THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT
PRIVATE RYAN

by William C. Martell


THE MARTIAN looks a lot like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in outer space, so let's take a look at SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and that other film from 1998 which told the exact same story...

In 1998 nothing was as surprising as the two sleeper films that did more business than anyone might have guessed. While THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY jumped up the box office chart from #3, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN held on to the #1 spot despite competition from four new films... not to mention its nearly 3 hour running time. Neither were typical summer films and no one predicted they would both be big hits. Both films stayed in cinemas long after the competition dropped off the charts. When the Los Angeles Times printed a list of this summer's success stories, both RYAN and MARY were at the top of the money makers. But these two summer sleepers have more in common than good word of mouth and packed theaters...


In this world of PG-13 movies, where every studio aims it's films at 'that kid audience', both MARY and RYAN are rated R. In fact, both films had to fight for their R ratings, and refused to make cuts which would make them more "kid friendly". Both films are extremely graphic, have been criticized for taking the cinema to new gross- out territory. RYAN's violence has been called "shockingly graphic", and the exact same phrase was used in a review of MARY to describe the sick humor. Both films use broad, strong images to tell their stories. Each film got "two thumbs up" from the Ebersisk Monster.


Why have both of these films struck a chord with bored summer audiences?


My theory: they are the exact same story, explored in different genres.


THE MISSION IS THE BABE


In both films a man is given a mission to travel behind enemy lines, find a lost blond haired character and bring him/her back. This quest is the center of both stories, and propels the action forward in each film. In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, General Marshall (Harve Presnell) gives orders for Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) to travel deep into Nazi occupied France to find Private Ryan (Matt Damon) and bring him back. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, Ted (Ben Stiller) hires private eye Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to travel to Florida to find Mary (Cameron Diaz) and report back.


Both films begin in one time period, then change to another time period for the bulk of the story. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN begins present day, then flashes back to D-Day. SOMETHING ABOUT MARY begins in 1985 when Ted and Mary were in high school, then flashes forward to the present day for the rest of the story.


Mary and Ryan: The only difference is an N instead of an M. All of the other letters are the same.


Each film begins with a frighteningly graphic sequence, which has prompted some audience members to walk out of the theater, sick to their stomach. The lead character in each film shows his strength by remaining relatively calm. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN starts with a chaotic sequence of blood, mud, vomit and death showing the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. Body parts are blown off, blood and gore is everywhere. With screams all around him, Captain Miller remains quiet. Frightened, but in control of himself. Trying to navigate a brutal situation. SOMETHING ABOUT MARY starts with the most frightening zipper accident ever recorded on film. Body parts are caught in zipper teeth. While everyone around him reacts with screams, Ted remains quiet. Frightened, but in control of himself. Suggesting that he untuck his shirt to hide his painful situation. Both films had me covering my eyes in horror.


Severed body parts: In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN a soldier retrieves his severed arm. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY a hitch hiker has a gunny sack of severed body parts.


Franks & Beans: What the soldiers in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN eat, and what Ted gets caught in his zipper in SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.


In both stories, the mission becomes increasingly perilous, with many casualties, but they stick with it. In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN Miller and his team cross mine fields, are shot at by snipers, Private Caparzo (Vin Diesel) and Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) are killed... but Miller and the team continue, long after their mission has stopped making sense. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY Healy runs a gauntlet of dangerous dogs, frightening room mates with saggy breasts (Lin Shayne), violent brothers (W.Earl Brown), and manages to get his teeth capped in a most unappealing way... But Healy continues to pursue Mary, even though this mission has never made much sense.


Both have portly sidekicks who keep them going even when thing look bleak, and they begin to fear they may not come out of this mission alive. In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Miller depends on Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore) to offer moral and emotional support. When Miller breaks down, it's Horvarth who talks him out of his funk and gets him back on track. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, Healy depends on Sully (Jeffrey Tambor) to offer immoral support and a cheap place to crash . When Healy is discovered as a fraud, it's Sully who talks to him on the cell phone (which is overheard by Mary and Magda) and gets him back on track with his quest.


Sgt. Hovarth is surrounded by "dog faces", Sully is surrounded by dog feces.


Rescuing the little ones: In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Private Caparzo tries to save the life of a little French girl, only to find the situation spinning perilously out of control. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, Healy tries to save Magda's dog after feeding it too many tranquilizers, only to find the situation spinning perilously out of control.


At the midpoint of each film, the mission is questioned, and orders are purposely disobeyed for selfish reasons. In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN Private Reiben (Ed "not kooky" Burns) comes close to inciting a mutiny. Why risk eight lives for one man? Aren't they at war to kill enemy soldiers? When the team comes across a German machine gun nest protecting a radar installation, Miller decides to attack, even though it is possible to sneak around the enemy emplacement. They purposely disobey their orders to find Ryan so they can selfishly feel the rush of victory. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY Healy returns to Rhode Island to tell Ted that Mary is a 250 pound mother of four who has just left for Japan to become a mail order bride. He purposely disobeys his orders to tell Ted that he has found Mary, so he can selfishly feel the rush of infatuation.


The "something" factor: Though they begin their missions with apathy, in both stories when they find the blond haired character, they fall in love with him/her, and completely disobey their orders to bring him/her back. Miller and his team in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN don't care about Ryan, until they meet him. They instantly like him. When Ryan refuses to go back, because he owes his allegiance to his squad, Miller's team decides to disobey their orders, stick around, and help Ryan protect a bridge... even though they KNOW they may be sacrificing their lives for Ryan s dream. Pat Healy in SOMETHING ABOUT MARY doesn't care about Mary, calling her a 'stalker case', until he sees her undressing in the window. He instantly falls in love with her. When Mary tells Healy that she owes her allegiance to her brother (W. Earl Brown), Healy tries to court her, helping out with her brother... even though he KNOWS his isn't worthy of her affection.


By the end of each story, a frightened character gains strength and proves himself to be an enemy of the mission. In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN they let the frightened German soldier known as "Steamboat Willie" live, and he returns as part of the German army sent to take the bridge. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY her crippled friend Tucker (Lee Evans) throws his crutches away and returns as part of the "stalker club" who wants to take Mary away from Ted.


In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Upham the translator (Jeremy Davies) becomes paralyzed with fear on the battle field, leading Miller and the rest of the team into harm's way. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, Ted's best friend Dom (Chris Elliott) becomes paralyzed with hives the closer he gets to Mary, creating a situation which leads Ted into harm's way.


Last, but not least... Sticky Socks: In SAVING PRIVATE RYAN the team makes "sticky bombs" by putting grenades in socks and dipping them in grease. In SOMETHING ABOUT MARY there's that hair gel scene.


The same story, told two different ways... both films are sleeper hits. Freaky, isn't it? There really is SOMETHING ABOUT PRIVATE RYAN.



...FADE OUT


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