The Guns of Navarone appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was the fourth time I reviewed Guns and the best of the bunch, though no one should expect miracles.
Sharpness seemed inconsistent but was generally pretty good. Most of the movie appeared clear and well-defined. Softness interfered with the image at times, however, and left parts of it less than concise, but not to a major degree.
Moiré effects and jagged edges weren’t an issue, but I did notice moderate edge haloes. Given that all three of the film’s DVD releases had the same problem, my thick little head is starting to think that they’re simply a part of the source photography. Is it possible that the folks behind the three DVDs and this Blu-ray just love them some edge enhancement? Sure, but with each passing disc, that seems less logical. The haloes create distractions, but I suspect they’re inevitable.
In terms of print flaws, this transfer came across as clean. Grain was natural and the movie lacked specks, marks and other defects.
Colors were acceptable. The movie came with a somewhat flat, brownish look, which also impacted all the prior DVDs. Actually, the hues appeared a bit stronger here, as they weren’t quite as pale as in the past. Still, they didn’t provide much pep; they were average at best.
For the most part, black levels looked decently dark, but they usually lacked richness and seemed a bit bland. Shadow detail tended to appear overly thick and heavy, although much of that resulted from the frequent use of "day for night" photography. That technique often makes the overall picture seem much darker than it should, which was the case here. This was an erratic image but it had enough strengths to boost it to a “B-“.
I felt more satisfied with the film's surprisingly strong DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. The mix presented a broad soundfield, especially in the forward channels. Separation between channels seemed fine, with audio that was well-placed and discrete. I heard good blending between speakers as well. The rear speakers added a nice punch to the package. The surrounds tended to mainly bolster the sound from the front speakers, but they did so effectively and provided a nicely spatial sense that made the entire track very involving. A few livelier scenes added to the package as well, such as the ones set at sea.
The quality of the audio betrayed a thin timbre typical of films from the era, but it still seemed pleasantly robust. Dialogue sounded relatively warm and natural, and I had no trouble with intelligibility. Only a smidgen of edginess crept into the presentation. Music worked best of all, as it appeared clear and smooth, with no signs of shrillness. I could have used some more low-end from the score, but it still came across as well-recorded and bright.
Effects sounded slightly rough but were adequately realistic and even dropped some good bass at times. There were occasions when the effects shook up the action in a positive manner. A slight amount of distortion affected the explosions and gunfire at times, but this seemed extremely minor considering the age of the material and the prevalence of loud noises. All in all, the 5.1 mix fared nicely.
How does this Blu-Ray compare with the Collector’s Edition DVD from 2007? Audio remained pretty similar, as the lossless track couldn’t do a lot to improve on the 50-year-old material; the DTS mix might’ve been a little broader but not by much.
Visuals showed some improvements, though. The erratic quality of the source created most of the problems, but the Blu-ray delivered stronger definition and clarity when compared to the DVD. Though this wasn’t a killer presentation, it ended up as the best Navarone to date.
The Blu-ray provides the same extras as the last DVD plus a new addition. We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director J. Lee Thompson, who offers a running, screen-specific chat. He discusses sets and locations, cast and crew, and other production elements.
Although Thompson occasionally offers some interesting points, the majority of this track is pretty bland. Many empty spaces occur, and when Thompson does speak, he often just tells us if a shot was filmed in the studio or on location. The track does improve toward the end, especially when Thompson discusses how David Niven nearly died during filming, but it takes a lot of patience to reach that point, and I'm not sure it's worth it.
For the second commentary, we find a running, screen-specific piece from film historian Steven J. Rubin. He discusses sets and locations, cast and crew, the involvement of the Greek military, rehearsals, the novel and its adaptation, themes and subtext, effects and stunts, and a few other issues. In addition to his own remarks, Rubin offers quotes from David Niven’s autobiography as well as his own interviews with Thompson and producer Carl Foreman.
While not one of the best historian commentaries I’ve heard, Rubin nonetheless gives us a good glimpse of the production. He provides all the requisite nuts and bolts along with good insight and reflections on the project. This ends up as a much more satisfying chat than the director’s piece.
The disc also presents A Message From Carl Foreman. This is a two-minute filmed introduction to the film the producer provided for the movie's Australian premiere. It's not terribly fascinating, but I found it to be a cool historical document.
For the Blu-ray’s new component, we get an interactive feature called The Resistance Dossier of Navarone. With this activated, you can check out text and video about various topics, though not as a running piece that goes along with the movie; the “interactive” moniker implies “Dossier” will run concurrent with the flick, but instead it comes in its own little section of the disc. The featurettes and participants follow:
“Military Fact and Fiction” (4:16): Fort MacArthur Museum director/curator Stephen Nelson, film/TV historian Jonathan Kuntz, and military historian/film consultant Captain Dale Dye;
“The Greek Resistance” (4:06): Nelson and Dye;
“The Navarone Effect” (4:10): Dye, Kuntz, and Nelson;
“The Old School Wizardry of The Guns of Navarone” (4:16): Kuntz, Dye, and Nelson;
“The Real World Guns of Navarone” (4:13): Nelson and Dye;
“World War II In the Greek Islands” (3:59): Nelson and Dye.
The various pieces of text and video look at the history behind the movie as well aspects of the film’s creation. It’s too bad we only hear from three different participants; while all prove useful, they give us a limited set of perspectives. Nonetheless, the clips and text give us good information and make these snippets enjoyable.
After this we shift to three documentaries. First comes Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set. This 13- minute and 59-second piece mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from producer Carl Foreman’s former wife Eve Williams-Jones, and assistant director Peter Yates. The show looks at directorial issues and Thompson’s approach, Foreman’s work during the shoot, politics on the set, cast and relationships, staging the action scenes and balancing the various camera units, locations, the prop guns, and a few other production details.
With only two participants, “Forging” suffers a little from a lack of perspective. Nonetheless, Williams-Jones and Yates provide consistently good information. They flesh out our understanding of the production and help make this a useful program.
Next we get Ironic Epic of Heroism, a 24-minute and 38-second show that includes remarks from author and film historian Sir Christopher Frayling. The piece looks at the project’s origins, the adaptation of the novel and the introduction of various themes, logistical challenges, allusions to Greek myths in the flick, “global casting” and locations, Thompson’s impact on the set and his style. Frayling also discusses the movie’s take on World War II, more about subtext and characters, and a few other reflections.
Some of Frayling’s comments repeat information found elsewhere, but he still manages to introduce some good material. He gives the movie more of an introspective view and less “nuts and bolts”. This becomes an interesting examination of the flick’s deeper side.
For the final documentary, Memories of Navarone runs 29 minutes and 34 seconds. It features Thompson as well as actors Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and James Darren. The show looks at what attracted the participants to the project, Thompson’s late arrival on the production and his directorial approach, other actors, and impressions from the set. Largely anecdotal in nature, “Memories” proves enjoyable. The show progresses in a rather disjointed manner, so don’t expect it to provide a concise examination of the production. However, other components on this disc exist to do that, so take this one as a nice collection of stories.
A few pieces appear under featurettes. “A Heroic Score” lasts nine minutes, 19 seconds and presents film music historian Jon Burlingame. We find information about composer Dimitri Tiomkin and his work on Guns. Burlingame provides a reasonably insightful look at the music in this crisp piece.
“Epic Restoration” goes for nine minutes, 37 seconds and features UCLA Film and Television Archive preservation officer Robert Gitt as he tells us about efforts to bring the picture and audio of Guns up to snuff. It’s a moderately interesting examination of the challenges presented by the aging source material.
The remaining four featurettes include “Great Guns” (4:34), “No Visitors” (4:36), “Honeymoon on Rhodes” (4:36), and “Two Girls on the Town” (4:35). All of these were filmed and released contemporaneously with the movie itself. All were clearly promotional in nature, but their age makes them fun; they give us a look at the way movies were advertised back then. Most interesting are the final two, which are narrated by and primarily feature (respectively) Darren and his then-new wife on their "honeymoon" and Irene Papas as she and female costar Gia Scala tour the Greek islands, mainly through shopping. All of the featurettes contain enough behind-the-scenes material to make them worth a look.
An alternate film element shows up next. Narration-Free Prologue runs five minutes, 45 seconds as it shows exactly what the title implies: the beginning of the flick solely with music. Burlingame introduces it. This is nice to have for archival reasons, but neither does anything for me.
In a similar vein, we can watch the movie with or without its Roadshow Intermission. This adds about six minutes in the middle of the movie as it appeared during the roadshow presentation. This allows us to hear the “entr’acte” music as well.
The disc provides Previews for Das Boot and Bridge on the River Kwai. No trailer for Navarone shows up here.
Although some aspects of it appear a bit dated, The Guns of Navarone holds up well for a 50-year-old action film. The Blu-ray delivers erratic but acceptable picture along with very good audio and supplements. This ends up as the strongest home video release of the film to date.
To rate this film visit the Superbit review of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE