A Bridge Too Far

For most of its existence, Arnhem was just a small town in Holland. All that changed during World War II, when the town’s cobbled streets became the scene of one of the war’s most fruitless battles. Arnhem had the unfortunate luck to be a stone’s throw away from Germany, with only a river and a bridge separating them. That bridge plays an important role in “A Bridge Too Far,” a failed attempt at a good, old-fashioned war movie. Even with it’s high profile list of actors and actresses, “A Bridge Too Far” failed to attract an audience, especially an audience still stinging from our Jungle escapades in Vietnam.


A Bridge Too FarThat’s all America needed at the time, another reminder of war. Shot on a larger-than-life canvas by Richard Attenborough, “A Bridge Too Far” reminded me of those great early 1960’s war movies like “The Longest Day” and “The Great Escape.” Good scripts, lots of star power, and a butt-numbing running time. “A Bridge Too Far” runs three hours (okay, it’s four minutes shy of that…shoot me). Three hours. Thanks to a functional script by William Goldman, based on the best-selling book by Cornelius Ryan, there’s lots to see and do during that three hours. First, you can star gaze. Attenborough has drafted some of the world’s leading talent to flesh out his war movie, including Sean Connery, Robert Redford, James Caan, Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Liv Ullmann, Elliott Gould and Ryan O’Neal.

All box office draws when “A Bridge Too Far” was made. You can sit and marvel at Attenborough’s staging of the war, which includes an awesome aerial drop of hundreds of paratroopers. Or you can pump up the jam and let the booming basses blow out the fillings in your teeth every time there’s an explosion. The story is okay, but it’s only there to move the characters from one battle to the next. There are attempts at suspense, but they are overpowered by the lengthy scenes of battle that are impressive yet repetitious. Even at three hours, there’s little time to distinguish the large cast, so most are reduced to types. Elliott Gould is the comic relief, James Caan is the loyal Sergeant who refuses to let his Captain die. You get the idea. There is intervention with civilians, and more attempts to personalize the war, but they never get out of first gear.

You marvel at the logistics of the film, but you never really get involved in the action enough to care about any of the characters. Followed by such groundbreaking war films as “Platoon” and “Saving Private Ryan,” “A Bridge Too Far” seems antiquated. It’s big, long and loud, but it doesn’t leave an impression.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: RESUSCITATE
Houston, we have a problem. The quality of the digital transfer varies from scene to scene. Does that mean it’s a film stock problem enhanced by the digital transfer, or is the transfer to blame? Some scenes look sharp and vivid, while others look grainy and full of artifacts. It doesn’t help matters that the original print isn’t nearly as pristine as one would hope. There are scratches around the reel changes, and the low lit scenes loose their depth and solidity. Compression artifacts dance around the landscape. The colors also vary, vibrant and alive in some scenes, muted and drab in others. Some of the blacks also begin to fade, making the scene look unattractive. The images are tolerable, and you won’t go blind watching the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions). Still, I wish more care would be taken both in terms of protecting the original negative and transferring it to DVD.

HEARING: EXCELLENT
As the booming basses of John Addison’s majestic score rattle the room, you know the Dolby Digital Stereo Surround track is going to get the job done. The booming basses get a workout thanks to the frequent explosions, while the trebles tingle with clarity. The dialogue mix is hit and miss, but I highly doubt that it’s a transfer issue. Some scenes just play softer than others. The surround mix is alive with ambient noise, putting you right in the middle of the action. “A Bridge Too Far” also features a mono French language track.

ORAL: GOOD
Closed Captions in English and French subtitles.

COORDINATION: RESUSCITATE
What, you want your cake and eat it too? The RSDL disc is already packed with a 3- hour movie and the original theatrical trailer. Unless MGM had made it a flipper, there’s no room for much more. That’s okay considering the circumstances. The DVD does come with an eight-page booklet featuring fascinating facts about the stars and the making of the movie.

PROGNOSIS: RESUSCITATE
I know war is hell, but do movies about war have to look like they’ve been drug through a battle zone?

PATIENT: A BRIDGE TOO FAR
BIRTH DATE: 1977
HMO: MGM Home Entertainment

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen



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