If Santa didn’t slide enough classic movies under your tree last month, give yourself a treat and grab the new Blu-Ray edition of The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Taking place in 1943 in the jungles of Burma, the film deftly juggles the parallel stories of a cadre of British POWs forced to build a bridge for their Japanese captors and a small group of Allied commandos determined to destroy the enemy’s plans. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness, in a performance that won him a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor) and his men are captured and placed in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp under the command of Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa, nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Nicholson and Saito clash from the start, with Nicholson being placed in an iron “sweat box” to endure the tropical heat as punishment. In the meantime, his soldiers do their best to sabotage and impede work on a bridge being built over the River Kwai, intended for use by the Japanese army. But when Nicholson is released, he is incensed by his soldiers’ actions and insists that they complete the work on the bridge to the best of their collective abilities, all in a perverse attempt to demonstrate British efficiency and power. Subsequently, after an American Naval officer, Shears (William Holden), successfully escapes the camp, he is then coerced into joining a commando group sent out to demolish the near-completed bridge. As the two groups’ respective missions come to a head, order dissolves into chaos, and the true destructive possibilities of war are revealed.
In addition to Guinness’ award, the film also won six other Academy Awards, including Best Picture. And watching the film now, it’s little wonder that it was so appealing to Oscar voters. The movie combines humor, pathos, drama, and true suspense, creating a compulsively-watchable big screen experience.
It’s little wonder, in retrospect, because director David Lean is (at least in my mind) the undisputed master of the engrossing epic. I’m not a fan of war movies–far from it, actually–and yet this film and Lean’s 1962 opus Lawrence of Arabia both adhere to and defy the conventions of the typical war film in increasingly intriguing ways. More a character study than an examination of conflict itself, Kwai brilliantly reflects the all-too-human motivations that give rise to war and strife.
For film aficionados, this latest release is the preeminent edition of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Not only does the set include the brand-spanking-new Blu-Ray treatment of the film, it also includes a DVD version for those who may not have updated their players as of yet. Just seeing the movie in all of its newly eye-popping glory, however, is enough of a testament to the wonders that Blu-Ray has to offer, and a compelling argument for making the format switch sooner rather than later. The set also includes replicas of the film’s lobby cards, a full-color accompanying booklet about the movie’s history, and a plethora of intriguing extras.
Overall, this set provides hours of entertainment for an insanely reasonable price, so I highly recommend it for even the casual classic film fan. Pick up your own copy and marvel over its various and sundry wonders for yourself!
Note: True Classics thanks Columbia Classics for providing a copy of The Bridge on the River Kwai for the purposes of this review.