Blu-ray Review The Guns of Navarone Blu-ray Review

Richard Gallagher

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The Guns of Navarone is one of the great epic World War II films of all time. A painstaking 4k digital restoration by Sony has resulted in an exceptional Blu-ray disc which is being issued in conjunction with the film's 50th anniversary. This disc is highly recommended even though the picture quality is occasionally problematic. However, as our resident expert Robert A. Harris has explained, there are issues with both the original film elements and the way the film has been stored which have made it impossible to produce a Blu-ray disc with pristine picture quality. Nevertheless, this is likely as good as The Guns of Navarone is ever going to look on home video. In addition, it tells a gripping, tension-filled story which will keep viewers enthralled from beginning to end.



The Guns of Navarone  

Studio: Sony/Columbia Pictures
Year: 1961
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 156 minutes (161 minutes with intermission)                          
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English DTS-HD 5.1 MA, French, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Arabic, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Dutch, Korean

The Program

The Guns of Navarone is one of the great epic World War II films of all time. A painstaking 4k digital restoration by Sony has resulted in an exceptional Blu-ray disc which is being issued in conjunction with the film's 50th anniversary. This disc is highly recommended even though the picture quality is occasionally problematic. However, as our resident expert Robert A. Harris has explained, there are issues with both the original film elements and the way the film has been stored which have made it impossible to produce a Blu-ray disc with pristine picture quality. Nevertheless, this is likely as good as The Guns of Navarone is ever going to look on home video. In addition, it tells a gripping, tension-filled story which will keep viewers enthralled from beginning to end.

The action takes place in 1943. Two thousand British troops are trapped on the Greek island of Kheros. The British high command has learned that Germany is planning a full-scale assault on Kheros in one week, an assault which is certain to lead to the slaughter of the soldiers on Kheros. The British Navy is prepared to evacuate Kheros, but getting the fleet to Kheros may prove to be an insurmountable task. The only sea passage to Kheros requires ships to pass by the island of Navarone, upon which the Germans have erected two huge, radar-controlled guns which have the range and accuracy to sink any passing ship. Attempts to put the guns out of action through air assaults have proven to be futile.

Faced with this desperate situation, the decision is made to send in a small team of commandos to try to blow up the guns from the inside. Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle) is given the job of assembling and leading the team. He calls in Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), who has been engaged in underground activities on Crete. Mallory is essential to the plan because of his mountain climbing skills, as the sole unprotected side of Navarone is accessible only by climbing a 400-foot wall of rock. The other members of the team include Colonel Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn), a Greek who has worked closely with Mallory on Crete. The explosives expert is Corporal Miller (David Niven), a soldier with an attitude which occasionally borders on insubordination. The final two members of the squad are two soldiers who have demonstrated proficiency in killing the enemy, Private "Butcher" Brown (Stanley Baker) and Private Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren). However, the primary reason for having Private Pappadimos along is that his father is a member of the Greek resistance and is to be their contact when and if the team makes it to Navarone. To reach their destination they have to navigate their way through stormy, German-occupied waters in a fishing boat, scale the cliff, and avoid capture while trying to rendezvous with the resistance - and that is the easy part of the mission. 

The Guns of Navarone is expertly directed by J. Lee Thompson, who keeps the film moving at a brisk pace which belies its running time. Based upon a novel by Alistair MacLean, the screenplay was written by Carl Foreman, who also was the film's producer. Foreman also wrote the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he received no screen credit because he was blacklisted at the time. The film also boasts a stirring score by composer Dimitri Tiomkin. The sterling cast is led by Gregory Peck as the unflappable Mallory, whose nationality is never made clear. Is he an American? Canadian? British? Anthony Quinn, who convincingly played multiple ethnic types throughout his long career, is a strong presence as Stavros. David Niven delivers a lively performance as Miller, a soldier who has turned down the opportunity to become an officer because he does not want the responsibility involved. Stanley Baker provides a workmanlike performance as a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who has grown war-weary. Giving the role of Pappadimos to James Darren was considered to be something of a risk by director J. Lee Thompson. Darren was a trained actor whose teen idol status at the time had him alternating between dramatic roles and fluff such as the Gidget films. Thompson was pleased when Darren did a credible job. Other notable cast members include Irene Papas and Gia Scala as members of the Greek resistance.

The Guns of Navarone was the biggest box office hit of 1961 and went on to garner seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (it won for Best Special Effects). Fifty years later it remains an iconic, unforgettable war adventure.

The Video

For most of the film the 2.35:1 1080p image is excellent, and at times it is even breathtaking. However, it is not perfect. Still, the restoration has made The Guns of Navarone look as good as is possible using current technology. Rather than discuss the picture quality issues at length, I will provide readers with a link to the definitive analysis by film restoration expert Robert A. Harris. I will only add that Sony has properly resisted the temptation to completely clean up the film with an excessive dose of DNR.

The Audio

The lossless 5.1 DTA-HD MA audio is superb. Reference sources indicate that 70mm presentations of the film had six-track audio, while other theaters displayed 35mm magnetic prints with 4-track stereo. Dimitri Tiomkin's stirring score really comes to life here, and the explosions, sounds of gunfire, and a storm at sea provide surprising punch for a film of this age. The dialogue is confined to the center channel and is always clear and understandable.

There is an option to watch the film with Tiomkin's roadshow intermission music at the 1:27:06 mark. The intermission lasts for 4 minutes, 25 seconds.

The Supplements

This Blu-ray disc includes one new extra and ports over all of the extras which were included with the two-disc Collector's Edition DVD which was released in 2007.

The new supplement is "The Resistance Dossier of Navarone," an interactive feature which provides the viewer with information about the real events of World War II which inspired the film. It includes insights from film historians and military historians about the creation and ongoing appeal of The Guns of Navarone. It is quite informative and is presented in high definition.

The older extras are as follows:

1. There are commentary tracks by director J. Lee Thompson and film historian Stephen J. Rubin. Note that the commentaries are not available when watching the version of the film which includes the intermission.

2. "Forging the Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set" is a widescreen featurette which traces the making of the film. Carl Foreman had originally hired Alexander MacKendrick to direct the film, but after a short time on the set it became clear that he was not the man for the job. J. Lee Thompson was then required to begin filming with virtually no time to prepare himself. Thompson turned out to be the perfect choice for the job. This featurette includes extensive comments by Carl Foreman's wife, Eve Williams-Jones. It has a running time of 14 minutes.

3. "Ironic Epic of Heroism" is a 25-minute featurette hosted by Sir Christopher Frayling.

4. "Epic Restoration" is a widescreen featurette which takes a close at the film's restoration efforts, which were led by Robert Gitt of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Gitt explains in detail many of challenges he faced, and anyone wondering about the occasional problem areas with the picture quality is encouraged to watch this featurette and read the analysis by Robert Harris.

5. "A Heroic Score" is a 9-minute look at the work of composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Film music historian Jon Burlingame mentions that Tiomkin was in such demand in the early sixties that he was paid twice the going rate which his contemporaries were earning for scoring films.

6. A rendition of film's prologue without narration allows the viewer to take in all of Tiomkin's beautiful opening music, including the theme music over the opening credits.

7. "Memories of Navarone" is a 1999 feature which was made for the first DVD release of The Guns of Navarone. J. Lee Thompson, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and James Darren reminisce about their experiences making the film. Sadly, only Darren is still living today.

8. "Message from Carl Foreman" is a greeting which the producer-writer made for the premiere of the film in Sydney, Australia.

9. "Great Guns" is a 4 minutes, 29 seconds black and white vintage "making of" promotional film.

10. "No Visitors" is generally the rule on movie sets, but when the location filming was being done on the island of Rhodes the local residents were treated to a birds-eye view of the shooting. This short also is in black and white with a running time of 4 minutes, 36 seconds.

11. James Darren and his wife Evy were married just a few weeks before filming began, so they had their honeymoon on Rhodes during breaks in the filming. "Honeymoon on Rhodes " is a 4 minutes, 36 seconds black and white short shows them acting like tourists. Incidentally, as far as I can determine they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary earlier this year.

12. "Two Girls on the Town" follows Irene Pappas and the tragic Gia Scala as they go shopping in Rhodes. Scala's life descended into drug and alcohol abuse and she died of an overdose in 1972, at the age of 38. This short also is in black and white and runs for 4 minutes, 36 seconds.

Sony also has included trailers for The Bridge on the River Kwai and Das Boot. The press release also promised the original theatrical trailer and an exhibitor's trailer, but if they have been included I cannot find them.

The Packaging

The single Blu-ray disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case with a cardboard outer sleeve.

The Final Analysis

The Guns of Navarone is an iconic World War II adventure film which is as enjoyable today as was when it was released in 1961. Sony's Blu-ray release, while not always able to deliver an absolutely pristine image, is a substantial improvement over the film's prior DVD incarnations and is highly recommended. At a street price of about $15, the decision to buy is a no-brainer for fans of the film.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: October 18, 2011
 

 

Ronald Epstein

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Rich,


Thank you so much for the review.

I will repeat some of the comments I made in RAH's thread.


I had the chance to discover this film for the first time over the weekend.

Not knowing quite what to expect, I was very surprised how good this film

was and how much I enjoyed it.


I also didn't know the history pertaining to the film's elements. Other
than some brief shots containing an excessive amount of grain (more
than what one would normally expect), I didn't find any glaring problems

in the transfer. Then again, perhaps it was the fact that I was so involved

with the film that the flaws went unnoticed. If anything, the film does

not have that new pristine look of more digitally restored classics --

but don't let that dissuade anyone -- the film has been meticulously cleaned

and the results are more than satisfactory.


Personally, I am just overjoyed of my discovery of The Guns of Navarone

and the opportunity to add it to my Blu-ray library. No doubt, it will be the

best $15 you will spend this month.
 

Douglas R

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I'm so glad that they have included the option of viewing the film with the original intermission (it always had an intermission in the UK). Having the intermission card as a standalone extra on the DVD was absurd.
 

Richard Gallagher

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Originally Posted by Douglas R

I'm so glad that they have included the option of viewing the film with the original intermission (it always had an intermission in the UK). Having the intermission card as a standalone extra on the DVD was absurd.

In one of the extras it is mentioned that the intermission was included in European showings but not in the United States. The intermission occurs at the conclusion of the wedding reception scene.
 

cineMANIAC

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Most of the film looks surprisingly good in hi-def, especially the daylight scenes. That's all I ask for.
 

greybyrd

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Those who will get to watch 'The Guns of Navarone' for the first time in blu ray are very fortunate! I saw it when it appeared on the theater circuit back in 1961 with my father. I was in my single digits, so I can't compare quality then with even the VHS copies that were around decades later (circa 1989). This is a film that was meant to convey adventure and action, and Alistair MacLean's novel is not short-changed in any way. Featuring an all-star cast headed by Gregory Peck with David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, and a young James Darren it earned top billing wherever it played, and more than tripled it's 6 million dollar budget earning over $18 million in receipts! In the early 1960s, a film that could earn a million dollars was considered a financial success. The film had quality control issues and the many copies produced resulted in the loss of several reels of the original negative. However, in the 80s when VHS was the only way to any home entertainment experience, the secondary video quality was not given much thought. The film's action and intensity overshadow most technical losses. Showing in theaters during an era when b & w TV was the norm, how it looked in the theater certainly was most satisfactory by most anyone's standard. Such a film made available on VHS in 1989 was exciting, offering a new home viewing experience. I haven't owned a VHS player in years, and anything I had of value of family sentiment was transferred to DVD years ago. I cringe at the thought of watching this film in that format, but then I never liked VHS! S-VHS offered little improvement, though its increased resolution was nice, but few releases were ever made in Super VHS. I bought the DVD back in 2000, and it looked good but the soundtrack is not overwhelmingly different from the new blu ray version. It does have a slight edge in its audio definition and has been digitally cleaned-up a bit and enhanced, with some spacial additions adding ambiance for a few scenes. But don't expect the serious surround today's features offer. It didn't exist back in 1961! Since many scenes in 'Navarone' were daytime exposures made to look like night, the underexposure and lighting tend to offer slightly more visibility in the new blu ray version, and the more detailed definition in color is also nothing short of a great movie experience. Such an experience has not been possible since this film was presented in its theatrical version in theaters half a century ago, so this should not go unnoticed! A punchier, more bass-laden audio as recorded today with full dynamic range would be nicer, but the audio you will hear will not disappoint you. A full orchestra in 1961 was a challenge to record, and with an average dynamic range of perhaps 70 db on a good day with great acoustics and recording equipment, today's worst recordings can surpass this half again. But a great soundtrack such as this film presents as written and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin would likely not ultimately be more justified by technology than the action this film gave it then. 'The Guns of Navarone' stands as a feature that has not only survived the test of time, but for many of us even survived the test of repeated performances! From its theater days to TV, VHS, DVD and now blu ray... I suspect it will find sales to many who, like myself, wanted it long before the studio even scanned it fresh for its HD debut. Look for it soon on streaming sources and in HD when it does show on TV. Classic films are what they are... most of us know which films they are, and when one comes along (which in our present day I have found can be counted on one hand with fingers left over!) it is recognized as something special. A film which stands the test of time is truly rare in today's world, and classics will always be recognized for the action, entertainment and artistic quality they have brought to audiences in the years they have endured. With half a century passing since its theatrical release, 'The Guns of Navarone' belongs in the same ranks as other iconic war films such as Patton, Bridge On The River Kwai, A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day and Tora, Tora, Tora. No collection could be complete without it, and thankfully, Sony Pictures must agree. 'The Guns of Navarone' in blu ray can be purchased new for less than its retail list of $19.99. It is a film well worth the time to watch, and one you will appreciate and want as part of your collection.
 

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