Saving Private Ryan and Sound

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Since the beginning of narrative cinema war films have been created. There have been a countless number of films produced about the Second World War. Certain philosophies have been integrated into the war film as trends have moved into showing the truth about war and not the glorified and exciting action adventures of past decades. Saving Private Ryan (1998), directed by Steven Spielberg has possibly made the most impact out of any war film. Gary Rydstrom created the sound for the film and won an Academy Award for best sound and best sound editing. The sound that was created and used in Saving Private Ryan created authenticity by using realistic sound, narrative and dialogue.

Sound in particular has been influenced in numerous ways, and primarily naturalistic in sound design. Attention has been paid to the qualities of the sound of battle; gunfire, explosions, ricochets. It is key for the sound design of Saving Private Ryan to aim for sound to be as realistic as possible using various forms of reality and point-of-view. The search for authenticity was found in the sound of guns being fired since Rydstrom used recordings of the same guns used at Omaha back in 1944. A hell of a war is really like is what Saving Private Ryan portrays. War is not exciting or fun; it is the most horrifying place to be. From the film it is also evident that Spielberg knows all this, so Saving Private Ryan plays out like a documentary, but it is not one.

Sound in war films are fairly straightforward, therefore films share a variety of sound trademarks: gunfire and explosions being the primary ones. “In the early years of film, sound effects libraries were devised to hold a catalogue of sounds, engineers could quickly draw upon” (Palmer). The sounds of gunfire and ricochets have been re-used and recycled for decades in hundreds of films. The biggest problem with discussing realistic sound in a war film is one of authenticity. Gary Rydstrom has never seen combat, so how did he know what war sounds like? He has heard what war can sound like from researching through other films. Listening to recording made of combat is very useful to create the correct sound design for a battle sequence. It is evident that Rydstrom has avoided another sound cliché in the battle atmos; he did not use the “movie bombardments” he just used boom. He “wanted gunshots to whiz around the audience, to pull [them] up into the battle” (Daly). Every battle will have a different sound to it, unless one was present at Omaha in 1944 it is very difficult to say that the choreography is authentic. A problem with Rydstrom’s research is that a recording made during the 1940s will not be of high fidelity compared to today’s standards. This low quality recording can go against his aim to producing sounds of authentic timbre. To help in Rydstrom’s search of authenticity, “he used the Internet to locate caches of working weaponry and equipment all over the country, then traveled to record them” (Daly). Rydstrom managed to record authentic weapon sounds, and now it can be easily concluded that the timbres of sound in the film are completely authentic. Other factors such as narrative and the film’s intentions have also had a say in how the sound is arranged. Perhaps the sound behaves in a completely unrealistic manner. Towards the end of the film, Private Mellish breaks down in tears after the main portion of the fighting is over. The sound concentrates on his weeping while most of the sounds of battle have all but disappeared. A gentle atmos of distance gunfire is still heard, but the audience’s attention has been focused on the tender moment of a man crying. In this short scene, the audience could be expected to feel the emotion of how horrendous it is to experience war. The sound works to increase the drama, and therefore the audience’s response. On the other hand, the battle is drawing to the close, so the intensity and volume will have naturally decreased by this point in the...
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