Judge Ryan Keefer thinks that those responsible for releasing Fox titles on Blu-ray really should have been put in front of the firing line.
Out of the sky comes the screen's most incredible spectacle of men and war.
Yet another one of older Fox catalog titles in the war genre getting a high definition release, A Bridge Too Far is loved by a more than a few, and even the front of the case says that this is "The Definitive World War II Movie." It's a war film, featuring a veritable treasure trove of big market names in Hollywood and London. So hey, it's on Blu-ray now, so is it worth the extra cash?
Facts of the Case
A Bridge Too Far is based on a book chronicling Operation Market Garden, one of the more memorable battles of the second World War. From a book that was adapted to the screen by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and directed by Richard Attenborough (Chaplin), Market Garden was held three months after the success of the Normandy invasion, with the Allies keeping the Nazis on the ropes. The Allies decided that perhaps securing several bridges that crossed from the Netherlands into Germany would be prudent, with the overall purpose of moving on Germany. Using American, British and Polish forces, the operation was only supposed to last two to three days, however British forces failed to adequately secure the bridges and were overtaken and forced to withdraw by Nazi forces. Over 17,000 lost their lives during the nine-day struggle.
After watching Battle of Britain and A Bridge Too Far, two films that are gems for war film fans of other generations, I really don't understand the appeal. At almost three hours, the A Bridge Too Far seems to lay out every one of those nine days on film, and a good portion of the scenes seem wholly unnecessary. A sergeant (James Caan, Misery) guarantees his buddy that he won't get killed. After finding him lying presumably dead in the Dutch forest, he drives him through a small position German troops and to an aid station, where he pulls a pistol on the doctor, who examines him, and lo and behold, he's alive! Ugh, too much schmaltz.
What's equally annoying or even frustrating is that whereas other war epics tend to focus on both sides of the conflict, like Battle of Britain, A Bridge Too Far only gives you a token look at the conflict from the other side of the battle. In my mind, transcendent war films like Bridge on the River Kwai and The Longest Day tend to examine the perceived "enemy" side from more than just a superficial aspect, even perhaps humanizing the face of the enemy. There are some recognizable actors on the German side, particularly Hardy Kruger (Barry Lyndon) and Maximillian Schell (Deep Impact). As far as sympathizers go, a Dutch mother and doctor (played by Liv Ullmann and Laurence Olivier, respectively) have an interesting and unfortunately underutilized angle to things. The larger problem is that there are a few people who are wholly miscast in their roles. An Army Colonel named Stout is played by Elliott Gould, who, considering his previous role as Trapper John in M*A*S*H*, isn't going to remind anyone of John Wayne anytime soon. As Brigadier General Gavin, Ryan O'Neal (Chances Are) looks like he's going to squirt a few tears in any given scene, and the capper is Gene Hackman (Superman), who plays the Polish Major General Sosabowski. His accent borders on comedy, it's so out of place. There are some people who fit their roles in the film, but they're Brit-centric, guys like Anthony Hopkins (Alexander), Sean Connery (The Untouchables) and Dirk Bogarde (Oh! What a Lovely War), to name a few.
Technically, the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that Fox gives A Bridge Too Far is with the MPEG-2 codec, and the results are underwhelming. The source material is a little on the shabby side of things, with flecks and blemishes through most of the film, and an image that isn't all that sharp and rarely has any sort of depth to it. Some of the tighter shots maintain a little bit of color integrity in flesh tones, but other than that, I would presume this isn't a leaps and bounds upgrade from previous standard definition versions. The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a little better, with dialogue coming across somewhat strongly and subwoofer activity about as expected. Speaking of expectations, there's not too much surround usage here and the soundtrack comes off a little bit canned from time to time, so if you can live with that, you'll be OK. As far as extras go, Fox screws the high definition buyer yet again. The 2005 Collector's Edition includes a commentary by Goldman and documentaries and featurettes on the battle, the production and on Attenborough, along with a trivia track and some trailers. The Blu-ray includes the film's trailer (and some other Fox/MGM war films) and nothing else.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I could be wrong on this, but A Bridge Too Far does seem to represent a cinematic gravestone of sorts; it was the last war epic that was released theatrically. Productions that have been similar in vision and in scope seemed to have been reserved for television miniseries over the last several decades. Whether this is good or bad is certainly your opinion, but I just had to indulge my waxing nostalgic for a second.
And while I've got problems with the way that Attenborough directs war films, or at least the events that transpire during battle, both in Oh! What a Lovely War and here, he manages to effectively capture moments of reflection while war's fury wreaks its havoc. A scene where Ullmann's character allows some wounded GIs to come into her home and walk past her children is interesting, as the camera pans down towards a small train going around in circles, while one of the soldiers inadvertently bleeds on the white carpet hosting the train. Attenborough's statement is simple yet powerful in its modesty.
While I don't deny the historical accuracy of A Bridge Too Far is compelling, I don't think it needs to sustain itself for three hours. The casting seems a little on the excessive side, the execution is a little bit spotty, and as far as the disc goes, the technical merits are pretty bland and the extras aren't ported over, so if you've got the 2005 standard definition release and have a Blu-ray player, hopefully your player upconverts, because it's not worth the double-dip.
Fox is guilty for its crimes and sentenced to hard labor until they get its Blu-ray catalog done right.
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