Saving Private Ryan and Munich

            Saving Private Ryan and Munich, each directed by Steven Spielberg, are significant movies because of the various styles that they incorporate - Saving Private Ryan and Munich introduction. The book The Art of Watching Films, by Joseph M. Boggs and Dennis W. Petrie, tells about many of these different styles and also shows why they are significant to filmmaking. Plot structure, characterization, symbolism, and hand-held cameras are very important to a director’s style and Spielberg uses each of these things in both of these films. While the two films are not identical with their styles, they are very similar, which shows that Spielberg does in fact have a style of his own.

            Saving Private Ryan has a non-linear plot structure which is effective for a number of reasons. Since “dramatic structure can be linear or nonlinear, depending upon the author’s needs and wishes” (Boggs and Petrie 52), Spielberg’s use of flashback is effective in this film. In one particular scene, near the beginning of the film, Tom Hanks, who plays Captain Miller, is shown on a beach. This is effective because it also looks into the eyes of an old man, who is later shown to be Private Ryan, and then pans to the viewpoint of Captain Miller. Throughout this entire time, the viewer if left wondering what the significance of the old man is.

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            Saving Private Ryan is a movie that lack characterization, which is mostly because the film is a war film and they generally do not have much character development because of all the action that is transpiring. This film is more about re-creating the events that take place during a war, than learning about the individuals who are fighting in it. That being said, the viewer is able to decipher much about a number of characters right from the beginning. For starters, the casting of Tom Hanks gives his character a softer feel than most soldiers would generally have. Even though he is an effective character, Hanks’ casting automatically makes the character a sympathetic one and adds to the dynamics of it since “the minute we see most actors on the screen, we make certain assumptions about them because of their facial features, dress, physical build, and mannerisms” (Boggs and Petrie 59). Corporal Upham is a character who immediately does not inspire the same sympathetic qualities that Hanks does, which makes him very unsympathetic right away. Even though it was an honest mistake on his part, he furthers this notion by talking the rest of the platoon into not killing the final German troop who they have captured. This ends up backfiring on the platoon, as this prisoner ends up causing them great problems in the future.

            Much of this film centers around certain ethical issues that are symbolic of what goes on in every platoon during every war. First of all, the issue of whether or not it is proper to risk the lives of eight members of a platoon in order to save one single soldier from wherever he is in the country. This debate runs throughout the film as these eight men are sent to find Private Ryan, even though they have never met him, because the rest of his family has been killed in the war and they wish to save his mother from dealing with losing her entire family. This also brings up two other ethical issues that they must consider the damage that may happen to his own platoon should Private Ryan be removed from it. Since every solider has a job to do, it is important that the platoon not be short-staffed, so the question is raised of whether or not it is ethical to leave the platoon undermanned in order to get one of its members home prematurely.

An effective use of camera in this film occurs when a hand-held camera is utilized. It is also stripped of its protective lens coatings which gives the film the look of a war film from the 1940s. By doing this, Spielberg is able to create a very realistic viewpoint for the viewer. Hand-held cameras give the film “the feel of a documentary or newsreel. The hand-held camera, jerkiness and all, is especially effective in filming violent action scenes” (Boggs and Petrie 149). This is a very good use of equipment because it feels as though the camera is moving along with the action, which gives the viewer the feeling of moving right along with it. This is a very good technique for action films and particularly actions films that wish to incorporate some sort of realism into them. This realism can be difficult to accomplish, but Saving Private Ryan is able to do so effectively.  This realism gives the film a very war-like feel that is not present in a number of other war movies.

            Munich, on the other hand, takes a much different approach with its plot structure, as the film has overlapping story lines, which include dozens of different characters who are each faced with different problems. Unfortunately, there is too much going on in this film to completely understand the plot. The stories do not fit together all that well, which makes interpretation of this film difficult. These stories do not seem to lead into each other very well, nor does the end up the film provide any sort of conclusion to why the film was put together in this manner. This film is more like a jumbled account of history than a movie that is supposed to captivate this viewer and cause everything to meet up in the end. This causes major problems over the course of this film, as nothing adds up. Combine this with the fact that very little of the plot has to do with the Olympic Games in Munich and the viewer is very confused about what this movie was trying to accomplish.

            As far as characterization goes, Munich focused mainly on the characterization of Avner, and he is characterized in a manner that is flattering to Spielberg’s agenda. Spielberg is a person of Jewish descent and this film portrays him in a very positive fashion. It mostly focused on the positives attributes that he has, as he is an Israeli man whose job it is to hunt down any terrorists who he believes will do his country harm. This, however, leads to the question of what is acceptable to do to these terrorists, as they are human beings too. Therefore, Spielberg does portray Avner as a man who does not take delight in doing his job, but rather sees it as something that has to be done in order to protect his people. He, like Spielberg, wishes that violence did not have to be used to ensure this, but also realizes that it is necessary in this particular situation. By portraying Avner as a conflicted character, Spielberg automatically makes him sympathetic, which also makes the Israeli condition sympathetic.

            The symbolic factors in this film center around the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Since this film is about the aftermath of the killing of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972, it has to incorporate much about why this happened and what was done about it. These problems have been prevalent throughout history, but more so since the end of the Second World War when Jewish people were integrated back into Israel, which had been inhabited by Palestinians for a very long time. The purpose of this was to give Jewish people a homeland but it led to many more problems than it solved, such as the events in this film. There are also many different symbols of home and family that occur during this film, which show what Spielberg wishes would happen in the region: A safe place for families to live. The humanization of the characters in this movie is also symbolic of the real people who have to endure this type of terror on a daily basis.

            The camera work in this film is similar to Saving Private Ryan as it uses hand-held cameras to give the illusion of movement to the viewer. Where Munich is more effective with the camera work is with its use of quick camera zooms. These camera zooms are also very good at creating a documentary-type of feel to them because the transition from a far away shot to a zoom shot is somewhat rough, as it would be on a home video camera. Use of hand-held cameras is a growing trend in Hollywood and Spielberg seems to like to use it in his pictures. They add to the realism in his films, which is always a good thing when attempting to depict real events, such as he did in this movie. In a film that is not only about some horrific events that happened in the past, but also about problems that continue to plague the world, realism is important in order to make the audience feel what is happening, rather than passing it off as just another movie. Films like this need realism to be effective and hand-held cameras provide this.

            Each of these films has a number of similarities that show the director’s style. For starters, each of them has a plot structure that is mostly linear, although he does use flashbacks at various points to explain certain events that have happened. Secondly, they both are somewhat short on characterization, choosing instead to focus on the events that are occurring and not developing the characters all that thoroughly.  This is because both of these films are based on historical events, so the events become more important than the fictional characters who are involved, as they are just used as a vehicle to telling the story. Thirdly, both of these movies have symbolic aspects that add to the overall appeal of them, since the symbols relate to very real problems in the world. Lastly, which may be Spielberg’s best traits, is the use of hand-held cameras. These hand-held cameras create a very real atmosphere for these action movies, which is especially significant because both of them are attempting to portray real events. Using this realism is very significant to Spielberg’s work and he deserves to be recognized for making it a part of his filmmaking on a regular basis.


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