Well, it’s (just about) June 6th.
On this day 65 years ago the allied expeditionary force led by General Dwight Eisenhower landed on the beaches of Normandy in France and proceeded to overtake the German fortified coastline and open a passageway that would lead the allies to ultimate victory in the European theater of World War II… in other words: we pwned the Nazis.
Known as D-Day, this event has come to symbolize the allied efforts in Europe during WWII and has been dissected, reproduced and romanticized in every possible form of media. It is especially spotlighted in the opening sequence of one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest accomplishments: Saving Private Ryan (1998).
America’s premiere director brought that battle to the screen with such brutal honesty it led to veterans walking out of the theater, not being able to handle what felt like actually reliving the war. It was that powerful.
The entire film is an undisputed masterpiece. The cinema had never seen a war movie quite like it before, and any that have come after are considered clones. This is the original.
So on this anniversary of D-Day, I’d like to take the time to discuss what I consider one of the best films ever made by asking myself a question and then proceeding to provide multiple answers. Enjoy:
Q: So, just how good is Saving Private Ryan?
A1: Well, Saving Private Ryan is so good…
… that the FCC doesn’t even censor it. After the movie aired, unedited, on Veteran’s day, the FCC got complaints about it and had to rule on whether the ABC affiliates who aired it had broke indecency standards by doing so. The complaints they cite include:
Following the November 11, 2004, broadcast, the Commission received the complaints, alleging that the aired film contains indecent or otherwise actionable material. The Complainants generally cite, among other things, film dialogue containing expletives including: “fuck,” and variations thereof; “shit,” “bullshit,” and variations thereof; “bastard,” and “hell.” In addition, the Complainants cite the presence in the film of other allegedly offensive language, such as “Jesus,” and “God damn.” They also object to the film’s graphic depiction of wartime violence. Accordingly, the Complainants argue that the ABC Network Stations should be sanctioned for airing material that violates federal indecency and profanity restrictions.
Know how the FCC responded?
The subject matter of the film, the portrayal of a mission to save the last surviving son of an Iowa farm family, involves events that occurred during World War II. As stated in the introduction to the broadcast, in relating this story, the motion picture realistically depicts the fierce combat during the Normandy invasion, including, according to a veteran who participated in and witnessed these events, “things that no one should ever have to see.” Essential to the ability of the filmmaker to convey to viewers the extraordinary conditions in which the soldiers conducted themselves with courage and skill are the reactions of these ordinary Americans to the barbaric situations in which they were placed. The expletives uttered by these men as these events unfold realistically reflect the soldiers’ strong human reactions to, and, often, revulsion at, those unspeakable conditions and the peril in which they find themselves. Thus, in context, the dialogue, including the complained-of material, is neither gratuitous nor in any way intended or used to pander, titillate or shock. Indeed, it is integral to the film’s objective of conveying the horrors of war through the eyes of these soldiers, ordinary Americans placed in extraordinary situations. Deleting all of such language or inserting milder language or bleeping sounds into the film would have altered the nature of the artistic work and diminished the power, realism and immediacy of the film experience for viewers. In short, the vulgar language here was not gratuitous and could not have been deleted without materially altering the broadcast.
And another member of the committee added:
This film is a critically acclaimed artwork that tells a gritty story one of bloody battles and supreme heroism. The horror of war and the enormous personal sacrifice it draws on cannot be painted in airy pastels. The true colors are muddy brown and fire red and any accurate depiction of this significant historical tale could not be told properly without bringing that sense to the screen. It is for these reasons that the FCC has previously declined to rule this film indecent.
If you didn’t feel like reading all of that (which you should, it’s fascinating) I’ll translate: “This movie is too good to change or censor.”
You think they make these exceptions for The Thin Red Line? or Platoon? No. And you wanna know why? They aren’t as good. Period.
A2: Saving Private Ryan is so good…
…that it always runs virtually commercial free. This has a lot to do with the previous answer. The movie is just too good to cut up and sell ad space during. It would be inappropriate to stop in the middle of this depiction of heroism only to try and sell some Volkswagens.
A3: Saving Private Ryan is so good…
… that every video game about World War II that came out after blatantly rips it off. And there are not a small number of them. Let’s list just a few, shall we? Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (and every other MoH), Every Call of Duty (except 4), Day of Defeat, Company of Heroes, Brothers in Arms, Battlefield 1942, et al.
A4: Saving Private Ryan is so good…
… that when you remind people it didn’t win Best Picture, they stare at you incredulously. Spielberg got Best Director, true, but the film itself did not go home with the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences‘ biggest prize. And what did, you ask?
… Shakespeare in Love …
Nope, not kidding you. That really happened. It still baffles me to the point where all I can do now is try to laugh about it. But it is hard to laugh about such a travesty.
So, if you haven’t seen it in a while, I urge you to go back and watch SPR on this anniversary of D-Day and give thanks to the brave men and women depicted on screen fighting for the lives we now live.