12 Things You May Not Know About “Saving Private Ryan”

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When Saving Private Ryan hit theaters in 1998, many critics celebrated the film’s realistic portrayal of combat. It was grizzly, horrifying, and flew in the face of the glorified heroism common in films that celebrated The Greatest Generation.

Yet there’s more to the film than its realism. SPR had a heart and followed a group of Rangers on a mission to ensure that the last of four brothers made it home alive. Here are 11 things You may not know about the movie.

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1.Most movies are shot out of order. Scenes are filmed in the most cost effective order, and not chronologically. But not SPR. Speilberg wanted the actors to experience the journey to save Ryan the way the characters would.

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2.The Movie opens with a graphic recreation of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Yet France wouldn’t allow the film crew to shoot on the beaches of Normandy, because of the historic significance, and so the crew shot the beach scenes in Ireland.

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3. Though the movie is based on Father Francis Simpson’s book Look Out Below!, some of the movie was improvised. Private Ryan tells about his brothers in the barn, for example. Matt Damon improvised that, and Spielberg liked it well enough to keep it in the movie.

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4. The role of Technical Sergeant Mike Horvath, played by Tom Sizemore, had been offered to Billy Bob Thornton. Thorton, who is afraid of water, turned the roll down because he couldn’t shoot the landing scenes. Sizemore was fighting a drug addiction when filming began. Spielberg gave Sizemore daily drug tests during filming.

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5.The men shot in the opening sequence aren’t German. They’re speaking Czech. The Germans conscripted soldiers from many of the countries they’d conquered. These particular men would have been from Czechoslovakia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, and even parts of the Soviet Union.

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6. Matt Damon had been suggested for the role of Private Ryan, but Spielberg wasn’t sure he was right for the role. Damon, he thought, was too skinny. Damon wasn’t cast until after Robin Williams set up a meeting between Spielberg and Damon.

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7. In order to keep the film grounded in realism, almost all of the shooting locations are actual towns that were involved in battles during the war. Only the last town, Ramelle, is fictitious. Ramelle was built in a studio in England.

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8. When Pvt. Stanley Mellish is stabbed, the German solider says: “Give up. You have got no chance. This way is much more easy for you. Much easier.”

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9. This film is full of missing limbs, and all but one of them are real. Bryan Cranston’s character, Colonel I.W. Bryce, is the only amputee in the movie that is a special effect.

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10 Spielberg had a hard time getting the violence into the film. Initial cuts received an NC-17 rating. In order to get it into widespread distribution, he had to cut 5 full minutes of the gore.

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11. While much of the film is celebrated for its close adherence to reality, some of it is still distinctly Hollywood. Tom Hanks plays a 41 year old Captain, but this is a stretch. Most infantry Captains averaged just 26 years old.

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12. Much of the gossip about the film focused on the graphic nature of its violence. And it proved too much for some. There were reports that World War II veterans left screenings becasue the imagery was too much to handle. The VA experienced a surge in post traumatic stress triggered by the film.

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Check out this analysis of how Spielberg puts together his action sequences.