Rated: Not Rated
Length: 157 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen
Languages: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, Portuguese, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
Many people regard the early sixties as the golden age of World War II films. Consider some of the titles which were released between 1960 and 1965 -- The Great Escape, The Longest Day, The Victors, Von Ryan’s Express, Sink the Bismarck!, and The Train, just to name a few. Somewhere near the top of the list is The Guns of Navarone, which recently was released in a new “Collector’s Edition” by Sony/Columbia. The all-star cast includes such luminaries as Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, Gia Scala and Irene Papas. Also on hand is James Darren, who was trying to make the transition from teen idol/pop singer to serious actor. Based upon a best-selling novel by Alistair MacLean, The Guns of Navarone was an enormous hit and garnered seven Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Special Effects.
The principal action takes place in and near the Aegean Sea. The Germans have trapped 2,000 British soldiers on the island of Kheros, near Turkey, and the Royal British Navy wants to evacuate them before they are wiped out. Standing in their way is the seemingly impregnable German fortress at Navarone, where two enormous guns can sink any warship which passes by. Navarone proves to be impervious to attack by air or sea, so the British conclude that the only chance of destroying the guns is to send in a small commando force led by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle) and Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck). They are aided by a Colonel in the defeated Greek Army, Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn). David Niven plays an explosives expert and Stanley Baker’s character is an engineer and an expert with a knife. Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren) is made a part of the team primarily because his sister (Irene Papas) is a prominent figure in the Greek Resistance.
The film includes an incredible storm at sea, exciting action scenes, considerable intrigue and a nerve-wracking finale. The characters played by the two lead actresses have significant roles and the hints of romance, though somewhat implausible, are kept at a low-key level. Adding to the enjoyment is a soaring musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin, which won him both a Golden Globe award and a Grammy, and also earned him an Academy Award nomination. The special effects are amazingly realistic, even by today’s standards. The storm at sea is especially noteworthy. As is pointed out in the supplements, they did not use a model boat so you really have the feeling of being in serious peril.
The Guns of Navarone film is a must-see for action movie fans in general and World War II buffs in particular, and it is highly recommended.
I am unable to make a direct comparison with the “Special Edition” which was released in 2000 or the Superbit edition which was released in 2004, but it appears that this edition is made from the same transfer. Apparently a full restoration was done at UCLA during the nineties, and overall the picture looks very good. There is some grain, which is mostly noticeable in scenes showing the sky, but it is minimal considering the age of the film and I did not find it to be distracting. The image is reasonably sharp throughout and the film shows virtually no signs of damage. I did notice a momentary frame jump at the 7:14 mark, but it lasts for only a fraction of a second and you might miss it if you blink at that point.
The Guns of Navarone was filmed in Eastmancolor, the notorious process which was prone to significant color fading. Extensive restoration work was necessary to make the colors look as good as when the film was released in 1961. Much of the action takes place at night or indoors, so you are not going to see much in the way of glorious, colorful scenery, but the colors and fleshtones appear to be accurate. Shadow detail during the darker scenes is quite satisfactory.
I am operating on the assumption that this Collector’s Edition looks pretty much the same as the 2000 Special Edition and it may not look quite as good as the 2004 Superbit edition. For those of you who already have one of those editions, the decision about buying this one will likely depend upon how interested you are in the extras.
The audio is excellent. Purists may prefer the Dolby Surround track, which is said to replicate the original, four-track stereo soundtrack. The Dolby Digital track also sounds fine, with excellent separation and a solid punch during the explosions and gun battles. Tiomkin’s score deserves another mention here, as it really comes to the fore at times and melds well with the action on the screen. The dialogue is always intelligible and I never had to use the subtitles to figure out what was being said.
One point about the dialogue – when the Germans are speaking among themselves, they speak in German and there are no English subtitles during those brief scenes (at least, none that I could find). English subtitles really are not necessary, because you get the drift of what is being said, but I do not recall if the film has always been that way or if there were once English subtitles for those few bits of German dialogue.
As noted above, for many of you this release of The Guns of Navarone is all about the extras. There certainly is an abundance of extras, all but one on a separate disc from the feature.
First of all, a number of the extras also appeared on the 2000 “Special Edition” of The Guns of Navarone. They include:
1.“A Message from Carl Foreman,” a brief introduction which the producer/screenwriter filmed for the Australian premiere of the film.
2.A commentary by director J. Lee Thompson.
3.“Memories of Navarone,” a documentary featuring interviews with Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and James Darren.
4.“Great Guns” and “No Visitors,” two black and white promotional featurettes, and “Honeymoon on Rhodes” (a black and white chronicle of James Darren and his new wife enjoying a few days of leisure before the on-location filming began) and “Two Girls on the Town” (a black and white featurette of Gia Scala and Irene Papas shopping on the island of Rhodes).
But there are also a number of new extras, and they may be enough to entice fans of the film to buy this edition.
1.A new audio commentary by film historian Stephen J. Rubin.
2.Two new documentaries about the making of the film, “Forging the Guns of Navarone" and “Iconic Epic of Heroism.”
3.“A Heroic Score,” a very informative featurette about Dimitri Tiomkin and how he scored the film.
4.“Epic Restoration,” an intriguing featurette which demonstrates how badly damaged the original negative of The Guns of Navarone was when the restoration project began.
5.A narration-free prologue, which allows you to hear the entirety of Tiomkin’s opening score.
6.The entire roadshow intermission, including Tiomkin’s Entre Acte. Apparently the intermission was used in only a few cities, primarily in European theaters.
There are also some oddly-chosen trailers for a few Sony/Columbia releases.
On the whole, the extras are excellent and are a good example of what a collector’s edition should include.
Scene selection and language/subtitle/audio options are available from the user-friendly main menu.
The Final Analysis
If you already own The Guns of Navarone, the question is whether you are willing to upgrade for those extras which are not included on the earlier “Special Edition.” On the other hand, if you do not already own this film, it is an easy call if you enjoy action/war movies. This is one of the best, so pop it in your DVD player and enjoy it.
Equipment used for this review:
Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: May 8, 2007