In 1998 the epic film “Saving Private Ryan” captured the courage, sacrifice, and horror of World War II in a way that Hollywood had either missed or avoided with previous efforts.
The story of a Ranger squad’s mission to find a soldier who is the only surviving service member of four brothers — based on Father Francis Simpson’s book Look Out Below! — grossed over $100 million (the first Dreamworks movie to surpass that mark) and earned five Oscars.
Director Steven Spielberg’s battle scenes were so grisly and realistic that many World War II veterans had to walk out of showings and the VA had to create a special 800 number to deal with a surge in veterans dealing with post traumatic stress triggered by the movie. Here are 11 other things you (probably) didn’t know about one of the greatest war movies ever made:
1. The movie was shot in chronological order, which is unusual for a film. Spielberg chose that method so that the actors would feel like they were going through the experience, including losing fellow soldiers along the way. This also helped them portray their resentment towards Private Ryan, who doesn’t share the journey with them.
2. The opening sequences of the Normandy invasion on D-Day were actually shot in Ireland not France. The French government would not give permission to the producers to shoot on Normandy’s beaches.
3. The unarmed men who are shot during the opening scene are not speaking German. They are speaking Czech. Parts of the Normandy coast were defended by Ost (East) battalions — pressed into service in the Wermacht — made up of men from places like Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, and Armenia.
4. Billy Bob Thornton was offered the role of Technical Sergeant Mike Horvath (ultimately played by Tom Sizemore) but turned it down because he has a fear of water and didn’t want to shoot the landing scenes. Spielberg was hesitant to use Sizemore because he was battling a drug addiction at the time of filming. The director had Sizemore undergo daily drug tests and threatened to boot him from the set and re-shoot every scene if he tested positive.
5. Spielberg originally thought Matt Damon was too skinny to play Private James Ryan but changed his mind after a meeting between them facilitated by the legendary comic Robin Williams.
6. The story that Private Ryan tells about his brothers in the barn with Alice Jardin was not in the script. Matt Damon ad-libbed it and Spielberg decided to use it.
7. During the scene in which Pvt. Stanley Mellish is being stabbed slowly by an enemy soldier, his assailant whispers in German: “Give up. You have got no chance. This way is much more easy for you. Much easier.”
8. Bryan Cranston (now famous for his role in the AMC series “Breaking Bad”), who plays Colonel I.W. Bryce, is the only person in the movie who has an amputation on screen that isn’t really an amputee.
9. Spielberg had to cut around 5 minutes of war violence from the film or it would have received an NC-17 rating from the MPAA.
10. Hanks’ played a 41-year-old Army captain. In actuality, an infantry captain in World War II would have been around the age of 26.
11. The town of Ramelle, France where the final battle takes place is the only fictional town in the movie. The other locations depicted are real and were actual objectives during the invasion. Ramelle, including the river, was created from scratch in a studio in England. That same set was used during the filming of the “Band of Brothers” series.