10 Things You Probably Never Knew About 'Saving Private Ryan'

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Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Ed Burns in "Saving Private Ryan'
DreamWorks Pictures

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in March 2016 and has been republished for the 20th anniversary of  'Saving Private Ryan'


What pops into your head when you think about 'Saving Private Ryan?'

For many people, it’s the five Oscars, two Golden Globes, two BAFTAs, and an induction into the National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film” — accolades Steven Spielberg’s World War II opus has earned since the film’s 1998 release. The New York Times film review called it “only the finest war movie of our time,” citing the film’s frank, bloody, violent, unflinching portrayal of the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day as a major achievement. And the veteran community resoundingly agreed, echoing the film’s intense combat scenes as a therapeutic base from which to discuss, process, and understand their experiences at war.

It’s been 20years since then, but those words are no less true. Here are 10 facts you probably never realized about 'Saving Private Ryan.

1. Spielberg played favorites

All of the main actors were sent to boot camp, except for Matt Damon, who played Private Ryan. This was done deliberately, so the actors would have real resentment against Damon to mirror the film’s narrative.

2. Vanilla Ice has a link to the film

Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński was no stranger to World War II films, having also worked on Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List.” Some of Kamiński’s other cinematography credits include “Jerry Maguire,” “Amistad,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and, inexplicably, the Vanilla Ice movie “Cool As Ice.”

3. D-Day was all about the details

This is the film’s opening scene by the numbers: With $12 million of the $70 million total budget, Spielberg used 40 barrels of stage blood, 1,500 extras, 30 amputees, zero storyboarding, and 27 minutes of runtime to recreate the Omaha Beach landing scene.

4. World War II veterans were reliving D-Day

The Department of Veterans Affairs set up a hotline number for traumatized veterans to call after seeing the film. The hotline received over 170 calls in the two weeks following the film’s release date.

5. Yes, it’s supposed to look washed out

The film’s coloring was purposefully desaturated by stripping camera lenses of their protective coatings, followed by running the exposed film through a bleach process. The goal was to give the film’s final look the effect of 1940s newsreel footage.

6. Spielberg altered history in America’s favor

'Saving Private Ryan' ignores other countries’ contributions to the D-Day landings, with the 2nd Rangers being accompanied by Coast Guard crews and the USS Jefferson, instead of the Royal Navy and British ships.

7. 'Saving Private Ryan' was predicted to win the Oscar for Best Picture

'Saving Private Ryan' is one of the few Oscar winners for Best Director that did not also win its Best Picture nomination. The Best Picture award that year went to “Shakespeare In Love,” which was a huge upset among Hollywood and the general public alike.

8. The majority of costumes and props were custom made

Costume designer Joanna Johnson oversaw the creation of 3,500 costumes, as well as 2,000 weapons just for the Omaha Beach landing scene. Five hundred of the 2,000 replica weapons could shoot blanks, while the rest were rubber.

9. Tom Hanks wasn’t automatically given the lead

Both Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were in the running for the role of Capt. John Miller, which ended up going to Tom Hanks.

10. Gunfire was recorded with authentic period weapons

Special effects director Gary Rydstrom contacted Kevin Brittingham, owner of Advanced Armaments Corporation, for help with recording the appropriate gunfire. Among Brittingham’s collection were World War II-era guns such as the Browning automatic rifle, a Thompson submachine gun, and a Solothurn S18-1000 20-millimeter anti-tank rifle.

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