Steven Spielberg is often accused of being too sentimental, but that notion is pretty much obliterated by Saving Private Ryan’s opening scene, a half-hour crucible in which we witness Allied soldiers storm Omaha beach on D-Day. Spielberg cedes little of the screen to acts of heroism or bravery, instead submitting viewers to an uncomfortably realistic barrage of bodies falling, drowning, blowing up, or otherwise being torn apart. It’s perhaps the most lauded scene of his career, and the latest installment of CineFix’s “Art of the Scene” series supplies some key insights as to how the director and his crew crafted such an epic set piece.
Maybe the biggest takeaway here: Spielberg didn’t storyboard the scene. That’s out of character for the director, and especially peculiar given how intricate the sequence is, but it also explains much of what makes it so good: The improvisational method allowed Spielberg to find the shots that most accurately evoked the brutality of war.