Hello, I am Jesse Aitken, and I chose to watch Saving Private Ryan without sound as my alt-viewing experience. I was entering this with the idea of whether modern film needs sounds to be an effective storytelling medium or not, and how it affects the reality of the movie. This is especially important in Saving Private Ryan as the audio in the film does help build the believable space and a reality that is tangible. Why I chose Saving Private Ryan as the movie to do this experiment was because it is largely a full sensory experience of what combat is like. That in some cases this over saturation of stimulus can drown out the world. It is also a film at tries to achieve ultra-realism in its execution and taking a single element (this case sound) can alter how as a viewer perceives that the world.
Firstly, does modern film need sound to be an effective storytelling medium? It depends on what one wants to do with the film, it is situational. Certainly, it does help with clarifying what people are doing through dialogue, music (diegetic sound), voice overs (offscreen sound) and the environment (ambient noise) around them. When listening to what is around you, there is life. It is busy either directly interacting with you or passively happening in the environment; this builds a believable space that feels alive, and it creates reality. We draw from our experiences gained through the years of taking in the world and from these sounds or indicators we create images and recognise what they are and where they come. If you take that sense away, suddenly that space becomes dull, instances, where the sound softens when leaving a busy and loud area, has no change, there is no impact from that shift in weight of sound. Without audio, a film that wasn’t designed to be a silent experience does suffer. The lack of a significant element to help tell the story influenced my viewing of Saving Private Ryan, there are moments where the sound was needed. It is a film built on war, where the senses of the human body are pushed to the limits. The way I viewed the film in a way invites the concept of what it would be like if one of the primary senses were lost which was a reality which affected many soldiers and still does. The audio or lack thereof is what makes for an intriguing and engaging cinematic viewing.
Saving Private Ryan which is considered one of the more realistic representations of World War 2 builds much of its emotional context thorugh sound. The sound design was researched in depth in hopes of being a historically accurate rendition of that time. The weapons that were used in that time a long with thier the unique quirks like the famous “ping” from a M1 Garand rifle magazine ejection, vehicles like the German Tiger tanks, the language used, and even the subtle touch of how the weather interacted with materials amongst other things were crafted carefully. There was focus on proper use of ambient noise and foley (produced sound, often done after filming to create audio effects like footsteps or gunshots) to build a space that felt real.
“Saving Private Ryan – Private Daniel Jackson and his iconic M1903A4 Springfield rifle, engaged in a sniper fight with an enemy that has high ground advantage” source: https://cinemashock.org/2012/07/30/45-degree-shutter-in-saving-private-ryan/
Example clip of sound design used: https://youtu.be/CGypoXVt31k (I encourage to watch with and without sound)
It provides much of the suspense of the film, and it does bring the viewer into that reality of war. Much of the action and chaos like in the start of the film was hard to follow, and it did force me to focus on paying attention to the smaller details to piece together what was happening in those intense conflicts. The lack of sound coupled with the first-person perspective of the camera work like when the soldiers first hit the beach of Normandy is jarring and disorients the viewer. If anything, what this did was instil fear, panic, and anxiety which make sense with the situations of battle that soldiers are faced with. The lack of sound also doesn’t help with the conversations that take place within the film. Often imagining or inferring what was being said tended to make up a significant amount of this experience. It was easy seeing how the conversations were going and how they would change based on the facial emotion and body language presented. But without sound, the intimate interactions between characters along with the context and subtext disappeared, this making it difficult to follow what exactly was happening in the story (viewed without subtitles). Having sound helped the film with its intentional shifts of action and helped create the information needed to make the narrative more accessible for the viewers.
The variety of sounds and noise did play a large part in building the realism that the film was going for, but there were moments where there was the intended use of less to no sound in the movie. When viewed with no audio these shifts go completely unnoticed. Some examples that stood out were whenever Tom Hanks character Captain John H. Miller would enter states of shell shock or delirium while in combat. This is where the idea of over stimulating the body and the mind can draw out a person from reality, that there are moments where this state is induced because the bombardment on the senses is too strenuous. In these scenes, the deliberate reduction and distorientation of sound play into his mindset as he tries to figure out where he is in the world and what is happening around him. It is quite impactful and not having the audio shifts there ultimately renders the emotions intended to be evoked possibly not forming that way they should.
“Saving Private Ryan – character Cap. John H. Miller suffering from shell shock during the beach landing on Normandy, one of the most gruesome scenes in the film” Source: http://thechive.com/2016/04/18/filming-d-day-in-saving-private-ryan-46-photos/#slide-1
Example clip, the impact of distorting sound: https://youtu.be/OqSg7WO4tT4 (I encourage to watch with and without sound)
This breaks the intended feeling needed to understand the stress and inner conflict that soldiers had to face. The emotion from him physically and how he reacts does show some aspects of his lost mind but having the audio (muffled ear ringing) to accompany it is what makes these scenes. As a viewer taking this in, and having that emotional connection to what is happening to Capt. John H. Miller, it encourages to whoever is consuming the film to realise emotional and physical toll it takes to be in that environment.Without the audio to accompany these shifts of action I do feel that the viewer misses much of what the film is trying to inform the audience.
From my viewing of Saving Private Ryan in this way, I found that the reality that it was built on did disappear. That this film does need to have forms of sound for it to perform its job as a storytelling medium, and without it there it falls short of what the film can provide to the viewer. It wasn’t built to be a cinematic experience without sound. Both visual and audio aspects were developed to make this movie great, and removing either one from the form severely damages the film’s potential. The visuals are accurate to the time, as well as the effects used in the movie are great and do portray the story well. One can follow purely from visual spectating, but much of the content is lost with the removal of the audio.
– Jesse Aitken