Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are the inventors of the modern blockbuster. With movies such as E.T., Back to the Future, Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List on his CV, Speilberg’s had already proven himself a Serious Director.
The opening salvo of director Steven Speilberg’s 1998 war epic was a masterpiece. Spielberg not only pushed his own art forward—he changed an entire genre. Few war films would look the way they do without the de-saturated, handheld, blood-splatters-and-all horror of cinema that is this extended sequence of the storming of Omaha Beach in World War II.
Spielberg and his trusty cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, gave lets the audience follow the soldiers terrible march up the beach with bullets and mortars raining down, with sand exploding into carnage around them. It’s a terrifying scene, either honorable or exploitative in its all vérité.
The war drama, set just after the landing on Normandy, follows a squad of Army Rangers tasked with rescuing a paratrooper whose three brothers have all been killed in combat. Led by Tom Hanks’ Capt. John Miller, the Rangers set out in search of one soldier among tens of thousands, lost in a hellscape of death. Day after day, they’re forced to wonder whether saving one grunt to minimize a family’s grief is worth all the risk.
If the opening 25-minute D-Day invasion massacre sequence is telling us anything, its that war is truly hell. There’s no sugar-coating, no “cartoon violence,” no nameless, inconsequential casualties. This is unrestrained, ugly, and dirty combat, meant to make the viewer appreciate the monstrous human cost and tragic sacrifice of so many young men. We see stunned, vengeful U.S. soldiers committing what would be considered atrocities, shooting surrendering Germans, as well as innocent non-Germans who can’t speak English.
The D-Day scene is not exploitation, but rather a master filmmaker’s true-life recreation of one of the bloodiest battles in human history, to make one appreciate the bravery and the loss.