The Bridge on the River Kwai Ultra HD Review

Ralph Potts reviews this cinematic gem, and the winner of seven Academy Awards’ (1957) including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Alec Guinness), that is making its debut on Ultra HD Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

86

Details:

Studio and Year: Sony Pictures – 1957
MPAA Rating: PG
Feature running time: 162 minutes
Genre: War Drama

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC @
Video Aspect: 2.55:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): ] English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, French, Spanish, French, Czech, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, German, Portuguese, Russian
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, French, Czech, Japanese, Polish, Hungarian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Indonesian, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Slovak, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
Starring: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, James Donald, Anne Sears
Directed by: David Lean
Music by: Malcolm Arnold
Written by: Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson based on the novel by Pierre Boulle
Region Code: A,B,C

Release Date: October 3, 2017

“This is War. This is Not a Game of Cricket”



My Take:

Lee Weber reviewed The Bridge on the River Kwai when it was released on Blu-ray back in 2010. His sentiments on the film mimic my own, so I opted to share his excellent comments in this article. Ratings for film, and bonus content will be the same, as they are identical to that release. New comments and ratings for the Ultra HD video and Dolby Atmos sound are below.

What is there to say that has not been said about ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ since its release and Academy Award for best picture in 1957? I can give a look from a movie buff who somehow let this masterpiece slip by. I am lucky to first see this looking better than it ever has, from a new and meticulously digitally restored 4k master, and with a newly remixed 5.1 lossless track. What a way to experience it for my first time.

I can see the fact that I have not yet seen this film blowing some readers minds. I have seen Sir David Lean’s other epics, Lawrence of Arabia (many, many times), Dr. Zhivago, and even A Passage to India. ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ is the one I feel will get more replay from me. It is a magical film where everything from script, cinematography, direction, music, and acting were cosmically aligned perfectly.

The story is a simple one. Set in a Japanese prison camp in Burma during WW II, we meet a battalion of British soldiers as they are arriving as POW’s to the camp, marching with their pride intact, whistling ‘Colonel Bogey March”.

Pride, rules, sense of duty, and stubbornness are what get these men through the day as they are involved in this madness of war. Stuck in the woods, doing their ‘jobs’ is not only their mission but what keeps them sane. The Japanese Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), who is the head of the camp, insists all POW’s must work. Lt. Colonel Nicholson’s (Alec Guinness) only way to keep his mind sane are the rules. He insists on pointing out the rules of capture as outlined in the Geneva Convention, which he just happens to have in is possession. He tries to convince Colonel Saito to follow them, and not make he, and his officers do manual labor. A stalemate occurs, and Saito puts Nicholson in the “oven” (solitary confinement). All the while a lone American prisoner named Shears (William Holden) has finagled his way onto the sick list and watches this play-out from afar, as he plans his escape.

The POW’s are building a bridge over the Kwai river that has a deadline set by the Japanese. Lt. Colonel Nicholson’s actions have led to slow work by his captured troops, and Saito’s fear of missing that deadline. If he misses it, Saito will be disgraced, and by the Japanese code of honor he must commit suicide. Saito gives in, letting Nicholson and his officers off work detail and lets them command the troops as they build the bridge. This leap of desperate faith is just the tip of the iceberg here. This film is deep, epic in length and emotion.

At a running time of almost three hours, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ plays out effortlessly, like any great film; every moment, character arch and shot worth watching. Sir David Lean is one of the few masters of cinema, proving here why modern filmmakers such as Spielberg, Lucas etc. are still chasing his influence. If you have yet to see this masterpiece, please do yourself a favor and seek it out.

Replay Value:

Parental Guide:

The rating is for mild war violence.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

UHD Presentation: 86
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • HDR: Dark Highlights:
  • HDR: Bright Highlights:
  • HDR: Expanded Color:
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Dolby Atmos Rating: 86
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Level of immersion: 
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Ultra HD Blu-ray has finally been released and eager enthusiasts are ready and willing to see what it has to offer. For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

The Bridge on the River Kwai comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 sound that has an average bitrate of 3.8 Mbps.

Sony remastered The Bridge on the River Kwai from the original 35mm film elements. Its presentation in Ultra HD is derived from that 4K image.

It’s important to note that the ultimate goal for any release on home video is to present a film in the highest possible quality based upon its original elements. A film like The Bridge on the River Kwai has an aesthetic that incorporates film grain and the use of optics that won’t result in the type of high gloss, tack-like sharpness of a film shot using digital cameras. This isn’t a problem and shouldn’t be seen as such.

This is period film that relies on visuals to convey its time frame, mood, and thematic tone. The cinematography uses wide-angles and sweeping pans of the sun soaked landscapes which can often impart a bright visual aesthetic. This is purposeful and comes across in this rendering. Looking at the film’s opening sequence the improvement in depth and definition is noticeable, especially during the shots of the thick jungle and prison camp. I could detect some finer details present during interiors and in backgrounds, during wide angle shots of the area surrounding the bridge. The low-level exterior shots of the various landscapes didn’t offer a marked improvement in dimension. Resolution is primarily stable, with some innate softening cropping up, imparting a discernible softness. The color range in the film is narrow, with lots of earth tones, but only the occasional use of primary colors like red and blue appearing onscreen. Grain is intact, occasionally taking on heavier emphasis, which can make some shots appear somewhat noisy.

I found the presentation to be very tame in terms of its use of dynamic highlights, both bright and dark, however some of that is owed to the nature of the photography. Overall the image didn’t make any visually compelling use of interstitial black levels offset by vivid bright elements. In general, the image, looked fine overall, making for a noteworthy improvement when compared to the Blu-ray rendering. I believe that what we are seeing is a faithful rendering of the film’s elements, which when all is said and done, is all we can ask for. The question now becomes, is the Ultra HD version worth considering over the Blu-ray? I would say that if you’re a fan, and truly want to own The Bridge on the River Kwai in its finest form, the answer is, yes. If you’re happy with the Blu-ray, and are hoping for a night and day difference, the UHD rendering may disappoint you.

The new Dolby Atmos mix uses the entire platform so as to broaden the soundstage via sounds emanating from both overhead and at ear level. This includes effects such as, workers walking overhead, gunshots passing close by, thunder claps, and venue replicating atmospherics that fill the listening area. The music score is mixed over the sound field, adding natural depth to its orchestrated elements while complimenting the story’s thematic details. This is done to very good effect, correlating with the onscreen events quite nicely as the most minute audio cues are fully realized.

I appreciated the fact that the sound designers didn’t go overboard with the freedom of object versus channel based mixing. The soundtrack retains much of its original essence with the Atmos mix adding a noticeable increase in scope. Kudos to the sound designer on this Dolby Atmos mix which I found to be spot on.

Bonus Features:

  • Disc 1: The Bridge on the River Kwai Ultra HD Blu-ray
    Disc 2: The Bridge on the River Kwai Blu-ray
    • Crossing the Bridge: Picture-in-Picture Graphics Track
    • Making of The Bridge on the River Kwai
    • The Steve Allen Show with William Holden & Alec Guinness
    • The Bridge on the River Kwai Premiere Narrated by William Holden
    • “Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant” Featurette
    • USC Short Film Introduced by William Holden
    • An Appreciation by Filmmaker John Milius
    • Photo Gallery
    • Theatrical Trailers
  • Digital HD Copy

Final Thoughts:

Spectacularly produced, and the winner of seven Academy Awards’ (1957) including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Alec Guinness), The Bridge on the River Kwai continues to be one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of all time. It took me years to finally see it, but it was worth the wait as I thoroughly enjoy it. Its debut on Ultra HD Blu-ray in this Combo Pack from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is sure to please from a technical standpoint as its Ultra HD/Blu-ray video, and Dolby Atmos immersive sound compliment it. As a film enthusiast I am thrilled to own this classic in Ultra HD, and highly recommend it to fans.

 

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS500 3D/4K Ready High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV8802A 13.2 Channel Audio/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies – 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton “Ergo” and Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
SVS PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
SVS SB-13 Ultra (Piano Gloss finish)
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems