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THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI ($35) isn't so much a war movie, as it is a character study of men who let their sense of duty grows into an obsession, which turns to into a kind of madness that ultimately 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 orders violate the Geneva Convention. Eventually, their long, drawn out 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 memorable films about the Second World War ever produced. The brief description of the film’s plot that is provided in this review 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. For the uninitiated, let me just say that THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is out and out motion picture classic, one that was honored with the coveted Best Picture Academy Award for 1957. In addition, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI was honored with six other Oscars that include Best Actor for Alec Guinness, Best Director for David Lean, plus Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music Scoring.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI serves as a marked improvement over its earlier DVD incarnation, displaying a rejuvenated appearance that should be very close to how it looked in 1957. Certainly, some production related anomalies remain within the image, but overall, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI looks quite marvelous and will highly please film buffs. The image is crisper, better defined and on many occasions more dimensional that it has ever appeared in the home venue. Texturing and fine detail are markedly improved, and not only because THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is appearing here in high definition. Optical effects and fades introduce some softness and a bit of a color shift, but these are generally brief and not distracting. Color reproduction is generally quite excellent, except for mild shifts in shots that contain opticals. Hues tend to be lush and fully saturated, emulating the look of an original IB Technicolor print. Jungle greens are just amazing. Flesh tones have that over-baked look that perfectly conveys the soldiers’ continuous forced labor in the jungle. Blacks are accurate, while the whites are crisp and clean. Contrast and shadow detail are also rather strong performers that enhance this great presentation. The elements from which THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI has been transferred appear free from overt signs of age. A grain structure is noticeable throughout the course of THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which makes for a wonderfully film like viewing experience.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As expected, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI sounds nothing like a modern movie, but the lossless encoding certainly maximizes the fidelity of these more than half-century-old recordings. While the sound is front-loaded, the mix does create a broad soundstage with impressive stereo imaging. The surround channels add ambience, and work quite well despite their age. Musical fidelity is quite good for a film of this vintage, and while it is somewhat lacking in the lower registers, Malcolm Arnold's score still manages to sound pretty darn good. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. French and Portuguese Dolby TrueHD soundtracks are also present, as is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, some of which have been ported over from the previous DVD release. Starting things off is Crossing The Bridge: Picture-In-Graphics Track, which offers trivia, factoids and history (requires a Profile 1.1 player). Featurettes and other programs include: Making Of The Bridge On The River Kwai (fifty three minutes), The Steve Allen Show With William Holden & Alec Guinness (seven minutes), The Bridge On The River Kwai Premiere Narrated By William Holden (two minutes), Rise And Fall Of A Jungle Giant (six minutes), USC Short Film Introduced By William Holden (sixteen minutes) and An Appreciation By Filmmaker John Milius (eight minutes). A Photo Gallery closes out the standard supplements. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player). Disc two offers a DVD copy of the movie for those who are on the fence about making the upgrade to Blu-ray. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI features book styled packaging that contains thirty-four pages of photos and production notes. Lobby Card Reproductions are also contained in the packaging.

Unquestionably, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI is a motion picture classic that belongs in the collection of every film buff. The Blu-ray presentation is truly marvelous and certain to please. Very highly recommended.


The Bridge on the River Kwai [Blu-ray] (1957)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright © 2010 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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