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A Bridge Too Far

(1977) *** 1/2 Pg
177 min. United Artists. Director: Richard Attenborough. Cast: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Liv Ullmann.

/content/films/3096/1.jpgFox got a sequel of sorts to The Longest Day—fifteen years later—in Richard Attenborough's A Bridge Too Far. Like The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far is based on a history tome by Cornelius Ryan and assembles a star-studded cast to inhabit a three-hour account of a significant WWII battle, shot on authentic locations. While producer Darryl F. Zanuck lamented not striking the decisively anti-war note he intended with The Longest Day, Attenborough's film certainly succeeds in this regard, even while celebrating the heroism of the men put in harm's way.

Attenborough's film also offers more than cameos to its top-lined fourteen stars. Determined not to delay yet another offensive, Lieutenant Gen. Frederick Browning (Dirk Bogarde) ignores doubts and deterrent military intelligence. He lays out Operation Market Garden to its key players: "We're going to take 35,000 men 300 miles and drop them behind enemy lines." British Maj. Gen. Robert Urquhart (Sean Connery) and American Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin (Ryan O'Neal, seriously outclassed) will lead their paratroopers to take a road and five bridges through Holland into Germany. Lieutenant Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins)'s paratroopers must play a dangerous waiting game as they attempt to hold the "farthest" bridge, in the village of Arnhem, until reinforcements and resupply arrive. British Lieutenant Gen. Brian Horrocks (Edward Fox) and British Lieutenant Col. Joe Vandeleur (Michael Caine) bring up the rear, theoretically taking advantage of cleared roads.

Little goes according to the Allied plan, despite missteps by the Germans (represented principally by Hardy Kruger's Maj. Gen. Ludwig and Maximilian Schell's Lt. Gen. Bittrich). Elliot Gould makes an impression in his fleeting role as the no-nonsense American colonel who constructs a "Bailey bridge" for the approaching Brits, James Caan stars in an episode involving the reckless rescue of a beloved fellow soldier, and Robert Redford eventually emerges as an American major who leads an insanely hairy daylight river approach to a well-defended bridge. Laurence Olivier and Liv Ullmann movingly portray humanitarian Dutch civilians who tend to the wounded. Though he's not at his very best saddled with a Polish accent, Gene Hackman gets the film's second-most memorable line as Maj. Gen. Stanislaw F. Sosabowski: "When one man says to another, 'I know what let's do today. Let's play the war game,' everybody dies." (Denholm Elliott, John Ratzenberger, and Ben Cross make brief appearances.)

Screenwriter William Goldman (All the President's Men) does a solid job with the narrative juggling act, faithfully rendering Cornelius Ryan's generally accepted account of the battle—that historical fidelity is the film's greatest asset. If a few of the dramatic vignettes along the way play a bit corny, they also sustain interest over the long haul by putting dramatic tissue onto the skeleton of the plain facts of Operation Market Garden. The film's most damaging element is John Addison's bafflingly counter-productive score; the music keeps trying to patriotically pump up a mood that's otherwise one of tense anticipation and dread (a shame, since Addison eagerly intended it as a tribute to fallen heroes). Still, Attenborough consistently reinforces the horrors of war by depicting not only the disasterous military engagements and their toll on heroes, but also the witless political decisions that led to needless, excessive loss of life.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/2/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox's Blu-Ray upgrade of A Bridge Too Far does the best it can with the film's diffused photography, a product of its time (briefly, during some later scenes, there's also a veil-like appearance creating some faint vertical striations); once one's eyes adjust to the soft look, the transfer is a very pleasing one, offering as much detail as there is to offer and looking as good as the film is likely ever to look.  A 5.1 Master Lossless Audio soundtrack does a great service to the soundtrack. Unfortunately, the only bonus feature ported over from MGM's 2-disc DVD Collector's Edition is the film's Theatrical Trailer (3:17), though trailers are also included for Platoon, Flyboys, and Windtalkers.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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