Updated: Nov 17
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Gregory Peck plays New Zealand world-class mountain climber Captain Keith Mallory. He and the rest of the British commandos are surrounded by German soldiers in a Greece village.
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“THE GUNS OF NAVARONE: 60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 1961; Not rated, contains war violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Memories of Navarone” featurette (disc & digital - Apple TV)
SONY PICTURES Home Entertainment is completely transparent over the challenges the studio faced completing the 4K restoration of the explosive World War II adventure “The Guns of Navarone.”
Grover Crisp, Vice President of Asset Management, and Film Restoration and Digital Mastering for Sony, provides details in an insert essay included in the 4K case. It highlights the film’s preservation history, the 4K wet bath scan of the original 35mm camera negative and best surviving elements in 2010, the digital restoration and cleaning handled by a facility in India, and the recent HDR toning and upgraded Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
It all started in the early 1990s after Sony Corp. purchased Columbia Pictures’ rich library of films, establishing Hollywood’s first public-private partnership between the studio and the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, George Eastman Museum, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (Oscars), the American Film Institute, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Many of Columbia’s top catalog titles were being stored in those facilities. The committee met twice a year to exchange ideas and set guidelines to perverse the treasured films, and techniques to upgrade the content for home video.
(1) “The Guns of Navarone” premiered in New York City on June 22, 1961. (2) The opening scene was shot day for night, which was shown correcting during its theatrical run. But, when it aired on the CBS network the scene was shown as if it was daytime. Here it’s shown correctly. (3) Australian Squadron Leader Barnsby (Richard Harris) gives a passionate speech about losing 18 men during the latest bombing run to knock out the two huge German guns buried deep in the solid rocks of Navarone. “Look sir, first, you’ve got that bloody old fortress on top of that bloody, cliff. Then you got the bloody cliff overhang. You can’t even see the bloody cave, let alone the bloody guns. And anyway, we haven’t got a bloody bomb big enough to smash that bloody rock. And that’s the bloody truth, sir.” (4) Commodore Jenson (James Robertson Justice), Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), and Cpt. Mallory listens to Barnsby.
A photochemical restoration was the only option during those early days since computer technology hadn’t been developed. “Navarone’s” first restoration was handled that way, with UCLA preservation officer Robert Gitt, overseeing the project. He describes the work in a carried-over featurette, “Epic Restoration” (disc & digital Apple TV). The original 35mm camera negative had started to show signs of deterioration. First off, it smelled – a true sign of chemical breakdown from the negative. Also, colors were fading and damaged sections – for whatever reason – had been replaced with second and third-generation negatives. Bits and pieces of the finale were replaced with a lesser negative creating a softer picture, larger film grain, and contrast issues. Gitt says, at the time, the best way to preserve the surviving negative was to make separate black & white negative separations of the three primary colors (red, blue, green).
A test print was also made from the original negative and other surviving elements, which exposed a number of issues. During the opening sequence when an Allied plane crashed, the scene had been exposed during daylight hours although it was intended as a night scene. For decades it had been shown on its annual CBS TV broadcast and later on VHS tape as if it was daylight. A private collector’s original 35mm print provided the correct nighttime exposure, plus the reference brightness and color for the rest of the film.
A decade ago, for its 50th Anniversary, “Navarone” received a complete 4K digital restoration (2.35:1 aspect ratio), the foundation for this 4K Ultra presentation. The three-color negatives made during the ‘90s were scrapped, and the original negative and duplicate negatives from the damage scenes were scanned in 4K. Once the digital restoration was finished in India, the final touchup was finalized in Los Angeles. The newly created 4K master was used for the 2011 Blu-ray edition, included in this set, and for its 4K non-HDR showing on digital platforms.
For the new 60th-anniversary edition, the 4K master was sent to Roundabout Entertainment in Santa Monica, where HDR grading was applied. The results provide a more authentic experience with truer colors, improved contrast density, and a bump to TRUE 4K resolution. The new 4K/HDR edition (only available on disc) gives “Navarone” its best showing since its original Roadshow presentation during the summer of 1961.
(1) The British commando unit heads to the Greece coastline in the Aegean Sea. (2) They are encountered by a German patrol boat. (3) Captain Mallory plays as if he doesn’t understand the German officer. (4) The Allied commandos destroy the german vessel.
Still, problematic scenes which run only a few minutes in several spots, are not fixable. The natural film grain bounces up and down from fine grain to much larger. And, in one third-generation spot, highlights are nearly blown out, but recover quickly when it switches back to the original negative. We must applaud Sony for not applying a heavy hand of digital alteration to soften the excess grain moments.
Overall this 4K presentation can’t match the superior source material Sony had to work with on David Lean’s seven Academy Award winner “The Bridge on the River Kwai” released on 4K Ultra HD in 2017.
The soundtrack has also gotten a big boost, with airplane and gun effects, and score cues from composer Dimitri Tiomkin (“High Noon,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”) remastered for the eight-channel Dolby Atmos environment. The bass response is quite powerful – especially from the German artillery garrison on the perilous Navarone cliffs.
(1&2) Major Roy Franklin pilots the boat during the violent storm. (3) Private Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren), Maj. Franklin, Corporal Miller (David Niven) and C.P.O. ‘Butcher’ Brown (Stanley Baker) watches as Capt. Mallory scales the 400- sheer cliff face, the only unguarded approach to Navarone. (4) Greece resistance fighter Maria Pappadimos makes contact with the commandos. (5) Maj. Franklin broke his leg during the ascent.
The story is about a British commando unit, with Gregory Peck (as New Zealand world-class mountain climber Captain Keith Mallory) leading an all-star cast that includes David Niven, Anthony Quayle, and Anthony Quinn, on a suicide mission to destroy two Nazi long-range guns overlooking the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Blacklisted screenwriter/producer Carl Foreman (“High Noon,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai”) adapted Alistair MacLean’s fictitious wartime novel.
Originally, director Alexander Mackendrick (“The Ladykillers”) was hired on, but Foreman felt his early action sequences filmed in Greece weren’t good enough, so production was stopped. Five days later, former Royal Air Force pilot J. Lee Thompson took over the director’s chair. Foreman had seen his sensitive film “Tiger Bay,” starring a young Hayley Mills and her father John Mills. Initially, William Holden was pegged to play Capt. Mallory, but was rejected for asking too much – $750,000, plus 10 percent of the gross. Peck signed for $350,000 and a smaller percentage. The next year, Peck would win Best Actor as attorney Atticus Finch in the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The carry-over Blu-ray includes a commentary with the director recorded in 1999; insights become sporadic toward the end. Thompson tells of almost abandoning the project when Niven became deathly ill while shooting the sea storm sequence. “He recovered magnificently,” Thompson says, and the climactic finale was completed. Author Stephen J. Rubin provides a second commentary, mostly adding historical perspective to the production. There were real German guns in the Aegean Sea straits, and the British Navy couldn’t get past them. In real-life the commandos didn’t destroy the guns.
The disc features an informative, 30-minute documentary with Thompson, Peck, Quinn, and ‘60s pop singer/actor James Darren, who plays one of the commandos. Additional featurettes include interviews with Eve William-Jones, the former Mrs. Foreman, providing insider stories about her husband.
(1) A bride and groom and other villages sing during the wedding party. (2) The commandos are picked up by the Germans, but Greek resistance fighter Colonel Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn) denies his involvement. He says, “I’m just a poor fisherman. Two days ago, these men. They killed my sailors and stole my boat.” (3) A German SS officer arrives to interrogate the commandos. (4) The tables are now turned, as Capt. Mallory wears a German officer’s uniform.
The 4K disc includes the option to watch the six-minute Intermission title cards within the film or not, with a total running time of 159 minutes, and an excellent condition 4K/non-HDR theatrical trailer.
“The Guns of Navarone” was Columbia’s biggest box office release of 1961. It received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Score, Film Editing, Sound, and won an Oscar for Special Effects because of its explosive ending. The musical “West Side Story” was the big Oscar winner that year.
As a child of the 1960s, watching “Navarone” on network TV was always an event and the talk of the playground among my grade school buddies the next day. Now watching it on 4K Ultra HD, it’s like being transported back to the neighborhood theater and watching the action for the first time.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch Producer
(1) Huge soundstages at Shepperton Studios in England housed the huge Navarone garrison and other interiors. (2&3) Capt. Mallory and explosives expert Corp. Miller prepare to enter the fortress, where they find the long-range 12-inch guns. (4) Miller sets the explosives for one of the guns. (5&6) Mallory and Miller locked the entrance to the garrison, as German soldiers try to break in. (7&8) German artillery soldiers watch the blast of the 12-inch guns.