100 Greatest Scenes Number 12 – D-Day Beach landing

Views from the Sofa’s 100 Greatest Scenes is a list of the 100 greatest moments in the movies. This could be long introductions, moments of action or great dialogue between characters. The scenes are in no particular order and come from many different types of movies.

One reason that Saving Private Ryan is so effective is how realistic it is. Steven Spielberg holds nothing back, throwing the audience into the action without hesitation or protection. This begins immediately with the staging of one of the bloodiest moments in World War 2: The D-Day landings.

Greatest Scene Number 12: Saving Private Ryan – D-Day Beach landings

The scene starts so effectively, with the trembling hands of Tom Hanks epitomising everything that a man would feel on those boats travelling towards that beach. The way in which the camera then pulls back, focusing on everyone but nobody in particular, taking in people vomiting, others staring blankly ahead while nobody looks prepared for what is about to happen. You can’t help but feel nervous for these men.

When the boat doors do open, nothing prepares the men, or the audience, for the barrage of bullets which rip through the soldiers. It is unrelenting and hammers home how hopeless and terrifying this situation really is.

The scene is gory but necessarily realistic

The camera follows the men over the side of the boat, into the water. The terror doesn’t relent though and the bullets zipping through the water, accompanied by other men drowning from the weight of their packs, just hits the audience as hard as any “traditional” battle scene would.

We follow the men out of the water and the situation becomes no less desperate. The audience is almost the actual character themselves, getting a first-hand point of view shot of how the battle played out. This includes sudden deaths, gory injury and screaming men, all as the soldiers try desperately to get up the beach.

Seeing everything through the eyes of Hank’s Miller seems to add to how effective the scene is

We are soon back to Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller and also a battle standard. It is cliche to see it but here the slow-motion, numbness of sound works effectively. Hanks taking in the horrific environment, from a man screaming in terror to another searching for his own arm. Like everything else in this scene, it is graphic, gory but necessarily realistic.

With no grandstanding or warning, the movie kicks back into gear and the insurmountable odds are highlighted again as Hanks tries to get his men up the beach. It is more of the same but the audience shouldn’t become numb to it. The whole time the graphic depiction of the violence demonstrates how horrific this moment in history really was for these men.

It sets the tone for the rest of the realistic movie

It is such an effective way to open a movie. It sets the tone and standard for the rest of the film, while at the same time introducing the key character by placing him in hell on earth. Watching these men survive this experience (or not) brings the audience closer to the action, wanting to know how their war progresses.

Overall, the D-Day Beach landings are one of the most effective ways to open the World War 2 masterpiece. It is gory, realistic and shockingly graphic. It is unapologetic in it’s depiction of the horrors of war, making the movie so much more engaging but also terrifying, not shying away from placing it’s key characters in a scarily realistic moment from history.

One of the best movie openings

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6 comments

  1. Wise choice. I remember seeing this in theatres and feeling sick – not just because of the graphic violence, but because of the movement, the sweeping camera action. It’s very immersive and it’s rough to watch in more ways than one. You’re right on the money though – it’s a super effecting way to start your movie. It leaves no doubt as to what these men were facing and it throws you right in. Unforgettable.

    • It’s never made me feel sick or physically uncomfortable It has made me realise how scary the event was though and how ill-equipped I would be to cope.

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