A Few Words About A few words about...™ The Guns of Navarone -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Sep 29, 2011.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Any list of the best war films, not simply WWII films, is going to include The Guns of Navarone, directed by J. Lee Thompson, and released in April of 1961.


    A great film. An important film. Unfortunately, a case study for questionable decisions in post-prodution, and the care and handling of film elements, and a poster child for archival restoration and preservation.


    But let's begin at the beginning. To the best of my knowledge, TGoN was photographed on the new Eastman 5250 stock, the first to have high level anti-dye fade characteristics. My comments are personal opinion, and some may disagree, but here goes.


    The film was a UK production, with some photography in Greece and L.A. Originally handled by Technicolor London, with the OCN cut for auto-select. Original UK produced dye transfer prints show what the film looked like before the alternations. The OCN was later moved to the Colonies and entrusted to Movielab. I presume there was a financial savings. The OCN was re-cut from auto-select to single strand, with all printer functions duped in. Fortunately, Columbia's Grover Crisp was able to locate materials not found in 1989, and was able to better things a bit. But it should be understood that any restoration of this type is like attempting to climb the proverbial greased flagpole.


    I'm unaware of the production of separation masters to protect the show.


    In 1989, Columbia went to UCLA for aid to save the film, and archivist Robert Gitt performed the necessary tasks to the best of analogue abilities. The final result at least stabilized the image problems, while protecting the original mag tracks.


    Two decades later, a return to the original surviving elements in 4k was in order.


    But a return doesn't guarantee the superb image that this film could have had, had everything been done correctly back in 1961, and the elements properly handled over the decades.


    As I recall, the final reel of original negative may also be missing. Dupes are built in throughout, and color, for the most part is, well... acceptable.


    I'm taking the long way around to make the point that there is nothing further that can be done to make the film look any better. And everything goes back to those early decisions.


    What does TGoN look like?


    Pretty much as the knowledgeable eye would think. Grainy in parts, occasional contrast problems along with optical anomalies, plus what some here will refer to as "force fields" around certain objects, normally in high to low contrast situations. Flesh tones range from decent to awkward brownish green with red highlights.


    And there is very little that can be done about it.


    The technical folks at Columbia have used all the tools at their disposal, but one cannot make a proverbial silk purse from old Eastman stock processed by Movielab.


    There you have it.


    This is a terrific and important film, beautifully acted and extremely entertaining. It stands the test of time.


    But the point needs to be made that not only does this Blu-ray not look like a new film, it isn't going to look like what many will perceive a high quality, important 1961 production should look like. Know that going in, enjoy the show, and you won't be disappointed.


    They don't make them like this anymore.


    Highly Recommended.


    RAH
     
  2. Robert George

    Robert George Screenwriter

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    A great film with a great transfer of crappy elements. Pretty much as expected based on what I have seen of past releases.


    Oh well, at least with Blu-ray we can get all there is to get, even if it isn't that much.


    As you say, Bob, a great movie that is to be enjoyed for what it is, not for how it looks.


    Still looking forward to it.
     
  3. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I was afraid of that as we've had this discussion beforehand about this film and its film elements. However, it will still be a mark improvement over the SD-DVD so I won't be changing my preorder.







    Crawdaddy
     
  4. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    Keeping my preorder as well.
     
  5. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Thank you for the background on this film, Mr. Harris. This is one of my favorite films, and brings back fond memories from both watching the film and reading the novel as a youngster. It's sad knowing that we will probably never see a pristine restoration. I am still looking forward to watching TGoN in high definition, though. The cast and their performances, along with the excellent story, far outweigh any transfer issues due to the original film elements.
     
  6. Scott Calvert

    Scott Calvert Supporting Actor

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    All I ever want out of a BD is the highest quality transfer of the best available film elements. If the best available film elements are problematic, so be it. For me, that is better than applying layer after layer of digital trickery in an effort to make it look like a pretty video image.
     
  7. Powell&Pressburger

    Powell&Pressburger Screenwriter

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    Very detailed history of the film elements, the reason I love a few words by threads. I appreciate the honesty and the facts.
     
  8. AdrianTurner

    AdrianTurner Banned

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    I think I first saw The Guns of Navarone in its opening run at the Columbia, Shaftesbury Avenue, a late 1950s, claustrophobic cinema that was built beneath an office building. The problem with this cinema was a fairly flat floor and little rake to the seating and a rather small screen. Anyway, I was at that time devouring all the 70mm roadshow releases such as Ben-Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, West Side Story, El Cid, Lawrence of Arabia etc and thought I knew what a good picture looked like. So when it came to The Guns of Navarone I was sorely disappointed by the way it looked. Even to my untutored, fairly ignorant eyes, I thought this picture looked fairly crude, with some terrible back projection and a lot of ugly compositions. The colour was washed-out and grainy but not in a Band of Brothers sort of way. Greece, I thought, was bright blue Technicolor sky and white marble, not this dull-looking thing. And in fact I have never seen The Guns of Navarone look any different and in time I did put this down to the basic choice of colour process, 35mm over 70mm, etc etc. Like all Carl Foreman productions I think it suffers from Big Message Syndrome and I'd rate it less of an achievement than The Great Escape which also happens to be a pretty good-looking picture. I think maybe that The Guns of Navarone should have been in black and white, like The Longest Day.
     
  9. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Guns looks a bit different (as one might expect) in dye transfer prints, which helped. I would presume that you would have seen one of the Tech London prints.


    I should make the point that my words re: Guns will hopefully defuse any negative comments which may appear, as some reviewers will not understand what they're seeing, and relate to it extremely negatively.


    Based upon the extant elements, and the look of the film, this is a superbly produced Blu-ray.


    RAH
     
  10. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    That's one of the reasons your articles are so valuable. Most of us know nothing of these behind-the-scenes technical deals and snafus. I'm not reviewing this title; I'll only be a consumer, but it's nice to know this background before I spin the disc and wonder what went wrong with the authoring.
     
  11. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    If word can get out to other sites, everyone can be aware that the transfer, authoring, etc. are perfect.


    RAH
     
  12. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    Interesting and informative, Mr. Harris. I had always wondered if the look of the DVD ("Grainy in parts, occasional contrast problems along with optical anomalies, plus what some here will refer to as "force fields" around certain objects, normally in high to low contrast situations") was inherent to the film or due to the way it was transferred and mastered on that format. Now I know.
     
  13. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    I'm pissed at myself for missing a 35mm showing at the Lafayette in Suffern NY a couple of weeks ago. I wonder how that looked. At any rate, I'm there for the Blu-ray.
     
  14. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    Hi Chas in CT, We actually had The Guns of Navarone booked in Sony's restored 2K version (35mm prints being unavailable) and it looked pretty much as RAH describes, but a server breakdown that morning caused the show to be canceled. We'll be re-scheduling it for next season. Pete Apruzzese Director of Film Programming Big Screen Classics at the Lafayette Theatre
     
  15. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Woops, my mistake! I remember that now from your email announcement.

    You always put on such a great show, and I'll be back soon. Possibly tomorrow for "Wuthering Heights" if I can make a conflict go away, though right now that's not looking too promising.
     
  16. Dave Blair

    Dave Blair Auditioning

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    I saw "The Guns of Navarone" multiple times during its original release. I remember two scenes in-particular that struck me as grainy. The scene in which Anthony Quinn discovers the spy with the knife and later scenes with James Darren dueling with his machine gun. I was young teen then and wasn't particularly aware of grain. I think it's the first time I ever noticed it. The DVD is awful. What I see on the Superbit DVD is compression noise superimposed on the film's grain and made more obvious by over-sharpening. As an aside this movie marked the first time I read a "making of" article. Our Catholic school offered books sold by the TAB Scholastic Book Club. The newsletter had an article on the filming of the storm at sea. I was hooked. I bought the novel with the movie cover for about 35 cents.
     
  17. Mark Anthony

    Mark Anthony Second Unit

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    Hi, RAH, I realise this is a bit of a crystal ball question, but is there any restorative techniques currently in development, that may be able to improve this in the longer term, or is this basically as good as it gets or is ever likely to get?
     
  18. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Might it be possible to use alternative technologies to help a handful of shots? Possibly. I've not examined the original elements, but knowing Columbia's Grover Crisp, my take would be that it's as good as it gets. He leaves no stone unturned when it comes to saving their library.


    RAH
     
  19. Mark Anthony

    Mark Anthony Second Unit

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    Thanks RAH
     
  20. Adam Gregorich

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