The Guns of Navarone appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Time has not been kind to this film, for while some aspects of it looked fine, much of it appeared weaker than it should.
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. Moiré effects and jagged edges occurred infrequently, but edge enhancement was a definite concern. Fairly prominent haloes popped up throughout the movie and created distractions.
In terms of print flaws, this transfer usually came across as clean. It seemed abnormally grainy at times, and not just because of the use of rear projection techniques, which added a generation of film to the mix. Many shots looked grainy, but that was about it in terms of distractions. Otherwise the movie lacked specks, marks and other defects. I did notice a flickery quality in the film’s early moments, though.
Some stemmed from the fading that affected the colors. In that regard, the print seemed less than stellar, as the hues of Guns came across as somewhat wan and pale. Colors that should appear bright and bold were mediocre for the most part, as they lacked definition and vivacity.
I considered the possibility that the movie was supposed to look this way, as some films do intentionally utilize very limited palettes. While I can't state with certainty that this wasn't the case, I got the impression that the lack of color related more to the flaws of the print than to any form of purposeful cinematography. The movie betrayed a drabness that made it less than dynamic.
Black levels had some problems as well. For the most part, they 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. I found Guns to remain more than watchable, and it often looked very good. However, the general drabness as well as the edge haloes knocked down my grade to a “C+“.
Much better was the film's surprisingly strong Dolby Digital 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 thin 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.
This 2007 “2-Disc DVD Set” is the third DVD release of Guns. First came the 2000 special edition and then we got the Superbit version in 2004. I thought both of those seemed identical in terms of picture and audio, and this disc’s 5.1 track remained the same as its predecessors.
However, I noticed definite improvements in terms of visuals, particularly when it came to source flaws. While both prior DVDs showed quite a few specks and marks, this one looked clean. I also thought the colors were a little stronger here, though they still seemed fairly flat. All else stayed the same, but the improvements made this a “C+“ transfer instead of the “C-“ of the older DVDs. While it remained an erratic image, this was definitely the best Guns has looked.
When we shift to extras, we find most of the components from the 2000 Special Edition as well as some new elements. I’ll mark new pieces with an asterisk. If you don’t see a star, then the supplement already popped up on the 2000 version.
On DVD One, we get 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.
DVD One 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.
As we shift to DVD Two, we find three documentaries. First comes *Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set. This 13- minute and 57-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 35-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 32 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 DVD exist to do that, so take this one as a nice collection of stories.
Eight pieces appear under featurettes, four of which are new to this set. “*A Heroic Score” lasts nine minutes, 17 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, 35 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.
Two alternate film elements show up next. “*Narration-Free Prologue” runs five minutes, 44 seconds as it shows exactly what the title implies: the beginning of the flick solely with music. Burlingame introduces it. “*Roadshow Intermission” takes five minutes, 57 seconds to give us the middle of the movie as it appeared during the roadshow presentation. This allows us to hear the “entr’acte” music as well. Both are nice to have for archival reasons, but neither does anything for me.
The remaining four featurettes already appeared on the 2000 DVD. These include “Great Guns” (4:30), “No Visitors” (4:34), “Honeymoon on Rhodes” (4:34), and “Two Girls on the Town” (4:31). 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.
The set finishes with some *Previews. This features ads for Edison Force, Hard Luck and Walking Tall, The Payback. No trailer for Guns appears here.
That means an omission from the 2000 Special Edition, as it included the theatrical promo for Guns as well as fellow Peck and Quinn vehicle Behold a Pale Horse. The 2007 DVD also loses Talent Files and Production Notes. Oddly, this set’s packaging claims to include those elements, but it doesn’t.
Although some aspects of it appear a bit dated, The Guns of Navarone holds up well for a more-than-40-year-old action film. The DVD provides erratic but usually decent picture, robust audio, and a nice collection of extras. This is a good release for an enjoyable movie.
As the third DVD release of Guns, the important question becomes how it compares to the others. Audio remains consistent with its predecessors, but picture shows improvements and we get the most complete collection of extras. It’s worth a repurchase for fans.
To rate this film visit the Superbit review of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE