The Bridge On The River Kwai

The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Alec Guinness, William Holden, James Donald
Extras: Isolated Music Score, Trivia, Documentary, Featurette, Short film, Appreciation Featurette, Photo Gallery, Trailers and much more

For over three years now, Columbia TriStar Home Video has been one of the few publishers who have supplied a steady stream of classic movies to DVD fans. Although the market for those classic movies has traditionally been very limited since DVD fans do have a clear tendency towards blockbusters and home-theater-show-off titles, Columbia TriStar Home Video nonetheless made these films a regular part of their release line-ups. As DVD is now breaking into new demographics, the demand for such classic movies is growing and the studio does justice to that by bringing us – among others – a newly mastered version of David Lean’s 1958 exercise in humanity and inhumanity, "The Bridge On The River Kwai."

The release weighs heavy in your hand, as Columbia TriStar Home Video has created a very special packaging for this 2-disc Special Edition. Made to look like an actual book beneath the strong cardboard covers we find a plastic tray that contains the 2 discs and a small booklet that features a reprint of the original 1957 souvenir book for the film. It is immediately obvious that this presentation has been created with Collector’s in mind and as such, the packaging works beautifully. The title is alternatively available as a movie-only version in a regular single-disc Amaray packaging.

Honored with 7 Academy Awards, "The Bridge On The River Kwai" tells the story of a group of British prisoners of war in enemy-occupied Burma. Held in captivity by the Japanese, the men are ordered to build a railway bridge over a nearby river that is of vital importance for the Japanese strategists. Ignoring the Geneva Convention, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) also order the British officers to work manually on the construction but Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) commands his officers to ignore the order. A fierce psychological battle ensures between Saito and Nicholson and despite Saito’s countless attempts to break the man in spirit and body, Nicholson remains steadfast – and so do his men. Eventually, when no progress is made on the bridge and time is running out, Saito gives up and hands the construction over to the British soldiers. In the meanwhile, the Allied Forces have heard of the undertaking at the River Kwai and send a special commando to destroy the bridge to cut off the Japanese supply.

David Lean was a master of big cinema with a wonderfully cinematic vocabulary. Whether it is this movie,, "Dr. Zhivago," "Lawrence Of Arabia" or his final movie "A Passage To India," Lean always had a way to tell magnificently human stories in a splendid epic way. His choice of location always played a major part in this and in "The Bridge On The River Kwai" we are taken to the Indian jungle where the viewer can almost feel the heat and humidity. But Lean was also a master of the camera and the way he framed his pictures, the way he set up his shots and the masterful editing that brought it all together shows a unique signature that is David Lean.

Told in vibrant images, the story of the bridge of the river Kwai is as heartfelt and sympathetic as it is harsh and violent. We always struggle as we watch the film, seeing if humanity will prevail after all, as the story takes one wicked turn after another. The climax during the final moments of the movie is a breathtaking outcry that is only superceded by the impact of the film’s lengthy closing shot.

"The Bridge On The River Kwai" features a great cast, spearheaded by a young Alec Guinness as Nicholson whose aristocratic stubbornness exceeds his common sense – ultimately for the better of his men. Snotty and at the same time very human, Guinness is the perfect lead for the film and degrades William Holden – the real "star" of the movie at the time – to a side figure. But wherever you look, the characters drawn in the film are extremely well presented and give the film its weight.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is presenting "The Bridge On The River Kwai" in a newly mastered <$PS,widescreen> version on this DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. The transfer is almost flawless despite its age and no significant ages of wear or age are evident – certainly due to a diligent clean-up process. The transfer is very stable and offers a very high level of detail. Although some signs of grain is evident in selected shots, it gives the movie a vintage quality and is never distracting. Colors are very strong and finely delineated, giving the imagery a lush, picturesque look that is at the same time deliberately bleak. Blacks are deep and solid and have very good level of detail in the shadows. Contrast is generally good, although it appears a bit hard in selected shots, most likely due to the film’s considerable age. Fleshtones are always naturally rendered and overall, the image has a very balanced and pleasing look. The material has been nicely compressed for this DVD presentation and the film is practically free of compression artifacts of any sort, making "The Bridge On The River Kwai" look simply spectacular.

The film has also received a newly remastered and remixed audio track for this DVD release. Previously available only in mono or <$DS,Dolby Surround>, the film now boasts a brand new <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix. Rich and absolutely natural sounding, this new mix is a sheer pleasure that leaves all previous presentations in the dust. With a good frequency response the audio sounds naturally almost throughout and the good dynamics of the track add to the film’s overall appeal. With nice spatial integration, the prison camp comes to live with good surround usage, as a bustling atmosphere fills the room. Dialogues are very well integrated, although occasionally a bit of harshness gives away their age. Still you would never believe the film is almost 44 years old from seeing it on this DVD, making it clear how much effort Columbia TriStar Home Video has put into this release.

"The Bridge On The River Kwai" also features a famous, Academy Award winning score that is also nicely presented on this disc without any distortion. Apart from the movie itself, it is also available isolated on a separate track on this DVD in a great-sounding stereo presentation.

The second disc of this package contains some great supplements, such as a new documentary, created specifically for this DVD. With new interviews it offers a great look behind the production of this film and all the tribulations it went through. From political issues, production concerns, studio politics and personal quarrels, the documentary paints a vivid image of the production and also gives us a glimpse at the filmmaker David Lean himself. This documentary is nicely complemented by the 6-minute original 1957 featurette "Rise And Fall Of A Jungle Giant" that focuses mostly on the construction of the bridge itself.

A USC Short Film and an Appreciation by John Milius are also on the disc, both of them nice features that offer insight into the film and the minds at work behind the camera. For a movie of the caliber of "The Bridge On The River Kwai" it is sometimes easy to overlook what kind of craftsmanship and skill went into their production because the end result feels so natural and perfect. Features like these allow viewers to get a better appreciation for the lengthy and tedious process of actual filmmaking.

The supplements section of the disc also contains a photo gallery that is set to music form the movie and showcases poster art as well as still images from the film. Together with theatrical trailers, talent files and a small selection of DVD-ROM specific extras, this is a very well-rounded package. For the true cineast however, Columbia TriStar Home Video has also included a reprint of the text from the original souvenir book of the film in a small booklet, which, together with the solid packaging, gives the entire release some sense of authority.

"The Bridge On The River Kwai" is a remarkable film and a striking cinematic experience that has aged extremely well. Wether you want to watch it as a plain roller-coaster ride action movie, or as a tension-filled exploration of the human psyche, "The Bridge On The River Kwai" works on so many levels that the result is simply timeless. Considered on of the best movies ever made – it ranks as number 13 in the American Film Institute’s list of best films – it is imperative to see this movie in its full glory to fully appreciate its scope. With the new <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation and the newly remixed 5.1 soundtrack, Columbia TriStar Home Video has ensured that we now have the ultimate version of this movie available for viewing at home. It most definitely looks and sounds better on this DVD than it ever did in theaters some 44 years ago, so don’t miss this opportunity and do yourself a favor. Visit the Bridge on the River Kwai – before someone blows it up!