How good can a Bluray of The Bridge on the River Kwai look? At best the color will appear a bit more saturated with slightly more sharpness than the DVD. Hunky-dory. But nobody’s going to have an orgasm or fall on the floor when they see it. The 1957 film was shot on 35mm and almost entirely outdoors, and has a utilitarian look for the most part. Some of it just looks good; other parts look fair.
Jack Hildyard‘s widescreen cinematography is handsome for the most part — the early-morning-light shots are quite beautiful — but Kwai‘s visuals have never been what anyone (including Sony restorationist Grover Crisp) would call stunning or exquisite.
It wasn’t shot in 70mm and is not by any stretch a Lawrence of Arabia-type experience. It’s certainly not on the level of Jack Cardiff‘s work on Black Narcissus. It’s just a very nicely shot prisoner-of-war, trudging-through-the-jungle film with a beach interlude in which William Holden gets to sample the many splendors of a British nurse. On top of which the regular 2008 DVD looks fairly decent as is, especially if you watch it via a Bluray player on a large plasma flatscreen. So I’m not sure if the forthcoming Bluray, which streets on 11.2, can be regarded as much of a big deal.
From last weekend’s 25th edition of “The Reel Thing,” the annual technical symposium for the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA): “Sony’s Grover Crisp, who organized the event with his colleague Michael Friend, presented the studio’s second 4K restoration, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and noted the following:
(1) “Previous restorations included ‘defects’ caused by the production’s use of poorly-made opticals;” and…
(2) “A horizontal jitter in the original camera negative and subtle ghosting have now been corrected;”
(3) “The film’s original 2.55:1 aspect ratio has been resumed for the first time. (Crisp made everyone in the room cringe when he described how a previous editor had literally etched a scratch on each frame of the negative denoting what he or she felt was the ‘proper’ 2.35:1 framing.).”
Wells reaction: The original 2.55:1 aspect ratio has been “resumed” for the first time? Coulda fooled me. My eye knows the difference between 2.35 (or 2.39) and 2.55 to 1, and I’m 95% certain that I’ve been looking at a 2.55:1 aspect ratio on the last two Kwai DVDs (’00 and ’08).