‘The Guns of Navarone’ comes to American Region free Blu-ray with a somewhat uneven 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I think we all hoped for a really good transfer on Blu-ray after the fairly disappointing releases on previous video formats. If the film had been well looked after in its early years, with protection masters being made and original camera negative being kept safely, we could have had a cracking transfer overall. Unfortunately, the film was not treated as befitting its status, so what we have is the best that could be done with surviving elements.
Let me say that, overall, the movie doesn’t look too bad and if this is the best it can ever look then I’m happy to live with it. It’s like the Curate’s Egg – good in parts. There’s a presence of grain throughout that mostly isn’t unacceptable. The problems occur when there’s a dissolve or a wipe and we get ‘grain like golfballs’ if projected on a big screen. The use of yellow coloured titles throughout to introduce each new day of the adventure was a nice idea, but back in 1961 they had to be produced as colour mattes. This involved duping the original neg and doubling the grain – as with the optical scene transitions. So this problem rears its ugly head fairly frequently.
Colours are generally okay-ish. Some daytime scenes look really nice while skin tones have a brownish tint which in darker shots take on a bit more red around the edges than you’d normally expect. Sharpness is fine except in the odd soft shot. Contrast isn’t bad and we do get deep blacks – just not all the time. There’s also the occasional ‘halo’ effect to contend with, such as on the shot where Mallory is climbing the cliff in long shot against the sky.
The High Def transfer does make back projection stand out like a sore thumb and the matte painting of the town of Navarone in a wide daylight shot looks like a matte painting. Bearing in mind the above, it’s not that bad really.
Public flogging should be reinstated for those who don’t take good care of their original film elements and it’s just a crying shame that such a big budget war movie like ‘Guns’ wasn’t properly archived early on. Still, it’s much better than the last DVD version I saw.
The audio on ‘Guns’ comes in the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround flavour and this is one where those responsible for the new dub have tried to remain faithful to the movie’s original four channel sound mix.
Dialogue is crisp and clear, coming mainly from the front centre although there is the occasional moment of directionality. I just loved James Robertson Justice’s intro to the film. It says from the outset that this is a proper war movie. He had such a great timbre and he also lends a feeling of authenticity to the piece. Film buffs will be pleased to know that Richard Harris' original ‘Bloody’ speech has been reinstated, replacing the ‘Ruddy’ version which was produced to avoid causing offence in the 1960’s.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s wonderful score is treated admirably, being summoned by the main stereo pair as it brings the story alive. There aren’t many true surround moments in the film but the best has to be near the end where the British Battleships approach and the shells zoom overhead.
While there’s enough bass for it to sound involving, I was thankful for not being kicked in the forehead by the subwoofer. It has all been handled carefully in the sound department and nobody has tried to make it sound like it never was intended. The temptation must have been there though.
Audio Commentary with Director J. Lee Thompson – Thompson flies solo here and it’s probably just as well as he might have put anyone else present at the recording to sleep. While he gives us interesting content, his delivery is rather soporific and there are significant gaps to allow for catnaps. All the same, he does provide some insight into the casting process, locations and effects work. Most interesting is David Niven’s close call during the stormy boat sequence where he almost lost his life. As a director, he feels he needs to tell us at great length how certain scenes were shot. It’s always good to hear it from the horse’s mouth rather than the other end. If you try inhaling some Vick, it should keep you awake till the finale.
Audio Commentary with Film Historian Stephen J. Rubin – Thank goodness for Stephen J Rubin, who manages to deliver a much more lively comm. track than the director. Here, he covers the film's entire production and provides details on the cast and crew. He also tells us of writer/producer Carl Foreman's blacklisting due to the McCarthy Witch Hunts as well as the movie's anti-war message. The planned sequel is discussed although it didn’t happen until 16 years after the original movie’s release. This is the more interesting comm. track and well worth a listen.
Forging the Guns of Navarone (SD, 14 min) – Producer Carl Foreman's widow and director Peter Yates (who was Assistant Director on ‘Guns’) link this short featurette and they provide some background detail to the production as well as anecdotes involving the cast and crew who had to handle the tough and occasionally dicey location and studio shoot.
Ironic Epic of Heroism (SD, 25 min) – This fairly chunky production featurette is linked by Sir Christopher Frayling who provides a more in depth look at the movie. He provides details on the production, but also concentrates on the film's back stories as well as the more moral issues.
Memories of Navarone (SD, 30 min) – This is a nice doco for movie buffs as we hear from the cast and crew themselves. Stars Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn tell us of the long running chess games between takes and we get to understand the thought that was put into character development by the thesps.
Epic Restoration (SD, 10 min) - Here we get some indication of the work that was done to restore the film to a more watchable state and we hear, to a certain extent, of the lack of care that was meted out to the movie in its early days. The daylight opening scene as the plane crash lands is here for those who never saw it on TV. When you see how it once looked, you appreciate the efforts that have been made in the restoration.
A Heroic Score (SD, 9 min) – A look at the work of the film's composer Dimitri Tiomkin, with some notes on his style and a dissection of the movie's main musical themes.
Great Guns (HD, 5 min) – This short, black and white period promo puff piece follows the stars as they arrive in Greece and there’s some behind-the-scenes footage from the set. It’s a bit of fun that would have been shown in the cinemas during the run up to the big release.
No Visitors (HD, 5 min) – Another promo piece with some more footage of the production in Greece, which shows the cast being friendly to the locals on the island of Rhodes as well as at a party organised for the Greek Royal Family.
Honeymoon on Rhodes (SD, 5 min) – Actor James Darren and his wife had their honeymoon on Rhodes during the shooting of the movie and we see them enjoying themselves among the beautiful scenery.
Two Girls on the Town (SD, 5 min) – Cast members Irene Papas and Gia Scala take a break from shooting to shop around the island in this bit of PR puff.
Narration-Free Prologue (SD, 6 min) – Dimitri Tiomkin’s score gets the chance to shine as we see the prologue and main title sequence without the James Robertson Justice voice over.
Message from Carl Foreman (HD, 2 min) – This piece was shot for the movie's Australian premiere.
The Resistance Dossier of Navarone (HD, 24 mins total) - An interactive feature that offers six text and video featurettes entitled "Military Fact of Fiction," "Greek Resistance," "The Navarone Effect," "The Old School Wizardry of the Guns of Navarone," "The Real World Guns of Navarone," and "WWII in the Greek Islands". The content is self explanatory and it’s good to have it all nicely pulled together.
The classic Alistair MacLean Wartime adventure ‘The Guns of Navarone’ explodes on to American Region free Blu-ray with a somewhat variable looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed elegantly in the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film generally looks acceptable in High Def with increased grain around the scene transitions. Much work has been done to make it look as good as possible on Blu-ray.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix preserves the intention of the original four channel soundtrack with crisp, clear dialogue and a roistering score from Dimitri Tiomkin.
Two commentaries and a brace of featurettes, including one on the restoration, make up the bonus materials.
As a picture it’s a good, solid, ‘Boy’s Own' adventure with great performances from a superb cast including Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven - who attempt to disarm a pair of massive radar controlled guns on the Nazi controlled Greek island of Navarone.
If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat.
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