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A Bridge Too Far: Collector's Edition

"Get there firstest with the mostest" is an apocryphal epigram of military strategy, commonly attributed to Nathan Bedford Forrest, but just as easily drawn from the works of Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz. An entrenched force is much harder to engage than a mobile one. Meanwhile, an invading force faces laws of diminishing returns, requiring greater support along increasingly vulnerable supply lines. The Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944 took such facts into account — British and American troops couldn't get to Nazi-occupied France "firstest," but six months of planning ensured that Operation Overlord arrived with the "mostest," establishing the continental beachheads that eventually led to the Third Reich's downfall. The same can't be said for Operation Market Garden. Launched three months after D-Day, the ambitious assault — devised by British Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery — called for a combined air-land offensive from Belgium into German-held Holland, with 35,000 paratroopers seizing a series of bridges at three crucial points, supported by a fierce armored invasion along 63 miles of narrow highway. It failed. After D-Day, the Allies would capture much of western Europe, culminating in the fall of Nazi Germany less than a year later, but Market Garden remains the European Theater's most prominent black eye. Precisely why it failed remains a matter of debate, but its echoes are heard throughout history — in part thanks to A Bridge To Far (1977), one of the best, and most unconventional, World War II films.

Based on the novel by Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far initially comes across as one of the Hollywood studio system's finest big-budget wartime epics, even though it's nothing of the sort. Conceived by producer Joseph E. Levine — who promised Ryan he would make the film while the author was on his deathbed — the production came about entirely off-lot, with Levine eventually sinking $26 million of his own money and credit into the production (snubbed at the Academy Awards, the film nonetheless grossed $50 million, in the black before the premiere thanks to worldwide distribution deals). Levine sagely tapped Richard Attenborough as director. A noted actor (and star of The Great Escape) who had helmed just two smaller pictures before this one, Bridge moved Attenborough into the top ranks of international directors, where he would remain. Levine also was determined to assemble an all-star cast, which became possible thanks to his hefty roll of cash. Attenborough managed to recruit British luminaries such as Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, and Dirk Bogarde, while a casting foray into the New Hollywood turned up such notables as Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neal, Elliot Gould, and James Caan. Getting a post-Oscar party into one movie likely won't happen again on this scale, and the same might be said for World War II pictures. Sparing little expense, the details of Market Garden are rendered pre-CGI with a fleet of DC-3 aircraft, vintage tanks (most replicas), and infantry extras that can be seen for miles. But it isn't merely for the sake of nostalgia, or a morally assuring tale that recalls the last "good war." Screenwriter William Goldman's complex script focuses not only on the terror of tank warfare and house-to-house combat, but also the bureaucratic foul-ups, tactical errors, misplaced priorities, and eventual shirking of responsibility that weren't just the hallmark of Market Garden, but of a cynical United States in the post-Watergate/Vietnam era. There are heroes to be found in the story. Even some who survive it. But what makes A Bridge Too Far unique in the WWII filmography is that it witnesses not only the courage found in war, but the very human costs of it as well. There is no other anti-war statement quite like it.

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Sony/MGM's two-disc DVD release of A Bridge Too Far: Collector's Edition offers an acceptable, although sometimes imperfect, anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with a pleasant amount of grain and color desaturation; it is sourced from the same transfer found on the original single-disc release, although collateral wear has been noticeably diminished. Audio is available in the original Dolby 2.0 Stereo or a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Along with the feature, Disc One also includes a commentary with screenwriter William Goldman and selected crew members, as well as a trivia track. The bulk of the supplements, all new, are found on Disc Two, including the featurettes "A Bridge Too Far: Heroes from the Sky" (43 min.), "A Distant Battle: Memories of Operation Market Garden" (17 min.), and "Richard Attenborough: A Filmmaker Remembers" (18 min.). Also on board are ten stills galleries with notes, as well as the theatrical trailer and previews for other Sony/MGM WWII titles. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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