Tom Hanks: 'Saving Private Ryan' Had Less Gratuitous Violence Than 'Your Average James Bond Movie'

Saving Private Ryan has become a classic war film. When it came out in 1998, it was controversial for its frank and graphic R-rated violence. Tom Hanks even fielded questions from reporters about the violence before the film even came out. Hanks made an intelligent comparison between the type of violence in Saving Private Ryan and the frivolous violence in PG-13 rated films. 

What war is ‘Saving Private Ryan’ based on?

Saving Private Ryan is a World War II drama. It begins on D-Day in the Battle of Omaha Beach. Director Steven Spielberg’s graphic Omaha Beach battle was groundbreaking at the time. Hanks said if you’re going to show violence, it should honor the real sacrifices of soldiers at Omaha Beach in 1944.

“You want to complain about movies with hyperviolence, this isn’t the one to do it,” Hanks told reporters at the press junket. “There’s hundreds that come out every year. Your average James Bond movie has a ton more gratuitous violence than this film has. The only thing that this has in it is that we’re recreating what really happened.”

Tom Hanks thought some young people should see ‘Saving Private Ryan’

The R-rating meant any child under 17 needed to see Saving Private Ryan with their parents. Hanks hoped some parents would take their children, though.

There’s younger people out there, who daily watch both in movies and television and videos this violent form of storytelling. You can turn on cartoons at four o’clock in the afternoon on some stations and see superheroes shooting rockets at each other and solving their problems with their fists or explosions. If there are some kids that have just become so inured to that, this would be a very good thing I think for them to see because at the end of it, you know what? They’re going to be confused and they’re going to cry because they’re going to see for real what happens when a bullet passes through the human body. It’s not a very pleasant thing to see.

The violence in Saving Private Ryan almost got more than an R-rating. An NC-17 would have prevented any child from seeing it. 

“For a while they were worried it was going to be worried NC-17 because you know what? Omaha Beach was rated NC-17 for real,’” Hanks said.

‘Saving Private Ryan’ had no glamorous violence

There is certainly a place in fiction for violence. John Woo made many gunfights elegant and badass. It can be all in good fun in fiction. But, when you portray World War II, Hanks said, there’s no place to make light of violence.

“I don’t think any of this is glamorous, I don’t think any of this is cool,” Hanks said. “At the end of our film, I don’t think you want to ever see anybody get killed again.”

Hanks said it would have been equally wrong to tone down Omaha Beach to make it more palatable for viewers. 

That would have been, I think, a sin committed against what happened at D-Day and really what we’re trying to do with the film which is put all of us in the position of what would we do if we were in the same circumstances. The odd thing is, the strange thing is but the historical truth is that D-day had to happen and Omaha Beach did happen. Therefore, are we going to sugarcoat that? Are we going to downplay it or are we going to make it more palatable to the audience so that they’re not going to be offended or are they going to glean something else from the moviegoing experience?

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