Music Album Review: ‘Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition’

(C) 1998, 2018 Dreamworks Records/Geffen Records/Amblin Entertainment/Universal Music Group

In 2018, La-La Land Records released Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition, a commemorative – and slightly updated – reissue of John Williams’ 1998 soundtrack featuring most of his score for Steven Spielberg’s widely-acclaimed World War II drama set amidst the backdrop of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings and the first week of the Allied campaign to liberate France from its Nazi occupiers.

Produced by soundtrack specialist Mike Matessino and made with the cooperation of Dreamworks SKG and Universal Music Group – the successor company to Dreamworks Records – Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition had a production run of only 4000 units and consists of one compact disc, new artwork approved by Dreamworks, and a booklet of new liner notes by Matessino that features an interview with composer/conductor John Williams.

My first reaction to the film was, and remains, extremely strong. I think it’s one of the most moving films that Steven has done. We intentionally used music sparingly in the film. The battle scenes were done in such a realistic way, with the sounds of the tanks and the guns recreated so accurately. By reserving music for the quieter scenes, it was better able to support the emotional center of the film. – John Williams, on his approach to the score for Saving Private Ryan

Although Williams had composed scores for films set during World War II – Matessino points out in his liner notes that None But the Brave (the only film Frank Sinatra directed in his long career in Hollywood) was one of the composer’s 1960s film scoring assignments – most of them feature “traditional” martial compositions, including the marches for Jack Smight’s Midway (1976) and Spielberg’s WWII-set comedy 1941 (1979).

As Matessino states in Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition’s liner notes, “Ryan is unlike any of them, a testament to the composer’s versality as well as to the evolving scope of projects that he and Spielberg have enjoyed.

My first reaction to the film was, and remains, extremely strong. I think it’s one of the most moving films that Steven has done.

John Williams

The Album

La-La Land Records, Paramount Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures, Universal Music Special Markets and Amblin Entertainment proudly present the 20th Anniversary Limited Edition CD reissue of John Williams’ Academy Award Nominated original score to the 1998 feature film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, directed by Steven Spielberg (who received an Oscar for helming) and starring Tom Hanks, Edward Burns and Matt Damon. One of the renowned composer’s finest works, Mr. Williams’ powerful orchestral score is a deeply affecting memorial to all who gave the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day. The composer’s masterwork finds perfect pitch throughout this landmark film, whether underscoring the horrors of war or the emotional and unbreakable bonds of brotherhood forged within its fury.

Reissue Producer Mike Matessino sourced this release from the original album master (and provided slight cleanup). Approved by both the composer and the director, the presentation features two “film version” tracks containing material that were not included on the original album. (These revised cues derive from Shawn Murphy’s original digital mix files). This special release features exclusive, all-new liner notes by Matessino and brand new art design by Jim Titus. Product description in La-La Land Records’ website

Considering that Maestro Williams and director Steven Spielberg – both of whom approved this 20th Anniversary reissue – consciously decided not to make Saving Private Ryan as a “Hollywood extravaganza” with stereotypical militaristic marches or exciting “action cues” like those heard in a film like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the score for the 1998 film is not a long one. As a result, the Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition album is not a multi-CD set with the expanded version of the soundtrack on one or two discs, and the original version on another like La-La Land’s 2019 Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition.

Instead, Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition is a remastered and only slightly expanded version of the 1998 Saving Private Ryan: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album.

Here are the 12 tracks in Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition:

1Hymn to the Fallen6:10
2Revisiting Normandy4:06
3Omaha Beach9:15
4Finding Private Ryan4:37
5Approaching the Enemy4:31
6Defense Preparations5:54
7Wade’s Death4:30
8High School Teacher11:03
9The Last Battle7:57
10Hymn to the Fallen (Reprise)6:10
Additional Music
11High School Teacher (Film Version)4:31
12The Last Battle (Film Version)8:02

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My Take

We intentionally used music sparingly in the film. The battle scenes were done in such a realistic way, with the sounds of the tanks and the guns recreated so accurately. By reserving music for the quieter scenes, it was better able to support the emotional center of the film.

John Williams

As I wrote in my review of the 1998 Saving Private Ryan: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack album, this is an atypically sparse and elegaic score for a Steven Spielberg film:

Williams’ Grammy-winning score, in brief, is a beautiful if rather somber conglomeration of long, reflective cues that highlight the humanity of the film’s cast of characters, as well as the tragic toll that the war – like all wars before and since World War II – takes on those people who are caught in its violent maelstrom. As such, this is a showcase of Maestro Williams’ keen understanding of music, its emotional resonance, and the powerful effect it has on how the audience reacts to the moving image.  Saving Private Ryan: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is one of those Williams/Spielberg soundtracks that need to be heard with closed eyes and an open heart. It is lyrical and sorrowful, and it is a fitting musical memorial to those who gave their lives so that countless millions would live in freedom.

Because this album only adds the film version of High School Teacher and The Last Battle and not much else – as far as musical content goes, anyway – I actually put off buying Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition for a year. I have limited storage space in my small bedroom – which is also my study and “mancave” – so when I get these limited edition reissues, I usually like to get expanded editions that come not just with a booklet of liner notes and a couple of additional tracks.

I made an exception for Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition for two reasons. First, my 1998 CD is now 23 years old, and while the disc itself is in good shape, the original jewel box is long gone and the insert with the album cover, Steven Spielberg’s short essay about the music, and the track list is rather beat up and dogeared.

Second, I’m a fan of albums with liner notes, essays about the movies and their scores, and interviews with the composers, whenever possible. Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition may not have a hugely expanded soundtrack, but it does have an informative and entertaining booklet written by Mike Matessino, whose work I’ve admired since I bought the Special Edition soundtracks of the original Star Wars Trilogy back in 1997.

As of February 2021, La-La Land Records still has some units of Saving Private Ryan: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition (only 4000 CDs were pressed for this reissue), so if you are interested in getting a copy, you should go to the La-La Land website and check it out.

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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