Among the movies that were released and made it big at the box-office in 1998 were the Armageddon and Saving Private Ryan. Although the first is a science-fiction and the second is a war movie, making their presentation of the use of film technology different, both films are pictures of totally predictable elements – loud noises and frequent explosions. The two movies both presented battle scenes – against the asteroid in Armageddon while it is a battle among soldiers in Saving Private Ryan. Best remembered from the two films were the elements of sparks, noise, vibrations, shouting, running, screaming, fighting, fire, tremors, crashes and collisions. The difference in their cinematography and editing aspects depicted the use of their own film techniques and technology.
Saving Private Ryan has Tom Hanks and Matt Damon as the main actors. The Steven Spielberg war film told about the character of James Ryan (Damon), who has parachuted into France during the Allied invasion of Europe, has just lost three brothers in combat. Government policy dictates that he should return home lest his family be deprived of its entire male offspring. A team of soldiers, led by Captain John Miller (Hanks) and fresh from the beaches of Normandy, is assembled to find and save Private Ryan.
The use of film techniques was manifested with the way how Spielberg and his crew recreated the arrival of Allied forces at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, by using water-level and then ground-level handheld cameras during a 24-minute sequence of especially graphic carnage. McKenzie noted the use of seamless SFX and advanced film-making techniques, the terrors of battle massacre are splattered onscreen. The viewing public find themselves totally absorbed in the war horror, “with the dizzying and expert use of a variety of techniques, including hand-held cameras, the speeding up of the often unrelated images, frantic editing, and varying film stock. Spielberg’s gifted Oscar-winning cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski brought a compelling war-newsreel look to a lot of the images” (McKenzie, 2005).
Another technique is when the film started off with the title Saving Private Ryan. It started off like this to show the title of the film and show what the film is going to be about. In some films they show a bit of the film and then show the title. But Spielberg didn’t want to do this. This showed the film might be really exciting and interesting to watch. The Saving Private Ryan title was written in white lettering against a black background. The black background symbolizes the people who died in the war while the white lettering symbolizes those soldiers who fought in the war and emerged as winners.
Cinematographer Kaminski employed many different techniques during filming to set the mood of a given scene. During the opening sequence, for example, the film is overexposed a bit to give a sense of a documentary-like feel to the scenes. The camera work is often hand held and jerky too, heightening the sense of realism during the scene. But the disc handles all this easily and is a testament to the work being done by the folks over at DreamWorks.
Saving Private Ryan is nothing but a demonstration of cinematographic skills in a totally inappropriate context. Why does film documentary style, with a shoulder-held camera to capture the chaos, yet so formally stage the scenes and with bodies perfectly falling into full frame, dying perfect deaths? This is because everything onscreen told the audience what came first in the making of the movie: more than the war, its aesthetics possibilities.
In Schlosser’s review, Spielberg and his skilled band of technicians studied the photo archives and documentaries very carefully. Then they carefully re-created the settings, the shootings, the sounds and furies. And on the seventh day, they decided to superimpose some silhouettes (Schlosser, 2000).
The science-fiction film Armageddon, which top-billed Bruce Willis and directed by Michael Bay, started when the space shuttle is destroyed in outer space and NASA astronomers discovered that a meteor shower is pelting away at earth and that a huge asteroid, the size of Texas and capable of destroying the planet is headed for a direct hit with the planet. With all options too fantastic to implement before collision, NASA decides to recruit the world’s best deep core drilling team (oil drillers) to land on the asteroid, drill a hole, drop a nuclear bomb into the hole, then take off and remotely detonate the bomb.
For the drill team, they select Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his crew that includes tough guy-softie Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan), brilliant smart-ass Rockhound (Steve Buschemi), A.J. (Ben Affleck) the overeager fiancé of his independent daughter (Liv Tyler), and spacy Oscar (Owen Wilson). It’s a race against time to get the drillers trained, land them on the asteroid and get the hole drilled before earth is destroyed.
Aside from the futuristic aspect of the movie, its other strong points are editing and cinematography. From sweeps around the NASA conference room to quick close-ups, from split-second backgrounds to the simulated, striking aerial view of the double launch, the camera work told the story with stylistic, often frenetic motion.
The film’s use of advance technology saved the script which was the result of the well-shot but terribly clichéd montages, many showing Bay’s vision of a type of classic America, people listening to news of the coming catastrophe, gathered in a Mayberry-like barber shop or sitting in vintage pickups, near American flags and farmhouses. Another technique evidence is the one shot of a group of boys who even runs past a clapboard store sporting a faded campaign mural of JFK.
Bay directed this stuff with a sure hand and a lot of slow motion effects. His visuals are actually quite amazing, including the spectacular lift-off of the two shuttles. Side-by-side, the image is from far away, as the spaceships race off, leaving a trail of smoke behind. Bay is a good director for color pictures, using oranges and yellows effectively. The cinematography is excellent, and the editing is fast-paced. The special effects are top-notch, blowing away anything seen in that other comet film. The opening sequence is one of the best moments in the film, and one shocking moment occurs when a meteor plows into a city and you see it completely wiped out from the top of Notre Dame.
The work by Blue Sky|VIFX for the opening shot ARMAGEDDON is brilliant. In a single shot, asteroids pummel the earth, creating huge fireballs that envelop the camera, wiping on the film’s main title graphic. The camera swoops by the earth, revealing the massive destruction of the meteor shower, allowing the audience to fully examine the effect of this disaster. Geological inaccuracies aside, the shot is quite memorable. Explosion elements seem in scale, and the slow camera movement is quite bold–all in all, an exciting prelude for things to come.
The two films used the theme of human sacrifice. For Saving Private Ryan, it was the sacrifice of a team of soldiers for a single human being while Willis’ sacrifice in Armageddon was in order to save the world and all the people living in it. Although set in different societies – a community torn in war and a world face with asteroid, both showed the importance of having to sacrifice and even to be killed just to save either one person or mankind. Saving Private Ryan pictured that in a war-torn society, the soldiers are destined to sacrifice their lives notwithstanding if these are for the sake of only one or many people.
Armageddon was also a manifestation of giving up a life but this time to save not only one single human but the whole mankind. The two movies told the lesson of a society of such human beings are worth sacrificing for and that it is only through the value of each and every human being that a society achieves value itself.
The audience who liked these two films is assumed to be of giving value to human life. Although different in genres, the audiences were moved that the film gave credit not just to the technology and techniques used but more so of the theme and lesson behind the aesthetics of the films.
McKenzie, Edward (2005). Saving Private Ryan (World War II Collection) (1998).
Schlosser, Eric. (January 2000). On Saving Private Ryan. Bright Lights Film Journal, Issue 27. Retrieved January 11, 2008 from http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/27/savingprivateryan.html