The Bridge on the River Kwai (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 7 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?

Filmed in the days before HDTV’s were even a sparkle in anyone’s eye, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” is one of the wider movies out there in regards to scope. This new 4K restoration (from the original negatives, no less) literally breathes new life into the movie. This 2.55:1 AVC HD 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 over 50 years old – it’s a testament to Blu-ray that this looks so good.

Audio: How does it sound?

Again, this was made long before we all had home theater setups in our living rooms but this new DTS HD Master Audio track is fairly robust. 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?

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” came to DVD in not one, but two offerings several years ago. I always liked the “Limited Edition” as I preferred the color art (and the inclusion of a second disc of supplements didn’t hurt, either). This is pretty much the definitive edition on Blu-ray and comes complete with a standard DVD of the film to boot (also featuring a restored transfer). We get four featurettes starting off with “The 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. There’s a film with an introduction by William Holden and we see William Holden and Alec Guiness on “The Steve Allen Show”. There are some essays from the book that came out in 1957 as well as “The Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant” which appeared on the previous standard DVD. There’s also a picture-in-picture commentary track of sorts with information on the bridge, the challenge of building it during the war and so forth. If you’re a fan of the film, there’s no reason not to have this on your shelf.

Disc Scores