The Guns of Navarone (1961) 4k Blu-ray Review

The Guns of Navarone 4k Blu-ray copy
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Sony/Columbia Pictures released a 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of The Guns of Navarone on November 2, 2021. The combo edition also includes a Blu-ray and Digital Copy redeemable through Movies Anywhere partners. The film was restored from the original negatives back in 2011 (although because of the condition of the original negatives sometimes 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th-generation copies were made). For the 4k UHD edition that celebrates 60 years since its theatrical debut, HDR was added to enhance the color of The Guns of Navarone. Here’s a review of the Ultra HD Blu-ray edition.

The Movie

Released in 1961 by Columbia Pictures, The Guns of Navarone has been a staple in war movie talk ever since. The film is based on the novel by Alistar MacLean about an Allied commando unit during World War II on a mission to destroy a German fortress overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The movie was directed by J. Lee Thompson and stars Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman. The Guns of Navarone followed The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – another big-budget war film distributed by Columbia that was also written by Foreman along with screenwriter Michael Wilson.

What’s great about The Guns of Navarone is in the way the script integrated multiple story arcs and character development — not just the mission to blow up the German bunker. As examples, you have growing mistrust of Colonel Andrea Stavrou (Anthony Quinn) who pledges to kill Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), the health of Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle) who breaks his leg in a fall and is subsequently captured, and the questions about Anna (Gia Scala) who is suspected of sabotaging explosives left by Corporal Miller (David Niven). Those are just a few of the layers to this dramatic action film, in which the team faces many obstacles on their mission.

The film was nominated for a total of seven Academy Awards including Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Screenplay (Based on Material from another Medium), and Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. Production members Bill Warrington and Chris Greenham won the Oscar for Best Special Effects.

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The Guns of Navarone on 4k Blu-ray is presented in 2160p with HDR10 to expand the color depth on HDR TVs and devices. [Update: A Limited Edition SteelBook releasing Nov. 7, 2023 adds Dolby Vision.] The film was previously restored from its original negatives (although with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-generation copies due to the age of the originals) and released to Blu-ray back in 2011 to celebrate 50 years since its theatrical debut. For this disc release (as well as streaming services that update and offer the 4k video format) a new 4k Digital Intermediate was created and HDR added. The new color correction and restored version was done by Roundabout Entertainment in Santa Monica, CA.

So how does The Guns of Navarone look on 4k Blu-ray? Grain, grain, and more grain! You can’t ignore the grain, which is common for a film of this age and not so bad once you sit back a few feet. Although, some folks love the authenticity of film grain on the big screen. The HEVC video played at bitrates in the 60Mbps range, with 10-bit capability via HDR10 if your TV supports HDR.

This is definitely a chunky-looking transfer, meaning, there are blocks of shadow that seem jammed up rather than spread out to reveal color values. You would hope with new negative scans and the potential of HDR that more bits could be extracted from the darker areas.

The “restoration” is very dark. As the movie progresses and moves into caves and night shots the video quality gets substantially worse. One might venture to say the quality at the climax is not much better than what we’ve seen broadcast in 480p in the last 15 years.

The dusk shots at 2:31 are very, very dark, as well as most of the final minutes of the film. Compared to other restorations from its time such as My Fair Lady and SpartacusThe Guns of Navarone definitely does not impress. The color values are just too much in the low end resulting in a limited range image.

But it’s not all bad. HDR provides some incredible color moments. Check out the screen photo of the explosion of the German patrol boat (believed to be a Vorpostenboot) at about 32:00. That’s great color for a 60-year-old movie! And, some of the closeups and extreme closeups of the main characters look the best they have ever looked. It’s probably a blanket statement but the daylight shots look like 4k restorations while the night shots (even if filmed in the day with filters to simulate night) don’t quite cut it.

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The audio on the 4k Blu-ray edition of The Guns of Navarone has been upgraded to Dolby Atmos / TrueHD 7.1 channel and provides a significant improvement from previous 5.1 channel mixes. The sounds of guns firing from the German fortress in the introduction at 2:15 definitely pack a punch on a multi-speaker surround system but almost seems out of place given the age of the film. We’re not complaining though, as the sound is probably the best part about this disc.

Another explosion of the German patrol boat at 32:00 (mentioned in the video portion of the review) also kicks in some deep base that will surely be felt in your toes (sorry, but we crank up the audio for these reviews for full “theater” effect).

There is also some really great low-frequency audio from German transport vehicles at about 58:10 when the Germans suspect the Allies have landed on their shore. That moment might be the LFE highlight of the entire film. The sounds of the German transport engines and tires rolling will shake your house!

And the grand finale of the movie, the moment when the guns of Navarone start firing at 2:34:00 and trigger a chain reaction of explosions in the fortress, sends a barrage of sounds that are enhanced by subwoofer output.

The score to The Guns of Navarone by 4x Oscar-winner Dimitri Tiomkin won the composer a Golden Globe (also the Academy Award nomination for Best Orginal Score). Tiomkin is also known for films such as High Noon, The High and the Mighty, and The Old Man and the Sea.

All in all, the soundtrack to The Guns of Navarone has very few but choice moments of audio brilliance that has been enhanced for Atmos/7.1 channel systems and subwoofer low-frequency ranges. It’s well worth your listen.

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Menu & Bonus Features

The first menu of this 4k Blu-ray asks the viewer to choose between the Original Roadshow with the intermission card or without. Once picked, it takes you to the Home screen with Scenes, Settings, and Extras. There is plenty of bonus material to pick through including a new Main Title Progression Reel, audio commentaries, interactive feature “The Resistance Dossier of Navarone,” Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set, and more.

  • Playback available with and without Original Roadshow Intermission Card
  • NEW Main Title Progression Reel
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio Commentary by Director J. Lee Thompson
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Stephen J. Rubin
  • The Resistance Dossier of Navarone: Interactive Feature
  • Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set
  • An Ironic Epic of Heroism
  • Memories of Navarone
  • Epic Restoration
  • A Heroic Score
  • Great Guns
  • No Visitors
  • Honeymoon on Rhodes
  • Two Girls on the Town
  • Narration-Free Prologue
  • Message from Carl Foreman
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If it wasn’t for the audio upgrade we’d tell you to just watch The Guns of Navarone in HD, or even SD (on a small screen) for that matter. In fact, the video may even look better on a smaller screen where the dark source material may not look as bad — like on a small HDTV or even a tablet with more contrast than a PC monitor would allow. But for anyone with an Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 sound system, or even just a 2.1 system with a subwoofer, The Guns of Navarone provides a good big-screen experience at home that you will not get from stock speaker systems.





Bonus Material

4k Limited Edition SteelBook

The Guns of Navarone (1961) 4k Blu-ray SteelBook Buy on Amazon

A Limited Edition 4k Blu-ray SteelBook from Sony was released on November 7, 2023. But it’s not just a repackage in a premium case. The new print adds Dolby Vision HDR, a superior HDR spec that can change dynamically from scene to scene (HDR10 is considered a “static” spec that loads upon startup and stays consistent). This is the preferred version for players and screens that support DV, as each scene can vary in the way the color depth is rendered. Everything else is the same in this presentation (including Dolby Atmos) and the combo edition includes a 4k Blu-ray, 2k Blu-ray, and Digital Code.