A Bridge Too Far on Home Media
When producer Joseph E. Levine’s $25 million adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book A Bridge Too Far landed in theaters on June 15, 1977, home media as we know it today was in its infancy. Videocassette recorders existed, of course, but they were still mostly used by the television industry or by wealthy individuals. Prices of VCRs were beginning to drop, but even then most people did not own one. Thus, when A Bridge Too Far’s theatrical run ended in late July of 1977, the only way that the movie’s fans could hope to see it was on broadcast television – NBC aired it over two nights in 1979 – or on premium pay-TV channels such as HBO.
I don’t recall when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists (MGM-UA) finally released A Bridge Too Far on VHS videotape. I do remember I bought the two-tape set sometime in the early 1990s; it was one of the first home videos I owned that presented a theatrical release in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio (or close to it) instead of the horrid pan-and-scan “fullscreen” format that was the standard for analog television sets in the 1980s and early 1990s.
MGM-UA Home Video’s VHS edition of A Bridge Too Far allowed me to relive the experience of going to the theater (twice!) to watch director Richard Attenborough’s nearly three-hour-long recreation of Operation Market-Garden, the star-crossed attempt by the Allies to outflank Nazi Germany’s Westwall defensive line by using paratroopers and elements of the British Second Army to seize a series of bridges – “with thunderclap surprise” – in German-occupied Holland and gain a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River (Neder Rijn in Dutch).
Of course, the TV I had in my bedroom wasn’t large – if I recall correctly, it was a 17” portable color set which Mom gave me as a high school graduation present in June of 1983, but at least I could watch A Bridge Too Far at my leisure rather than wait for a cable channel such as Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to broadcast it. And for the most part, I was happy with it, even though it had several issues that bothered me.
The first problem was that when MGM-UA Home Video transferred the 176-minute film to videotape, the people responsible for the job deleted the “place identifier” tags superimposed on screen to help the viewer know where in the large Market-Garden battlefield the action took place. I remembered those superimposed titles from my previous three viewings of A Bridge Too Far, so even though I had the book and was quite familiar with the battle, I hated the deletion of those informative “objects.”
The other thing that bugged me to no end with the VHS set was this: During one of the film’s set-up “pointer scenes,” the German high command in the West is mulling over the Allies’ possible next moves in that theater. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Preiss) turns to Army Group B commander Field Marshal Walther Model (Walter Kohut) and asks, “Who do you think is going to lead the attack? Montgomery? Or Patton?” Model replies, “Patton. He is their best.” Von Rundstedt chuckles and says “I agree. I would prefer Montgomery, but even Eisenhower isn’t that stupid.”
I don’t remember in which of those lines the name Patton appeared as Patten. But it did, and it bothered me not only as a former copy editor but also as a World War II buff. (I mean, seriously. George S. Patton, Jr. is one of America’s most famous generals, and a large corporate entity such as MGM can’t spell the man’s name right? The mistake recurred in the 1998 DVD, but apparently not in the 2005 Collector’s Edition reissue.)
But, on the whole, that VHS set, which presented A Bridge Too Far in two tapes due to the storage limits of the magnetic tape format, served me well until my VCR gave up the ghost some time before I bought my first DVD player in February of 2000.
The 2005 “Collector’s Edition” DVD
In the 2000s, I replaced my collection of movies on VHS tape – around 125 in all – with DVD versions on 1:1 basis. As part of this project, I bought the 1998 DVD edition of A Bridge Too Far early on, even though it was one of those double-sided discs that present a movie in two formats: full screen and widescreen.
This first version of A Bridge Too Far was decent but not spectacular; it had better sound and video quality than the 1990s-era VHS tape did, but the only “extra feature” it offered was the 1977 theatrical trailer. In the packaging, MGM included a booklet with a few behind-the-scenes factoids and a photo still delineating the difference between widescreen and full screen. But other than that, it was a barebones release, with no audio commentary track or a “making-of” featurette, which are extras that I, as both screenwriter and reviewer, always appreciate.
It’s been a decade since I have seen that particular DVD; when I saw the 2005 2-DVD Collector’s Edition was available at Amazon, I ordered it right away and gave the older one to my older half-sister Victoria.
Released on October 25, 2005, the Collector’s Edition of A Bridge Too Far is a two-disc set that comes in a slipcover/standard DVD case with new cover art and – yes – extra features not found in the 1998 DVD,
This version of A Bridge Too Far is an improvement over its 1998 precursor. The first disc not only presents the 1977 in its original “as seen in theaters” version, with the documentary-style “location” names superimposed where they originally appeared, but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which partnered with the financially-troubled MGM, added several extra features not present in the ’98 DVD. These are:
- Audio commentary with screenwriter William Goldman and key crew members
- A feature-length trivia track
Disc Two contains the supplementary material that a movie like this deserves:
- A Bridge Too Far: Heroes from the Sky, a documentary originally produced for the History channel
- A Distant Battle: Memories of Operation Market-Garden, a 60th Anniversary featurette. One of the old veterans is William “Bill” Guarnere, whose story was part of the dramatization of Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers
- Richard Attenborough: A Filmmaker Remembers, another featurette about the making of A Bridge Too Far
Here are the A/V technical specs for the 2005 Collector’s Edition:
- Codec: MPEG-2
- Encoding format: 16:9
- Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
- Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
- Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: Dolby Digital 2.0
- French: Dolby Digital Mono
- Two-disc set (2 DVD)
- Region 1
The 2008 Blu-ray
On June 3, 2008, MGM and its new distribution partner 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released A Bridge Too Far on the then-new high definition Blu-ray format. It is a one-disc set that presents the film in 1080p high definition, which gives viewers a sharper video image, more subtitle options (English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean), but not much else.
In the disc’s onscreen menu, there’s an “Extra Features” option, but the only extra is the promotional trailer for A Bridge Too Far. That’s it. No making-of featurettes, no trivia track, no audio commentary.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a “Trailers” option for three trailers, specifically the ones for Platoon, Flyboys, and Windtalkers.
The Blu-ray’s smart menu has a loop of scenes from the film with bits of John Addison’s Theme from A Bridge Too Far as underscore. Other than that, nothing to write home about, to be honest.
Here are the specs for the 2008 single Blu-ray release of A Bridge Too Far:
- Codec: MPEG-2 (24.78 Mbps)
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect ratio: 2.34:1
- Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English: Dolby Digital 4.0
- French: Dolby Digital 5.1
- Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
- English, English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean
- Blu-ray Disc
- Single disc (1 BD-50)
- Region A
I was surprised, to say the least, when I bought my Blu-ray copy of A Bridge Too Far several years ago and saw that – at least as far as supplementary material went, anyway – the 2005 Collector’s Edition DVD is superior to the 2008 Blu-ray release.
Certainly, A Bridge Too Far itself looks great in high definition, and its 5.1 DTS HD audio track clearly outclasses the DVD’s Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, so in that regard, the 2008 Blu-ray outshines its standard definition sibling,
But I can’t understand why MGM, which has been saddled with financial issues for years, couldn’t be bothered to port the extra features from the DVD onto the Blu-ray. Most of MGM’s competitors, including 20th Century Fox – before its sale to the Walt Disney Company in 2019 – and Paramount Pictures, either create new “extras” or port existing ones from one format to another.
Granted, A Bridge Too Far was never a huge hit in the United States. Most of its fans seem to be Cornelius Ryan fans or World War II buffs, but it’s not as well-known as The Longest Day, which is also based on a book by Ryan. It’s more popular in the United Kingdom, where the Battle of Arnhem is almost as legendary as the Alamo is to Texans. And for obvious reasons, A Bridge Too Far has many Dutch fans.
Still, just because A Bridge Too Far was not a big hit when it was released, it is still a good movie and deserved a better suite of extras for its Blu-ray version.