Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
MGM, widescreen 1.85:1, standard 1.33:1, languages: English Digital Mono [CC], subtitles: French, Spanish, double side-single layer, 32 chapters, Collectible Booklet, Theatrical Trailer, rated PG, 126 min., $24.98, street date 3/28/2000.
Directed by Guy Hamilton. Starring Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, Barbara Bach, Edward Fox, Franco Nero.
Robert Shaw and Harrison Ford star as fearless World War II commandos in this thrilling follow-up to The Guns of Navarone. Directed by Guy Hamilton and adapted to the screen by Robin Chapman (screenplay) and Academy Award winner Carl Foreman (screen story), it's a large-scale action / adventure saga with "remarkable special effects" (Los Angeles Times) , a powerful cast and "one hair-breadth escape after another" (Newsweek).
In the darkest days of World War II, Hitler's armies are storming through Europe, annihilating all opposition in their path. But U.S. Colonel Barnsby (Ford) plots to strike a crippling blow to the brutal Nazi forces. To succeed, he'll need to help of the most skilled and lethal soldiers in the world: the Force 10 squad, fresh from its triumphant mission at Navarone.
Deep in the recesses of my memory do I find recollections of the 1978 action hit Force 10 From Navarone. I never saw the movie during its theatrical run and honestly recall little about it; all I can conjure is the fact that a few years later a classmate told me that Barbara Bach had a nude scene in it and "you could see everything!"
Even as a youngster I knew that full-frontal nudity in a "PG" film was quite unlikely (though some movies - like Logan's Run - come awfully close) and since I remain a pretty sex-obsessed guy, this statement has stuck in my little brain. As such, I was happy to finally see Force 10 and settle the dilemma once and for all.
Yes, Bach does appear nude in the film, but no, you can't see "everything", though it's almost close. She stands up in a bathtub and shows a pretty quick flash of breasts; if the camera waited another second or two before it cuts, we would have seen the Full Barbara, but as it stands we don't. Oh well - another disappointment to weigh upon me and crush me down!
Much less disappointing was the film itself. I didn't know much of what to expect from Force 10, but it turns out to be a very entertaining and witty little action flick. Director Guy Hamilton is best known for his work on the Bond films, but those offerings were radically inconsistent; he helmed Goldfinger, which I think is the best Bond ever, but also directed the "clunker" trilogy consisting of back-to-back-to-back movies Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, and Man With the Golden Gun.
Force 10 leans closer to the highs of Goldfinger than the lows of the other Bonds. Actually, it's not dissimilar from a Bond film in some ways, since it's a caper that involves espionage and sabotage plus a fair amount of wit and intelligence. The main difference is that it's more of an ensemble piece and functions within a war atmosphere, but it still maintains a nicely spry tone and a good sense of humor.
It helps that we see much better acting than one would expect from this kind of film. Robert Shaw appears in his second-to-last film before his death in 1978. I haven't seen Shaw in that many movies and remember him mainly as Quint in Jaws, but I'd like to see more of him because he seems enormously versatile. Compare his Mallory here to Quint and then extend that to "Red" Grant in From Russia With Love - is it possible all these performances came from the same actor? I saw the briefest flash of Quint at one point during Force 10, but otherwise he seemed like a completely different person. Shaw brings the requisite charm and intelligence to his character here and does much to make the film work.
Also excellent is Mallory's subordinate, demolitions expert Miller, as played by Edward Fox. Were it not for the presence of Shaw, Fox would likely steal the show. He brings a wonderfully modest self-confidence to this humble explosion-maven that makes the character far more endearing than he has any right to be.
The rest of the cast doesn't live up to those two, but it remains a decent group. Harrison Ford performs in his first film after Star Wars, and although Force 10 wasn't a huge hit, it nonetheless at least showed signs that Ford could move past the stereotyping that might have cursed him. (Mark Hamill's first post-SW film was the cheesy teen flick, Corvette Summer, which may have gotten him out of sci-fi but surely didn't enhance his theatrical credibility; Carrie Fisher, on the other hand, didn't make any feature films between SW and The Empire Strikes Back.)
Ford doesn't quite seem as strong as he later would be, but his stoic charms come through acceptably. Some weak links exist in the remaining cast, but for the most part, they're decent and don't do much to harm the film.
(Interesting cast note: if Nazi Schroeder looks familiar to Ford fans, he should; Michael Byrne played another Nazi officer - bug-eyed Colonel Vogel - eleven years later in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Talk about stereotyping - in addition to Indy and Force 10, a look at his IMDB filmography reveals that he's appeared in at least four or five other Nazi roles!)
Force 10 clearly isn't a perfect film and it possesses some significant flaws. Let's just say some parts of the action - including the climax - can be less than convincing. Nonetheless, the piece as a whole is delivered with charm and wit and maintains a sense of fun and excitement too often lacking in this kind of film.
Force 10 From Navarone appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For this review, only the widescreen edition was screened. Though it's not a complete loss, the DVD offers a very flawed picture, one that often looks quite bad.
Sharpness generally appears fairly crisp and defined, though definite periods of softness can interfere. Unfortunately, the sharpness comes with some of the worst edge enhancement I've seen. Jagged edges abound in this movie and they create significant distractions. Moiré effects are much less substantial, but they're there as well; forest scenes tend to be very messy. The print used for the transfer displays periodic flaws such as scratches, speckles, lines and various blotches; they're fairly rare, at least, and mainly appear in minor bunches. Much more problematic are the horrid digital artifacts that mar many scenes; these are most prominent in bright daylight segments and they really add nasty blemishes on the picture.
Colors tend to the "olive drab" end of the spectrum but they seem reasonably well-reproduced and are probably the most consistently positive part of the transfer. Black levels appear acceptably deep, but shadow detail often tends to be too heavy and opaque. Force 10 isn't the worst-looking film I've seen, but it was disappointingly bad.
The movie's monaural audio offers a step up from the picture, but it's a small one. For one, a mono soundtrack for a big-budget film from 1978 seems odd; I'd expect at least stereo if not a minor surround track. That lack of breadth might be more acceptable if the quality were not frequently problematic. Effects sound quite good, with a small amount of depth and some strong clarity; guns pop nicely, and I noticed a surprising lack of distortion.
Unfortunately, the other aspects of the track don't fare as well. Music seems thin and tinny, with occasional harshness and virtually no signs of bass. Dialogue is especially poor. The film clearly was heavily dubbed, and the re-recorded speech does not integrate well with the images. On occasion, dialogue sounds clear and bright, but for the most part it seems very dull and flat. Many characters have accents, which might cause intelligibility problems on their own, but the muddled quality of the speech exacerbates these issues. I don't expect much from the audio of a 22-year-old monaural soundtrack, but even so, Force 10 comes up short.
Finally, we find an almost-total lack of supplemental features. The DVD includes the theatrical trailer (which - amazingly - looks much worse than the film itself). Also, I'd expect that the package includes a booklet with production notes. MGM usually offer these, and most of them are quite good; MGM aren't a great studio in regard to the quality of their DVDs, but they do produce the best booklets on the market. Unfortunately, since I rented this DVD from Netflix, I don't know for sure that it includes a booklet, but based on my past experiences, I'd bet it does, and it's probably decently informative.
Unfortunately, it'll take a lot more than a nice booklet to redeem this DVD. I found Force 10 From Navarone to offer a spry, jaunty and clever action film that usually relies on brains as much as brawn; it's a very entertaining movie. Unfortunately, the film has been stuck with a dog of a DVD. Picture and sound are fairly weak, and it includes almost no supplements. Force 10 may be worth a rental just because it's a good movie, but I can't recommend more than that.