bodies. Grenades, flame throwers, machine guns and rifles are heard and you then see close-up shots of soldiers flying off the boats with injuries – many of them dead before hitting the water. Other soldiers dived off into the water, trying to escape, but they had trouble trying to remove their uniforms.
Their uniforms and bags must have been very heavy and some drowned in the process of trying to remove their gear. Some soldiers were shot in the water and all you can hear is the sound of men gasping for air under water. Suddenly, the water that was a blue colour, turned into a dark, rich red – an indication of how much blood was lost from many injured and dead soldiers. After seeing mid-shots of soldiers, lying all over Omaha Beach in Normandy, North of France, you then see close-ups of wounded men with body parts strewn all over the beach.
Suddenly, you have a very big close-up of Captain Miller’s face and everything changes into slow motion. The camera then moves round to focus on people at war, as if the audience is watching it from Captain Miller’s eyes. All music is droned out at this point, but you can hear the hard breathing and panting of Captain Miller. Personally, from the ten minutes I saw of ‘Saving Private Ryan’, I think that the old man at the cemetery, looking upon the dozens of grave stones, was simply remembering the war as it was then.
I haven’t watched all of the film, so I can’t be sure whether I am correct or not, but from the opening part that I have seen, that is the impression that it gave me. The opening of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was set in Normandy, in the northern part of France. They used Omaha Beach to show people where it was that many died for the love of their country. The similarities between Russel Crowe who played the Gladiator and Tom Hanks who played Captain Miller, is that they both played leadership roles.
Both of these characters made sure that they were obeyed by others and both did good jobs as being leaders. The differences between the two characters and the films is that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was based on true events that actually occurred during World War Two. The Gladiator wasn’t based upon real events and was fictional. Maximus, a Roman General, was a warrior, a leader of men and a brilliant tactician. He is different, compared to Captain Miller, because Tom Hanks plays a leader of a platoon, and officer and a very wise man who fought in war – Maximus, a General, fought in battles.
In conclusion, I can see that Steven Spielberg is the most successful Director because he engaged me into the film by using true facts and plenty of action. For me, he created suspense and sadness for the characters and their country. When I watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’, it really showed me what life must have been like during WW2 and how many lives were lost trying to save their country. I really enjoyed the openings of both films, but I must say that the opening of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ appealed the most to me. I was really drawn to the film and thoroughly enjoyed it.