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The Great Epics DVD

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Based on the true story of the building of a bridge on the Burma railway by British prisoners-of-war held under a savage Japanese regime in World War II, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is one of the greatest war films ever made. The film received seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Performance (Alex Guinness), for Sir Malcolm Arnold's superb music, and for the screenplay from the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote Monkey Planet, the inspiration for Planet of the Apes). The story does take considerable liberties with history, including the addition of an American saboteur played by William Holden, and an entirely fictitious but superbly constructed and thrilling finale. Made on a vast scale, the film reinvented the war movie as something truly epic, establishing the cinematic beachhead for The Longest Day (1962), Patton (1970) and A Bridge Too Far (1977). It also proved a turning-point in director David Lean's career. Before he made such classic but conventionally scaled films as In Which We Serve (1942) and Hobson's Choice (1953). Afterwards there would only be four more films, but their names are Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr Zhivago (1965), Ryan's Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984). On the DVD: Too often the best extras come attached to films that don't really warrant them. Not so here, where a truly great film has been given the attention it deserves. The first disc presents the film in the original extra-wide CinemaScope ratio of 2.55:1, in an anamorphically enhanced transfer which does maximum justice to the film's superb cinematography. The sound has been transferred from the original six-track magnetic elements into 5.1 Dolby Digital and far surpasses what many would expect from a 1950s' feature. The main bonus on the first disc is an isolated presentation of Malcolm Arnold's great Oscar-winning music score, in addition to which there is a trivia game, and maps and historical information linked to appropriate clips. The second disc contains a new, specially produced 53-minute "making of" documentary featuring many of those involved in the production of the movie. This gives a rich insight into the physical problems of making such a complex epic on location in Ceylon. Also included are the original trailer and two short promotional films from the time of release, one of which is narrated by star William Holden. Finally there is an "appreciation" by director John Milius, an extensive archive of movie posters and artwork, and a booklet that reproduces the text of the film's original 1957 brochure. --Gary S Dalkin

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Collection of seven classic films. 'The Guns of Navarone' (1961), set in 1943, follows a group of mismatched soldiers who are sent to sabotage two powerful Nazi guns situated on a Greek island. If their mission fails, the guns will wipe out the 2,000 British soldiers who are attempting to evacuate civilians further down the coast. The mission is led by the dispassionate Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck) whose clinical approach does not find favour with explosives expert Corporal Miller (David Niven). Meanwhile, the group's Greek patriot guide Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn) is nursing a grudge against Mallory for an old injustice. 'The Bridge On the River Kwai' (1957), based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, sees a group of prisoners of war forced to build a bridge in Burma for the Japanese, with Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) the appointed leader of the men. When the Japanese commander Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) orders the construction, Nicholson agrees on the basis that the project will keep his men occupied and give them an opportunity to prove, through the quality of their work, the superiority of British engineering. However, as the bridge progresses and the prisoners strive to show their craftsmanship, Nicholson appears to lose sight of the fact that the ultimate object of the bridge is to help the Japanese win the war. 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962) is David Lean's Oscar-winning biopic starring Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence, the Oxford-educated British army officer who aided the Arabs in their revolt against the Turks. Teaming up with Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), Lawrence crosses an inhospitable desert in order to join two separate Arab tribes together as a single fighting force. Aiming to achieve Arab sovereignty, he wins a series of military victories but always keeps his eye on the larger picture, doing his best to prevent the subjection of the Arabs to British colonial rule. Charlton Heston stars in the title role of 'Major Dundee' (1965), an epic Western about a Major who joins forces with his sworn enemy to destroy a band of Apaches. When Major Amos Dundee is sent to a prisoner of war camp after making an error at the Battle of Gettysburg, he uses the opportunity to gather a small, but ruthless, army to lead on a mission of revenge. Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin star in 'The Professionals' (1966), following four soldiers of fortune who are hired by a wealthy Texan oil baron (Ralph Bellamy) to rescue his kidnapped wife (Claudia Cardinale) who has been taken across the Mexican border by a band of mercenaries. The four men, each regarded as a specialist in his field - expert marksman and tracker Jake (Woody Strode), explosives master Dolworth (Lancaster), horse handler Ehrengard (Robert Ryan) and Fardan (Marvin) whose skills lie in tactics and weaponry - make their way across the treacherous landscape to retrieve the beautiful kidnappee, but along the way discover all is not what it seems. 'Gandhi' (1982), Richard Attenborough's Academy Award-winning epic, follows the extraordinary life of Mahatma Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) from his beginnings as a young Indian lawyer to his triumph as a revolutionary. After being thrown off a South African train just for being Indian, Gandhi realised just how prejudiced people were about his race and decided to do something about it. Taking the matter into his own hands, Gandhi arranges non-violent protests in the hope of getting the attention of the South African government. Finally, Fred Zinnemann's classic drama 'From Here to Eternity' (1953) follows the events of the night before the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor. Private Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) is a new recruit at the military base, and has already fallen foul of his superiors due to his refusal to box on the company team. Given the worst duties as a result, Prewitt is befriended by Angelo Maggio (Frank Sinatra), a young soldier who is himself persecuted by the Italian-hating Sergeant Fatso (Ernest Borgnine). Meanwhile, Sergeant Warden (Lancaster), Prewitt's superior, treads on dangerous ground when he allows himself to get caught up in an affair with an officer's wife (Deborah Kerr).

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