The Bridge on the River Kwai: 60th Anniversary Edition (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

October 10, 2017 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

In times of war, prisoners of war are sometimes used to complete manual labor tasks, such as hauling supplies and constructing items such as bridges and shacks. Such is the case here, as a team of British prisoners of war are forced to build an important bridge for their Japanese captors. In most instances, this task would be carried out in slow and uncaring form, but this team of captured soldiers is no normal platoon. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) assumes command of his mean and together, they begin to work on constructing the finest bridge the world has ever seen. Even though they’re working for the enemies, the men see this as a chance to win a small victory over their captors, by taking control of the project. That is just what they do also, as they take command over all aspects of the process and inside, they feel as though a moral battle has been won. But they don’t know that this bridge, that they’ve been working on so hard, is now the main target in an Allied demolition attack.

In addition to having a wide fan base across the world, this film took home Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and three other Oscars, as well as various other awards. This is one of those movies that has it all, no real flaws seem to emerge in this presentation in the least. And even after all the years, it stands up as well as ever and continues to gain new fans and acclaim. It seems like this picture appears on all time great lists, from the AFI’s list to IMDB’s charts, all of which is well deserved. This film has our highest recommendation and if you’ve never seen it, then rest assured your money won’t go to waste.

This movie boasts an impressive ensemble cast, loaded with talented performers who turn in spectacular portrayals. I do think one man rises above even all the superb turns around him though, as Alec Guinness is powerful and effective at all times within his role. Guinness was known for his excellence in front of the camera, but here he is better than ever and really lights up the screen with his work. I know a lot of people associate him with his role in Star Wars, but for me, this is Guinness’ signature performance. Guinness took home the Academy Award for Best Actor and he certainly deserved it, to be sure. Guinness can also be seen in such films as Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Great Expectations (1946), The Ladykillers, Damn the Defiant!, and Return of the Jedi. The rest of the excellent cast includes Sessue Hayakawa (Green Mansions, Black Roses), Jack Hawkins (Ben-Hur, The Fallen Idol), John Boxer (The Blue Lagoon, Gandhi), James Donald (The Pickwick Papers, The Big Sleep), and William Holden (Network, The Wild Bunch). The director of The Bride On The River Kwai was David Lean, who also helmed such movies as Summertime, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations (1946), Oliver Twist (1948), Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ryan’s Daughter.

Video: How does it look?

The Bridge on the River Kwai is, as of this writing, the oldest movie to see a Ultra HD/4K release. It’s one of Sony’s marquee titles (even considering its age) and I was simply floored as to how good this looked. There was a Blu-ray edition that had a 4K restoration, but this one seems to have more depth, detail and overall clarity. And that’s the point. This 2.55:1 HEVC transfer is, quite simply, the best I’ve ever seen the film look. Detail is amazing, ranging from the sweat on the actors’ faces to the detail of the wood used to make the bridge. Black levels are near perfect and colors are strong, albeit a tad bit oversaturated. Still, for a movie that’s now now 60 years old – it looks downright amazing.

Audio: How does it sound?

Again, given the age of the film, it’s one of the older movies to now feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Yes, there are better-sounding films out there, but they’re also newer and benefit from technology. There’s a tad bit of distortion to be heard, but dialogue is still sharp and crisp. There are a few sequences in the jungle that have a very naturalistic effect and with good reason – David Lean wanted to use some of the natural sounds of the jungle to provide the sound as opposed to manufacturing it. Surrounds are used and especially during the final scene. For a film of this age, I was mightily impressed with how this sounded.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Sadly, there have been no new supplements added to this Ultra HD release, but those that were on the previous Blu-ray are included (as is the Blu-ray).

  • Crossing the Bridge: Picture-in-Picture Graphics Track – An oft-used feature these days, this picture-in-picture track showcases some facts about World War II and POW camp experiences. We also get first-hand accounts from soldiers who worked on the Burma-Thailand railway, and book-to-screen comparisons.
  • Making of The Bridge on the River Kwai – A vintage featurette that has some behind the scenes footage but is in no way as corny as the ones they have today.
  • The Steve Allen Show with William Holden & Alec Guinness – The title pretty much says it all as the duo talk about the film with host Steve Allen.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai Premiere Narrated by William Holden – The star narrates the movie over a series of still photographs, but it only runs a couple of minutes.
  • Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant – The “jungle giant” in this case is the bridge as we get to see it constructed and de-constructed.
  • USC Short Film Introduced by William Holden – Again, the title essentially says it all.
  • An Appreciation by Filmmaker John Milius – Acclaimed director John Milius expresses his passion for the film and how it influenced him in his career.
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailers

The Bottom Line

This is a fine example of “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” It’s a good thing when major movie studios start releasing their classic films on a new format, so maybe 4K is here to stay. The lack of any new supplements is disappointing, but the uptick in visuals and audio is more than worth it.

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