The Guns of Navarone Review
There is, of course, a third choice
There is something gloriously magnificent about old war films. The clear lines of good and bad, the huge sets, the defiant heroism. Actors larger than life playing screen heroes that are even bigger in set pieces that tower over both. Scant regard is given to authenticity of campaigns, so long as Tommy tops the Bosch, though it is normally Uncle Sam that takes the victory. Filmed at a time when heroes were needed; realism and adherence to strategy were unnecessary as a paying public wanted the freedom and escapism. It took the cynicism of the 70’s before cinema began showing the real horror of war.
The Guns of Navarone is one such heroic film. Based on Alistair MacLean’s novel of the same name, the whole is fictitious in nature: Navarone does not exist; there was never a pair of anti-ship cannons able to sink navel vessels from miles away; a crack team of experts were never drafted in to blow up said cannons to enable a rescue, by sea, of trapped troops. But it clearly doesn’t matter, it’s not meant to be real; it’s the valour of our heroes that makes the piece; their actions, their courage, and their sacrifice that we cheer. This was spectacle cinema, and what a sight it is.
Stars like Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn and Stanley Baker; all far too old to play the parts they are assigned, but it doesn’t matter, they fit, they lead and we follow. An impossibly young Richard Harris trying a ridiculous Aussie accent, James Robertson Justice looking like he should still be in Carry on Matron, it’s all completely out there, but it doesn’t matter, the spectacle is all, and we are carried along. With the amazing Oswald Morris photographing, Dimitri Tiomkin writing an award nominated score, Carl Foreman writing an award nominated screenplay and J. Lee Thompson directing the feature to more awards and nominations, there really is little that could, or indeed, did go wrong.
Whilst the film does show its age in pace and dialogue, it is structured perfectly: each scene builds to the next, nothing is wasted and the climax is rip-roaringly, fist pumping exuberation. There is never any doubt our crack team will triumph, but there is poignancy to their actions, and, more tellingly, whilst it is an action film, there are very strong anti-war messags. The responsibility of life is never shied away from, indeed it is tackled head on, while the anything to survive attitude, be that on the field or just to live is also examined, and with terminal intent.
The Guns of Navarone is a film of its time, yet made with such gusto it still manages to thrill, entertain and deliver its message without being heavy handed.
The Guns of Navarone Video
The Guns of Navarone was shot on 35 mm film using the Cinemascope process; it was restored around 10 years ago, and now again by scanning the original camera negative to produce a new 4K DI, with additional clean up, for this 60th Anniversary edition, from which it appears this UHD is sourced.
The disc presents a native 3840 x 2160p resolution image with widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, uses 10-bit video depth, High Dynamic Range, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec for HRD10.
We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Guns of Navarone on a Panasonic TX-65HZ1000B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Panasonic DP-UB450 Dolby Vision HDR10+ 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Anyone that has seen the Epic Restoration featurette will know how terribly the original source material was treated, it is a miracle that anything survives at all. The previous extensive restoration was a marvel, this new scan has managed to eke out even more, but know that it is still a rough and ready image, grain and occasional softness are part of the filmic nature of the piece and this transfer maintains that organic nature, while bringing the best out.
Detail can be quite amazing; check out the landscapes, rocky cliffs, scrub, beaches of Greece, while skin maintains texture and clothing has discernible weaves. Clouds and trees against the skyline are proud and defiant, while maps are clean and clear. Scene transitions do soften, but this was always the case.
The WCG and HDR give colours an injection of vibrancy, this is immediately obvious from the opening, with the blue background and shining yellow credits, even if the actual film colour palette is a tad towards beige; flesh tones are natural, red pierces through, while the greens of vegetation and the blues of the sky are rich and grade well. The intensity of the flames during the explosions is lovely.
Black level is strong, with increased frame depth while holding decent enough shadow detail; nothing can improve the look of ‘day for night’ shooting though, of which this film contains a lot, but at least there is more going on in the shadows than ever before. White level is held firm, maintaining detail without clipping, even in the brightest areas; muzzle flashes are a delight.
The original print is free from dirt and scratches, but retains its heavy grain structure throughout, for the most part this is natural enough, but occasionally does encroach, it didn’t bother me, but those wishing a pristine clean print will likely baulk. Digitally there are no compression issues.
The Guns of Navarone Audio
Plenty of sound tracks to choose from, including a recreation of the original mix; I went with the Dolby Atmos remix.
The Dolby Atmos track has gone all out to produce a wonderfully immersive experience, making extensive use of the overhead channels, to give a real sense of height; effects such as aircraft flying overhead, around and behind are expertly achieved with distance as well as intensity. Thunder cracks and the waves crashing all around during the shipwreck is particularly intense. While gunfire, either during the climactic shoot out, or during the hill chase is all round mayhem.
Quieter scenes fare just as well with plenty of ambience from the surrounds; waves in the distance, the wedding chatter, glasses clinking and singing etc. Dialogue is clean and clear, given some directionality when needed and sounds very natural. Bass is deep and strong, a bit mushy in places, but when it is tight, there is real impact; thunder cracks, or the final explosion. Gunfire is given some decent heft as well. There are times when things aren’t perfect, the ricochet noises do seem a tad loud, and vehicle movements are a bit bass heavy, particularly the German troop carriers. But on the whole it's a very pleasing remix that engages while maintaining the feel of the original.
The Guns of Navarone Extras
We were only supplied with the UHD, the majority of the extras are on the included Blu-ray (which itself has the new scan) and are listed from published sources.
Playback available with and without Original Roadshow Intermission Card
Main Title Progression Reel – Alternate takes on the drawings that accompany the titles.
Audio Commentary by Director J. Lee Thompson
Audio Commentary by Film Historian Stephen J. Rubin
The Resistance Dossier of Navarone: Interactive Feature
Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set
An Ironic Epic of Heroism
Memories of Navarone
A Heroic Score
Honeymoon on Rhodes
Two Girls on the Town
Message from Carl Foreman
The Guns of Navarone 4K Blu-ray Review
The Guns of Navarone might be a film of its time, but it is also a rip-roaring success; a multi-award nominated feature packed to the gills with stars of the screen, telling a fictitious story of a band of saboteurs sent by the British army to destroy a German gun encampment that will allow the Navy to pass and rescue trapped troops. Full of gusto, larger than life stars and even bigger set pieces, the film is a swiping majesty that continues to thrill and entertain.
The 4K UHD set is pretty good; the native 4K image is clean, well detailed with vibrant colouring, even if the palette is towards the beige, it is also occasionally soft and at times very grainy, an indication of the filmic nature of the piece. There are several soundtracks included with the Dolby Atmos one being particularly engaging with plenty of overhead action and strong bass. The extras included on the Blu-ray (unseen) have all be previously available.
The Guns of Navarone is available on 4K Ultra HD 1 November 2021
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