A companion to MGM-Europe's stellar 2-disc set for "The Battle Of Britain," the Region 1 NTSC set of "A Bridge Too far" contains identical goodies to the reviewed Region 2 PAL release below, plus an additional English Dolby 2.0 Surround track.
Though writer William Goldman ably documented his exhausting involvement with the "Bridge" production in his 1983 book "Adventures In The Screen Trade," the behind-the-scenes details remained one-sided, lacking the perspectives of other crew members, and testimonies from the brave souls that participated in the Allied parachuting.
The sleeve and DVD menus don't detail the additional commentary track participants, but fans of the movie, screenwriter Goldman, filmmaking pyrotechnics, and war buffs will have to take regular breaks between the huge mouthfuls of details that comprise this steady track. In it journalist & historian John Burlingame makes a few appearances to discuss Richard Addison's deliberately sparse score, and he provides some good theme breakdowns and bio sketches on the composer's career and actual involvement in the Arnhem assault.
Filmed in the pre-CGI days of epic filmmaking, the precision of the film's original crew is further examined by Craig and Richardson, who give sometimes overlong but fascinating recollections of the film's stunts, military vehicles, locations, and props.
Historical fidelity is pretty much what screenwriter Goldman reinforces in the commentary track, and the archived documentary, "Heroes From The Sky." A huge amount of research was already done by author Cornelius Ryan (author of "The Longest Day") before he wrote his epic docu-drama book, yet Goldman and the production enlisted numerous technical consultants to verify that the script and edited sequences were true to the events, if not the spirit of the land and air assault. (An optional Trivia Track also maintains almost six hundred factual pop-ups throughout the film.)
The documentary, produced in 2001 and narrated by Burt Reynolds, follows the same structure as MGM's documentary archived in the recent 2-disc "The Great Escape" set, and uses interviews with the filmmakers and film clips to support testimonies by surviving participants of the assault. Naturally the drama of the production figures heavily - author Ryan's dying wish to see his novel completed, published, and produced, along with has-been indie producer Joseph Levine mounting an epic at the age of 71 as a lasting legacy - but the memories of the survivors remain the most compelling.
The last goodie is an interview with director Attenborough, who echoes the sentiments of writer Goldman concerning the film's anti-war message. Memories of the film's colourful producer and tackling an epic war film are also discussed, including the deadly schedule that had the director globetrotting between filming to meet audition and casting deadlines before the next scheduled sequence.
"A Bridge Too Far" is a laudable example of a war film built on facts rather than fictional, Hollywood heroism, and the extras do an excellent job in deconstructing the complexities of epic filmmaking while educating viewers a little about a major wartime event.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan