Odd one, this.
What we have here is a perfect transfer of considerably imperfect source material. The Guns Of Navarone has been the recipient of a major clean-up restoration that all experts agree has been nothing short of painstaking and, indeed, a labour of love. However, to the layman, the resulting image could be deemed as … well, quite disappointing. Unlike the recent slapdash rush on to Blu-ray for a certain trilogy of dinosaur movies, Navarone has had a new scan and the sort of frame-by-frame attention that you want every catalogue title to get. And yet its AVC encoded 2.35:1 image is patchy, to say the least.
Basically, as Alan has already pointed out in his review for the US edition, the film was never treated well even at the very beginning, when cost-cutting found the film shifted to less reverent labs, and no matter what magic the restorers are able to conjure – both in 1989 with the UCLA attempting to save it, and then again in 2009 when the surviving elements were scanned and treated – is going to make this look any better.
Which makes you think that you are in for a wretched visual experience. And that is not the case at all.
The Eastmancolour scheme is not as bold or as strong as the Technicolor prints that originally existed would have been, and the film we see here is darker and muddier than you might have expected. But there is no point worrying over what could have been, because this is what we are left with. Those Technicolor prints no longer exist. But the colours can still be fairly robust and reasonably well-saturated. Landscapes and costumes can still deliver a nice level of vibrancy. The odd speckle of blood can still bloom, and flames and explosions still rear up against the screen with finely rendered fireballs. One thing that leaps out at you is that little spot of Anthony Quinn’s contentious red under-shirt that pokes out from the hole in the elbow of his coat. It looks that bright and vivid that you can’t help thinking that he’s scraped himself and skinned his arm to the raw. Flesh-tones are adequate, though they have a tendency to become murky and brown. I've seen hundreds of films from this period sporting the same swarthy pallor, so this looks perfectly normal to me. Some instances are nicely saturated, whilst others can be touch faded, worn and unappealing.
You won’t have a problem with any unsightly DNR effects, or any aliasing. Grain remains, but it comes in varying forms of proliferation, which is, again, due to the source. Detail isn't terrific, I'm afraid, but unless you've seen this on the really big screen, you won't have seen it look this clean and clear and resolved. Again, however, there is inconsistency. Some shots can look very detailed and crisp – some rocky terrain, some interiors – whilst others can appear indistinct and perhaps even blurry. The sequence when Stavros draws away the German mountain troops is a fine example of the former. Contrast, overall, is okay. Nothing more … and it can waver a little. But it does cater for some very good blacks that really do aid the depth and the atmospherics quite considerably.
Something that you notice with some of these older films is that they tend to look as though they’ve had some edge enhancement applied, even when they haven’t. You can see haloes around objects – the masts of the ship, the distant mountains, vehicles and planes etc – but this is down to the photography and the contrast ratio of high-to-low elements in the source and not to some egregious artificial sharpening.
So, how do we score this transfer then. It is, by the accounts and opinions of those with far more technical knowledge of celluloid, colour-timing processes and film restorations than myself – those who do this for a living - the best that the film will likely ever look on home video. There won't be an opportunity to go back and work on the 70mm Technicolor prints, so this is, very simply, the ultimate presentation of decidedly questionable source material. And some people are going to moan about it. But, you know what, I think it looks tremendous, regardless of all the difficulties and limitations. It looks like film, it can deliver some robust and colourful imagery, and it doesn't look at all molested by any clumsy digital paws.
Sony present The Guns Of Navarone with a DTS-HD-MA 5.1 audio track.
The stereo spread across the front is quite wide and dynamic, dialogue is clean and clear, and it is probably fair to say that this is a close approximation to the original 4-channel Roadshow sound. The track feels spacious, the orchestration of Tiomkin’s score appropriately split along traditional symphonic lines and the resulting music nicely detailed and warm.
Machineguns go rat-a-tat-tat with some guttural vigour, and the pot-shots that Stavros takes with his sniper-rifle have an agreeable element of percussive clout, which is aided by the punch of distance and echo, but this is not an overly aggressive mix in terms of bombast. We have an exploding patrol boat, a raging storm with lashing wind and rain, some bombs getting dropped on our heroes, and the chaos wrought about during the finale. All of this sounds good, but undeniably dated. There is a great stinger to be experienced, though, during Peck’s scaling of the cliff. I won’t say what it is, but it works a treat given its sudden priority in the mix.
Where the track comes alive is, ironically enough, when the Greek wedding sequence kicks in. Here, the singing and the rustic music really shines. When James Darren croons his way into the proceedings, the clarity and warmth is undeniable.
For surround use we get the buzzing around the sky of German bombers that harass the saboteurs in the mountain passes, and the shelling of the big guns at the end. But to be honest, this doesn't sound all that convincing. The plane engines come over very loud and although directionality is keen, the effect is out of place and slightly dislocated from the action. Had there been more surround activity engaged throughout the film, then these elements might not have come across as so “enlarged” and ill-fitting.
Still, this is audio presentation is more than acceptable, and it is only right to praise Sony for not attempting to add anything unnecessary to the mix just for the sake of it.
Great stuff awaits you here, folks.
Sony's The Guns Of Navarone is marvellously equipped for a long tour of duty with a full of complement of documentaries, featurettes, commentaries and whatnot. The fan really couldn't seek a more well-rounded and informative package than this.
Firstly, we get the option to play the film with or without the luxurious Intermission.
Then we have a choice of two Commentary Tracks that grace the movie.
J. Lee Thompson, who is a good raconteur, provides the filmmaker’s standpoint on the production but, in truth, this is dry and full of lulls. I suppose this is understandable, given his age and the amount of years that have passed under the bridge since he waged war in the Greek Islands, but I think it may have been better to have had him accompanied by somebody else who could have goaded him more and steered the conversation.
Film Historian Stephen J. Rubin takes control of the second chat-track, and delivers a good all-round chronicle of the film’s history, from book to screenplay to revised screenplay to the actual shoot and the reception of the movie. He piles on the detail and the anecdote and relishes his time running alongside the saboteurs. Lots of trivia and incidental material is brought forth and this becomes a very entertaining track.
Ironic Epic Of Heroism
You really can’t go wrong with Sir Christopher Frayling, the fanboy’s academic, who provides anecdote, opinion and personal insight with his customarily (barely) reined-in enthusiasm in this excellent 25-minute piece. Having interviewed many of the participants in the film over the years, he is able to bring some brevity and cogency to some of their more unusual reminiscences. I wish he’d been able to provide a commentary track as well.
Here, we learn about the terrible obstacles that faced UCLA's Robert Gitt as Guns was brought in for some much-needed treatment and TLC. If you had any doubts at all about the state the film was in, then look no further than this.
A Heroic Score
Dmitri Tiomkin gets the accolades here in this 9-minute featurette in which film music historian Jon Burlingame takes a look at the stature and style of the composer during this hugely creative period. To go alongside this, we are also given the opportunity to hear his score as it plays over the opening of the film, this time without the narrative voice-over from James Robertson Justice.
Memories of Navarone
This is a great little half-hour doc that allows to hear the often highly amusing reminiscences of Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, James Darren and J. Lee Thompson as they look back at going to war in the Greek islands, playing chess, saving one another from drowning, playing chess, cutting hair and … erm … playing chess. Fantastic stuff.
Promotional period fluff comes in Message from Carl Foreman, Great Guns and No Visitors and we get some contemporary fun with Honeymoon on Rhodes, as we follow James Darren and his new wife enjoying the sights of the exotic island, and Two Girls About Town, which seeks to show us how Irene Papas and Gia Scala spent their time when not firing machine-guns.
A brand new feature, exclusive to Blu-ray is The Resistance Dossier of Navarone. This interactive chronicle looks at the events of the Second World War and places the fictitious plot of the film into the context that almost certainly influenced it. With video and text from historians we learn of the relevance of the movie against this true backdrop.
The derring-do of cinematic post-war jingoism gets a deeply moral makeover as some initially stereotypical characters reveal hidden layers of pathos, complexity and courage in their desperate attempts to knock out the dreaded German guns that are holding two-thousand British troops to ransom. Carl Foreman’s lavish production of Alastair MacLean’s classic military adventure gets a splendid UK region-free Blu-ray release for the film's 50th Anniversary that comes with a full ammo-clip of terrific supplements that really give you the low-down on the production, and an AVC transfer that may not be as victorious as you might have liked but still represents a heroic restoration against all the odds, nonetheless.
As a child, The Guns Of Navarone didn’t deliver the pay-off that I always wanted. But over the years, it has grown immeasurably in my estimation to become a much more mature and intelligent Boys Own yarn. The modifications to MacLean’s novel are inspired and provide far greater depth and psychology to what turns out to be a rather unusual roster of characters. The mood is heroic, yet considerably more convoluted and confrontational than the usual slew of war-time actioners that just wanted to spray Jerries with hot lead. That said, nobody is going to complain when the clichéd Aryan Nazi gets taken down a peg or two, and almost everything goes up in flames at the end. The cast are superb, but special kudos has to go to Gregory Peck and David Niven for a deadly and overwrought double-act of dangerous chemistry. And to Anthony Quinn, who holds the screen with typically colossal presence and charisma.
The film offers us a raging maritime tempest, a nail-biting mountain climb, endless skulduggery, a Greco-flavoured ballad, and lots of German soldiers in our gun-sights. It also provides us with the terrifically daft sight of David Niven in a Nazi officer's uniform, and a blazing row that genuinely makes the blood run cold.
Fabulous extras, the best transfer you are likely to get and an all-time classic of rough 'n' tough adventure. In a word – awesome.
The Guns Of Navarone comes very highly recommended.
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