‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ comes to American Region free Blu-ray with an impressive looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the full width Cinemascope ratio of 2.55:1. For the first time we get to see it as originally intended since previous releases have been cropped to 2.35:1 to make space on the print for the optical soundtrack. The first two shots of the movie, a bird in flight and an aerial tilt down on to the jungle, make your heart sink as they are quite grainy but once you get past them the rest of the movie looks superb.
The bright yellow titles look absolutely spotless and, considering they would have been produced as colour mattes (involving duping and masking negs, thereby doubling the amount of grain), are relatively low in grain. There is a fine veil of grain present throughout the movie, but it looks good – reminding us of the source. Much of the film has a brownish, earth tone palette which makes it look less than zingy but that was intentional, given the subject matter and location. Take a look at the greens of the jungle for colour strength – wow! The skin tones reflect the grime, dirt and heat of the prison camp. We get inky blacks in the night shots and excellent contrast throughout. For pretty colours, take a look at the Commando training camp where Holden’s character fetches up after his escape. The overall image is pin sharp and I found it looked best when projected on a 7 foot screen as opposed to a 50 inch plasma. The restoration work done here has been well worth it. This gives us high hopes for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ when Sony decides to release it.
The audio on ‘Kwai’ comes in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround flavour which is respectful to the original mix. As the movie opens, the sound of the jungle is all around us and the panning as the train enters via the front right speaker, moves to the centre and exits via the left is seamless - matching the on screen action. As the arriving soldiers whistle the Colonel Bogey march, it’s all front sound stage but when the orchestra kicks in, the surrounds join in to swell the moment. The surrounds add depth to the score throughout but, in general, it’s mostly front centre weighted as the piece is dialogue led. The speech is crisp, clean and mud free. There’s a very subtle use of the surrounds for the ambient jungle noises, but this is sometimes so subtle that you’re hardly aware of it. A bit of oomph comes from the subwoofer occasionally but nothing distracting. This isn’t a modern day blockbuster in audio terms. The story, script and acting really steal the show here.
The American Region free Collectors Edition of ‘Kwai’ is presented in a nice thick digibook which includes the Blu-ray, a DVD version, a 32pp booklet with publicity material from the release period as well as a reduced size set of Front Of House stills. All of this is housed in an impressively robust slip case. This is a very nicely finished package indeed. The Bonus material on the Blu-ray disc comprises the following:
Crossing the Bridge: Picture-in-Graphics Track - This track, which plays along with the movie when chosen, tells us how the film was made. We also discover the truth behind Prisoner of War experiences during World War II. We get the chance to hear the accounts of real life soldiers who toiled along the Burma-Thailand ‘Death’ railway. There’s also a Book to Screen comparison.
Making of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (SD, 53 mins) - This previously released chunky documentary has input from film historian Adrian Turner and Norman Spencer, an associate of David Lean, who tell the story of the production from the acquisition of Pierre Boulle’s book, through its development to completion. It covers the fact that Carl Foreman was originally uncredited for producing the script due to the McCarthy witch-hunts going on in America and we get many anecdotes from people who were actually there. We hear of the casting of an American star (Holden) to satisfy Columbia. Apparently Cary Grant was considered for the role. It’s fascinating stuff for film buffs.
The Steve Allen Show with William Holden & Alec Gunness (SD, 7 mins) - A section from the 1957 chat show where the host interviews the two stars via a ‘live’ link to Burma. It’s a promo really and a black & white telerecording complete with period dust and dirt on the film. Holden takes the audience around the set.
‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ Premiere (SD, 2 mins) - William Holden describes the Premiere (audio only) over a background of stills.
The Rise and Fall of A Jungle Giant (SD, 6 mins) - This period promo looks at the building of the bridge for the film and begins with William Holden & Jack Hawkins arriving in Ceylon. We see sections of the bridge being moved into place as well as behind the scenes footage of the filming. I still have a wooden legged Miller tripod just like the one shown here. The film is interesting as it shows the basic construction techniques being used as well as the huge Cinemascope cameras.
USC Short Film Introduced by William Holden (SD, 16 mins) - Bill Holden tells us how to evaluate a film as part of a University Film & Literature course, using ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ as an example. It covers the making of the film showing the need to create rain when required and explains how the film maker creates a ‘truthful interpretation’. It’s pretty baby stuff, but many modern directors would benefit from watching it.
An Appreciation by Film Maker John Milius (SD, 8 mins) - John Milius, director of ‘The Wind & the Lion’ and ‘Conan the Barbarian’ explains his respect for ‘Kwai’ and David Lean as well as for the real people who worked on the Burma railway.
Photo Gallery (SD, 7 mins) - Here we get a chance to see almost every poster produced for the movie from around the world together with a fine collection of production stills – all against a background music track from the film.
Trailers (SD, 6 mins total) - Here we get the chance to see the trailers for not only the original release (which looks good) but also for the re-release which makes great capital of the 7 Oscars. The second trailer is of a much lesser quality.
The multi-Oscar winning ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ forges its way on to American Region free Blu-ray in a handsome Collector's Edition with an excellent 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the full width Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.55:1. Strong earth tones fill the screen amid the dirty, dusty jungle location while complexions have a realistic warm look.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track makes subtle use of the surrounds for ambience and Malcolm Arnold’s Oscar winning score while dialogue is clean, crisp and centre weighted.
A fine selection of featurettes make up the bonus material, although there’s no audio commentary.
Sir David Lean’s Oscar laden War epic features a career best performance from Alec Guinness as a man obsessed in a battle of wills with his Japanese captors in the story of the bridge built by allied troops along the Burmese ‘death’ railway. This is stirring stuff with strong performances also from William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa and Jack Hawkins in a movie that every true film buff should have in their collection.
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