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Is it possible for a meticulously-recreated World War II movie whose cast includes Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, James Caan, and Robert Redford to be a complete disappointment? After watching A Bridge Too Far, I have to say that it’s indeed possible for the sum of the parts to be quite a bit less than the whole.

Bridge Too Far, A
The three-hour epic chronicles “Operation Market Garden,” the Allies’ plan in 1944 to cut short the fighting of WWII by staging a daring aerial and ground-based invasion of occupied Holland en route to the heart of Germany. The all-star cast plays the various generals, commanders, and other soldiers in charge of taking six all-important bridges that are necessary to bring the troops and supplies into enemy territory.

A great deal of attention to detail went into making A Bridge Too Far historically accurate. Filming took place on actual WWII battlefields, using authentic salvaged equipment (including one tank that was borrowed from the top of a monument!) and even costumes. But while the production may get high marks as a reenactment, it’s a flop as a film.

For the first hour of the film, I was reasonably engaged by the movie. The situation as set up in the first hour seems promising: the Allies are launching a massive and critically important attack, but even though various hints appear that the foundation for this attack is unsound and the operation could turn out to be a massive failure, the “brass” are determined to ignore the warnings and push ahead. There’s certainly a lot of opportunity for dramatic tension in this situation, as pressures rise and high-strung personalities collide.

However, it all goes downhill from there, and by the end, I couldn’t care less what happened to anybody, since I had literally no idea where any particular character was, what he was supposed to be doing, or why it mattered. Director Richard Attenborough is supposed to be one of the “greats,” but A Bridge Too Far shows all the indications that he got caught up in the details for their own sake, and lost track of telling a good story for the audience.

Bridge Too Far, A
The deadliest flaw in A Bridge Too Far is in the confusing handling of the locations of the various scenes. Location is crucial to the plot of the film: in order to make any sense out of the events, it’s necessary to know where each of the different groups are, where they are going, and where they are in relation to the other groups. Unfortunately, the film makes it impossible to keep track of all of this. The various battlefields and towns all look alike, and other than a brief glimpse of a map early in the film, there is no indication of where places are with respect to each other. There’s some assistance at first from captions identifying each location when there’s a scene change, but these are only supplied in the first part of the movie. I don’t know about the other viewers of the film, but personally I don’t have the location of WWII battlefields memorized (Ed - I do, 'had to learn them for GCSE history!), Once the captions disappeared, I started getting confused; after the different groups started splitting up and moving around, I became completely lost. This pretty much kills the story, which is based on the suspense of “can X troop make it to Y troop in time?” If you don’t know where X or Y are, or what they’re supposed to be doing, then it’s very difficult to muster any interest in what happens to them.

You would think that having an all-star cast of immediately recognizable faces would make it easy to keep track of the characters. You would be wrong. The actors play a muddle of generals, commanders, and soldiers whose names and functions were impossible to keep track of. The supporting characters compound this problem by referring to their commanders by title instead of by name. To make life even more difficult, new characters keep appearing throughout the movie, sometimes in scenes that seem irrelevant to the movie as a whole.

Do I have anything good to say about A Bridge Too Far? Well, there’s one nice touch, and that’s the fact that the non-English-speaking characters are filmed speaking in their own language, with English subtitles supplied to translate. It always annoys me when a movie represents people speaking in a foreign language by having them speak English with a heavy accent, so I’ll have to give A Bridge Too Far credit for doing the right thing in this area.

Despite being anamorphically-enhanced, A Bridge Too Far’s image quality is average at best. The noise level was high enough that I felt it necessary to turn on the noise-reduction on my TV to make it less distracting. There’s a general fuzziness to the image as well, with the colors on the drab side.

War movies really need good sound. Alas, A Bridge Too Far only musters Dolby 2.0, and does a fairly weak job of using those two channels, to boot. A major problem is the excessive variation in volume between scenes. If you have the volume level set to hear the dialogue at a reasonable level, the battle scenes are much too loud; if you set the volume so that the battle scenes only rattle your furniture without actually knocking things off the shelves, then you won’t be able to hear anything in the next dialogue-based scene. The sound level of the explosions might have been realistic, but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable viewing experience to have to keep reaching for the remote and adjusting the volume.

Bridge Too Far, A
A making-of featurette for this historically-based movie would have been interesting, but all we get is a trailer.

The makers of the film seem to have gotten bogged down in getting all the details from the real operation into the movie, and forgot that it was supposed to be an engaging experience for the viewer. The result is a film that is muddled, confusing, and disappointing, in a DVD presentation that’s nothing to write home about, either.