Saving Private Ryan- Mise en scene

In this blog for week two we will be talking about lighting and the importance it has on movies. The video clip that I shared is the opening scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan when the Americans first landed on the beach of Omaha. This is a very important scene because it sets the tone for the entire movie. As some may not know weather played a part in the invasion onto the beach on June 6th 1944. It was a heavy over cast day and many of the U boats with the men missed there mark going onto the beach. In the making of the film Steven Spielberg wanted to recreated the environment as closely as he could. With this he used a lot of traditional three-point lighting. The weather in the movie was also very over cast and gray. You can see the men riding in the U boat on there way to the beach. Several men were briefly hi-lighted to get there facial expression as to what they were thinking before they landed on the beach. With the three point lighting this could be obtained. The area around the man in focus was blurred out so we do not pay attention and get distracted by other movement. This type of lighting is also referred to as “flat” lighting. The actor they we are supposed to pay attention to will be placed in “rim light”.

For some of these men it was the last minutes they were alive and you wanted to have a connection with them while watching the movie. I believe this is one of the main benefits for this style of lighting. With so many men storming the beach at one time it would be hard to focus on all of it if the lighting was different and showed a wider view.

This technique contributed to the theme because this was the best way to try and get as real life as possible. If you are going to make a film based on real life events where men died you want to show that amount of respect when making the film. I believe Steven Spielberg did just that. Some of the young men were only 18 years old when they set foot on that beach. Sadly some of them did not get to see their 19th birthday.

The lighting technique was suited for this genre of the film for many reasons. First, this movie was set in 1944. Uniform colors were very plain, and they did not carry much extra gear. They had a rifle and some extra ammunition. In war movies made today there is a lot of extras that can sometimes take away from the main goal of what the movie is trying to accomplish. With the use of lighting it shows clearly what each man is going though. The background is set very plain with not a lot of huge over dramatic explosions. It was also early morning and the lighting portrayed that also.  You could tell they also used a lot of the natural lighting around the beach area. Being an overcast day on the beach they did not use a lot of fake or over lighting of the scene. It kept it much more realistic.

I feel the scene would have looked for fake if they used a different type of lighting. If everything is bright and sunny it would take away from the true meaning of what is going on. I just don’t see how a different choice of lighting would be better. For example high-key lighting would be a bad choice to use because this isn’t a happy time and you want the most realistic vision possible.


Goodykoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. P. (2014). Film: From watching to seeing (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. This text is a Constellation™ course digital materials (CDM) title.


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