4K UHD Blu-ray/HD Blu-ray Set Review: ‘Saving Private Ryan: Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition’ (2018)

(C) 1998, 2018 Dreamworks SKG and Paramount

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

On May 8, 2018, Paramount Home Media Distribution released a “Commemorative 20th Anniversary” edition of director Steven Spielberg’s 1998 war film Saving Private Ryan on 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) as part of a multi-format three-disc set that includes the feature film on a HD 1080p Blu-ray disc (BD), a Bonus Features BD with a mix of behind-the-scenes featurettes[1], and a digital copy redeemable at Apple+ TV, Vudu, and another service.

In the Last Great Invasion of the Last Great War, The Greatest Danger for Eight Men was Saving… One. – Tagline for Saving Private Ryan

Written by Robert Rodat (The Patriot, Falling Skies) and loosely based on several incidents that took place during and after the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings, Saving Private Ryan serves as half of an unofficial World War II duology of Steven Spielberg films.  In 1993’s Schindler’s List, Spielberg tried to show the cruelty and barbarism of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich by depicting how one German war profiteer found the moral courage to save 1100 Jews from the Nazis’ “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem,” while in Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg shows how American soldiers – many of whom had never been in combat – fought to liberate German-occupied Europe and, with the help of other Allied nations – contributed to the defeat of Hitler’s armies and ended the Nazi reign of terror that claimed millions of lives from 1939 to 1945.

Seen through the eyes of a squad of U.S. soldiers, the story begins with World War II’s historic D- Day invasion, then moves beyond the beach as the men embark on a dangerous special mission. Captain John Miller must take his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have been killed in combat. Faced with impossible odds, the men question their orders. Why are eight men risking their lives to save just one? Surrounded by the brutal realities of war, each man searches for his own answer – and the strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honor, decency, and courage. – Packaging blurb,  Saving Private Ryan

I reviewed Saving Private Ryan in my original blog, A Certain Point of View a couple of years ago; I stand by that review and don’t see the need to re-review it.

(C) 1998, 2018 Dreamworks SKG and Paramount

The 2018 4K UHD Blu-ray

Tom Hanks as Capt. John Miller

Even though I have Saving Private Ryan in two older disc formats – DVD and Blu-ray – I decided to get the 4K Ultra High Definition 20th Anniversary Commemorative Edition because it is one of the most important and influential films about war and its effects on the soldiers that have to fight – and often die – in order to defend the values that most Americans profess to cherish.

Saving Private Ryan is not a film that I watch often; it is too graphically violent and melancholic to see more than once a year (at most), and even though Spielberg, whose father Arnold served as a radio operator/gunner on B-25 Mitchell bombers in the China-Burma-India theater during the war – asked noted historian Stephen Ambrose as a consultant – it is not a documentary and it is often historically inaccurate.[2]  It gets kudos for getting small details right – such as the ping! sound that is heard when the Rangers’ M1 rifles’ eight-round clips are empty and the “straight-out-of-the-1940s” look of the actors playing the roles of Miller’s squad  – but, in the end, it is a fictional scenario based loosely on the extraction of Private Fritz  Niland from Normandy after the War Department (now the Department of the Army) learned that his three brothers were reported as killed in action (KIA) in two different theaters of World War II. (After the war, the Niland family got a break when one of the “dead” brothers turned up very much alive after being liberated from a Japanese prison camp in Burma.)

A fan-made trailer done in the style of Universal’s 1917, (Note that the creator credits Universal Pictures instead of Paramount and doesn’t use John Williams’ Saving Private Ryan score.

Still, since I finally have a 4K TV and the appropriate Blu-ray player for it set up in my bedroom/study, I bought the UHD edition yesterday from Amazon. I received my three-disc set this morning, and even though I did not watch the entire film, I can say this much about Saving Private Ryan – Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition:

  • The video image of a 4K Blu-ray is four times sharper and more defined than that of a 1080p (full HD) Blu-ray
  • The UHD disc has three English language audio tracks (see Technical Specifications below), as well as audio tracks in Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Japanese
  • The 4K disc also has multiple subtitle options, including English and English SDH. French, Latin American Spanish, Castellano (Spanish from Spain), Italian, and other European languages
  • The 4K disc does not have any extra features; Paramount decided instead to reissue its 2010 Sapphire Series Blu-ray with the feature film and the bonus disc with extras ported over from the 1999 and 2004 DVD releases

The Extra Features in the Bonus Disc are:

An Introduction
Looking Into the Past
Miller and his Platoon
Boot Camp
Making ‘Saving Private Ryan’
Re-Creating Omaha Beach
Music and Sound
Parting Thoughts
Into the Breach: ‘Saving Private Ryan’
Theatrical Trailer
Re-Release Trailer
‘Shooting War’

My Take

Because Saving Private Ryan is one of the best (and visually influential) war films ever made, and because it won so many awards – including five Academy Awards and two Golden Globes – for 1998, I felt compelled to add it to my small collection of 4K UHD Blu-rays. After all, not only am I a World War II buff, but I’m also a fan of Steven Spielberg’s movies.

Although I admit that at the time of this writing I have not watched any of my 4K titles from beginning to end – possibly because I am overly familiar with them – I will say this about the UHD format: it is perhaps the best video format yet designed for home entertainment that I have seen.

The visual clarity, sharpness, and color balance that I saw in the 10 minutes or so that I watched of the Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition of Saving Private Ryan are, in a word, amazing. The image and colors are so clear and sharp – especially in the movie’s 1990s “Present Day” prologue in the American Military Cemetery in Coleville-sur-Mer in Normandy – that you’ll swear that you can touch the actors on your 4K TV.

Of course, the World War II-era scenes look grainy and desaturated in contrast to the 1998-set ones, but that’s entirely by design. Spielberg and his director of photography, Janusz Kaminsnki, decided to make Saving Private Ryan have a gritty, non-glamorous look to avoid making the movie look like another “rah-rah-rah” Hollywood extravaganza. Still, on 4K, the 1944 portions of Saving Private Ryan still have a “you-are-there” visual sensibility that I had not seen on any TV screen before I owned a 4K set.

As for the sound: I don’t have my 4K TV connected to the modest ONN soundbar I already had installed for the older Samsung HDTV I had in my room till we set up the new set earlier this week, so I can’t comment about the Dolby Athmos sound system. But even though I am only using the TV’s speakers, the sound quality is still better than that of a standard definition DVD player or even the older (but still good) Samsung Blu-ray player I was using before I got the UHD 4K Blu-ray one.

On the whole, the Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition of Saving Private Ryan is a worthy addition to my small (but growing) 4K UHD Blu-ray collection. I like the fact that this release is a multi-format edition that includes the bonus features from the Sapphire Series’ 2010 Blu-ray, although I hope that studios will start adding 4K UHD bonus features soon. I’ll give this set four and a half stars out of five.

Technical Specifications for Commemorative 20th Anniversary Edition of Saving Private Ryan:

Video

  • Codec: HEVC / H.265 (52.12 Mbps)
  • Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
  • HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10
  • Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio

  • English: Dolby Atmos
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles

  • English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Discs

  • 4K Ultra HD
  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Three-disc set (1 BD-100, 1 BD-25, 1 BD-50)

Playback

  • 4K Blu-ray: Region free
  • 2K Blu-ray: Region free

[1] The two BDs included in Saving Private Ryan were originally released in 2010 as part of Paramount’s Sapphire Series collection.

[2] For instance, the film shows the 2nd Ranger Battalion company commanded by Hanks’ Capt. John Miller landing on Omaha Beach, which is historically accurate, but the mission to save Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) takes place on the Cotentin Peninsula behind Utah Beach, which – per the film’s own setting of June 6-10, 1944 – was not yet linked by land with the other four invasion beaches. How does Miller’s squad get from Omaha to Utah across German-held territory without incident? The film doesn’t explain that.

                Another mistake is that Rodat and Spielberg pit the Rangers and the 101st Airborne Division against elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division (Das Reich) during the battle for the fictional Norman town of Ramelle. The 2nd SS Panzer did see action in Normandy, but it was nowhere near the invasion area this early in the campaign, nor was it ever deployed so far to the west of the beachhead.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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