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A Bridge Too Far [Blu-ray]
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Richard Attenborough directs this star-studded account of the failed 1944 Arnhem assault. The story follows the events of Operation Market Garden, a plot that was intended to allow the Allies access to the German lines to seize control of bridges in the occupied Netherlands. The cast includes Dirk Bogarde as Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, James Caan as Staff Sergeant Eddie Dohun, Robert Redford as Major Julian Cook and Sean Connery as Major General Roy Urquart.
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Common criticisms of the film include poor scripting for bit-part actors, the impression that everyone in-the-know could see Market Garden was doomed from the start and should have never been attempted, and a scandalous mischaracterization of Lt-General Frederick Browning who in the film is portrayed by actor Dirk Bogarde as a disingenuous sleaze-ball who recklessly squandered the lives of (in particular) the British and Polish paratroopers committed to holding Arnhem, when in fact it was Browning who at the outset had warned Montgomery and Eisenhower “I think we may be trying to go a bridge too far” and attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the operational plan scaled back in order that the paratroopers’ lives not be put in jeopardy for a probably-unattainable objective. The film is also criticised for being too long (running time is 176 minutes) and having too many actors and sub-plots; in effect for trying to portray the whole operation instead of concentrating on a simpler storyline with fewer actors through which the action could be revealed and allowing for in-depth character development.
Despite these gripes, the film has many high-points. The spectacular (pre-CGI-era) parachute drop of 1,000 men filmed both in panorama and in intimate close-up offers a visceral, edge-of-the-seat feel for what it must have been like to jump into enemy territory in daylight in 1944 and is one of the truly great scenes of cinematic history. The battle scenes are realistic, especially the street fighting in Arnhem, even if they stop short of portraying the no-holds-barred combat injuries of Steven Spielberg’s modern epics ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Band of Brothers’. A few actors deliver outstanding performances: Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier (as a Dutch civilian doctor) and James Caan shine, whereas Elliott Gould grossly overacts, Michael Caine is just Michael Caine, and Gene Hackman’s attempt at General Sosabowski’s Polish accent is truly execrable. Hardy Kruger and Maximilian Schell turn in intelligent and sympathetic performances as Waffen-SS generals.
The Blu-Ray steelbook is the best-ever release of this epic movie, a feast for the eyes and ears way better than previous DVD releases. Gripes: the theme music is far louder than the rest of the action but you can live with it; and the lack of extra features when plenty of material is available is puzzling, and a little annoying. However if you want to see the best print of this 1977 celluloid-era spectacular, this is definitely the version to watch.
Plus, when the history textbooks are studied, you hear a lot about the D-Day landings, the Battle of Britain and so forth. However, ‘Operation Market-Garden’ rarely gets a mention. It was an audacious plan by the Allies to take four bridges in only a few days time in the middle of German-held Europe, thus ensuring a vital route of supplies is maintained to the Allied forces fighting on the frontline.
A plan of this magnitude and intricacy could only be done justice on an epic scale. And, to the film’s credit, it does just that. It has a stellar ensemble cast, including such greats as Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Caine, all of which play different Allied military personnel at various points of the mission.
Without wishing to give too much away, perhaps one aspect of the film’s success may be down to the fact that the ‘goodies’ don’t necessarily win. It’s unlikely that most of us would appreciate a World War II film where the Germans come out on top, however, history was not kind to Operation Market-Garden. It went ahead and, in one Allied General’s own words “Was over 90% successful.” Unfortunately, a catalogue of errors – some manmade and others beyond the Allies’ control – contributed to it being labelled one of the biggest mission failures of the latter half of the war.
If you like your war films, you should love this. It’s big, powerful and doesn’t pull many punches when it shows the horror of what soldiers on all sides went through. You need to be okay with ensemble casts. There could probably be a film made about every character featured in this film. But there isn’t enough time for that, so we do have to sacrifice a little character development in favour of condensing the mission down into a watchable viewing.
‘Saving Private Ryan’ may have a better budget, but A Bridge Too Far has a raw, epic feel that really makes it come across like a history lesson which more battles and stars.
Personally - having watched both the DVD and the Blu Ray, I see no great difference. The Blu Ray may have a slight edge in terms of clarity and sound, but I think the 'improvements' are subtle.
However - at the time of writing this there seemed to be no great difference in the cost of the relative formats.
Summarily - the Blu Ray is possibly the best option by a short head.
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