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THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI isn't so much a war movie, as it is a character study of men who let their sense of duty grow into an obsession that blinds them to the big picture. Alec Guinness gives one of the great performances of his career as Colonel Nicholson, the commander of capture British troops, who refuses to accede to the wishes of Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), the commandant of a Japanese prison camp, when Saito’s violate the Geneva Convention. Eventually, their battle of wills gives way to the construction of a bridge across the river Kwai, which becomes the focal point of each man's life inside the prison camp. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI also stars William Holden as Shears, the American prison camp escapee, who returns with a British commando team lead by Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) to blow up the very bridge that Nicholson and Saito have sacrificed so much to build. The cast of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI also features James Donald, Geoffrey Horne, André Morell, Peter Williams, John Boxer, Percy Herbert and Harold Goodwin.

While THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is indeed a character study, director David Lean has staged on a grand scale it has become one of the most realistic and memorable films about the Second World War ever produced. The brief description of the film’s plot really doesn’t do justice to THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. There are intricacies in the story and subtle shading in the film’s performances, which don’t really lend themselves to description. That is why THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is best experienced first hand, with as little information as possible. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is out and out classic that was honored with the coveted Best Picture Academy Award for 1957. The film’s six other Oscars include Best Actor for Alec Guinness, Best Director for David Lean, plus Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music Scoring.

Columbia TriStar Home Video has made THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI in a wide screen presentation that restores the original CinemaScope aspect ratio of 2.55:1. The 16:9 enhanced transfer is impressive for a film that is well over forty years old. Colors are usually strongly saturated, although there are individual shots within the body of the film that appear slightly faded. However there are scenes were the lush greens of the jungles are especially well rendered. There are no signs of chroma noise or smearing of the more intense colors during the presentation. Overall, this is a solid representation of a movie that was originally released in IB Technicolor. The image itself is quite sharp and delivers a very good level of detail. Film grain is occasionally noticeable, but it is never distracting. The film element used for the transfer does display some age related blemishes, although these are never too bad. There are a couple of shots that are noticeably scratched; however these shots look like stock footage inserts and may have always been in this condition. Blacks are accurately rendered and the picture produces a good level of shadow detail for a film of this vintage. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed on this dual layer DVD. There seems to be an error in the time coding on my sample DVD, with the time remaining function being directly related to the separate layers of the DVD.

Columbia TriStar has done a terrific job of re-mastering THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI into a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mix. Instead of just dropping the old 4 channel stereo stems into Dolby Digital, this mix is a clean reworking of the older recordings into the new format. The mix provides a broad soundstage with precise channel separation that creates an impressive stereo image. Surround usage is equally effective, with the rear channels creating natural sonic environments that sound overdone. Individual sound effects can be picked out, but they do not call undue attention to themselves. Dialogue reproduction is usually crisp and fully intelligible, although there are a couple of moments when the voices have an edginess that betray the age of the recordings. The bass channel provides some reinforcement for the film's explosions, but otherwise doesn't have a whole heck of a lot to do. Music doesn't have the frequency response of today's recordings, but Malcolm Arnold's score really sounds great in the new mix. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai subtitles. Full motion video, animation and sound have been utilized to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well theatrical trailers and talent files.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is a true motion picture classic that belongs in the collection of every film buff. Columbia TriStar has made the film available on DVD in the movie only edition for $24.95, which is reviewed above, or a feature rich two disc set that is priced at $39.95. Either way, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI gets a solid recommendation.


 The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai - Limited Edition


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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