A BRIDGE TOO FAR (2 DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION)

 THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (2 DISC COLLECTOR'S EDITION) 
(SONY/MGM/UA) 

With so many events transpiring on so many fronts and locations with literally hundreds of speaking parts, it just doesn't seem possible that anyone could recreate with any degree of coherence an accurate cinematic equivalent of the most tragic Allied blunder of WWII, the infamous Battle of Arnheim. Those of us who've read Cornelius Ryan's meticulously detailed book about the disastrous decisions and events that comprised the bloody farce called Operation Market Garden have probably had to frequently reread certain passages in order to keep track of the myriad reasons responsible for the cluttered and ugly military mess that this particular encounter was fated to become. To turn this particular literary masterpiece into a motion picture that audiences could actually follow and relate to would appear to any logical individual to be totally out of the question, but that's precisely what producer Joseph E. Levine, director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman have miraculously achieved. 

With the exception of the weakly conceived and executed "movie-star-ish " roles that Robert Redford and Ryan O'Neal feebly enact, the enormous cast--which includes Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier and Maximillian Schell-- manage to make distinctive individual impressions that are never overwhelmed by the enormity of the proceedings surrounding them. And indeed Bogarde, even in such stellar company, manages to walk away with the mammoth show, so deliciously witty is his interpretation of the haughty and supercilious British general that he so brilliantly portrays. 

The gratifyingly anamorphic widescreen color image is a major improvement over the originally released non-anamorphic dvd, though there's no denying Geoffrey Unsworth's photography looks fairly soft (intentionally?) and displays frequent grain. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, however, is frequently breathtaking and utilizes all channels with great and gut-wrenching panache. 

Take it from us: this BRIDGE TOO FAR will leave the viewer with countless gripping memories and give the contemporary viewer much to ponder as the Age Of Military Blunders relentlessly continues. 

Recently Sony Home Entertainment boldly and successfully attached an entirely new score to their own semi-restored MAJOR DUNDEE,, thereby substantially improving that initially wretchedly scored film. Now, through the courtesy of their own MGM/UA, they have delivered a new version of THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN which provides the grateful film-buff with a choice of two scores with which to experience this giant-scale epic. Purists who are satisfied with the mundane rah-rah ramblings of composer Ron Goodwin can continue to revel in his mediocre musical meanderings, but those of us with more refined musical tastes can at long last hear the original and absurdly discarded score by the legendary Sir William Walton. This fact alone would be reason enough to enthusiastically recommend this second, and far superior, dvd incarnation. 

While not even remotely in the same class as A BRIDGE TOO FAR, this similarly star-studded spectacle manages to deliver a watchable, if somewhat conventional, account of the exploits of the outnumbered Royal Air Force as they defied seemingly insurmountable odds in engaging the German Luftwaffe during the dark early days of WWII, significantly altering the course of history thereby. The problem that the filmmakers face, however, is that they don't have at their disposal the immense and varied canvas that A BRIDGE TOO FAR so abundantly supplied. All of the battles take place in the air, and by the time the film reaches its last third the sheer sameness of the air-borne action becomes a trifle wearying to the battle-fatigued viewer, as director Guy Hamilton runs out of interesting angles in which to photograph the frantic activities. The cast members chosen to flesh out the somewhat cardboard characters are Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Curt Jurgens, Kenneth More, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson and Robert Shaw, most of whom successfully manage to create suitable impressions. 

The 2:35 color anamorphic widescreen visuals are reasonable, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound seems mostly restricted to the center channel. This fact becomes instantly apparent every time the added on option of the Walton score materializes. So spectacularly directional is the rendering of that fine score that it sounds disembodied from the rest of the film. This problem doesn't exist with the alternate (and strikingly inferior) Goodwin score.

--DICK DINMAN

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