Review for The Dambusters - Brand New Restoration
‘The Dambusters’ is, without doubt, one of the finest British WWII war movies. Watching it again, it strikes me that it is almost perfectly formed with a no-nonsense, let’s get on with it approach which sees the film divided into two distinct, but equally impactful ‘acts’.
The first traces scientist Dr Barnes Wallis’s attempts to create a bomb that might destroy some of Germany’s most important dams – those providing power to countless munitions factories. He is driven by doing whatever he can to shorten the war.
Having created the bomb, the second ‘act’ traces the special squadron’s attempts to bust the dams – an incredibly exciting 45 minutes or so which, given that this was created in the 1950s, years before the advent of CGI, uses some breath-taking special effects to give it a gritty and highly realistic look which allows you, as a viewer, to get a first hand view of what it must have been like to have to been one of these young men, risking their lives in appalling conditions, in their Lancaster bombers, right in the heartland of industrial Germany.
But of course, many of you will know this already. The film has been on relatively constant rotation on TV since the 1960s and has been issued countless times before on DVD and Blu-Ray. However, this edition must surely be the best yet. I’ll crack on first with what makes this set unique and finish with a plot summary for those who want it towards the back end of the review.
The Blu-Ray transfer is stunning with fastidious, frame by frame restoration taking place, always sympathetic to the original look and feel of the film.
The special edition ships with five discs:
Disc 1- DVD Film only restored in 1.37:1.
Disc 2- DVD Film only restored in 1.75:1.
Disc 3- DVD Special features dedicated disc.
Disc 4- Blu-Ray Film restored in 1.37:1. and special features
Disc 5- Blu-ray restored film in 1.75:1.
For this review, I was sent Disc 4 which was enough to give a sensible assessment overall.
Apparently the packaging for the retail version is good with a couple of small posters inside for good measure; one of the Mohne Dam another featuring some of the Lancasters used. It also houses 5 postcards and a collectors’ booklet with a forward by Dan Snow – none of which I can comment on, but all of which add to the attractiveness of this unique set.
The extra features, for those with an interest, are well worth the price of admission alone. Some have been issued before but I think this is the first set to draw them all together under one roof.
617 Squadron Remembers – a poignant series of contemporary interviews with three of the remaining survivors. It is humbling to hear the accounts of these now old men who would have been no older than their early 20s at the time of the raid. Each is refreshingly humble about their respective roles and their recollections of events remain vivid. Whilst all maintaining a stiff upper lip, and clearly proud of their contributions, it’s clear that losing so many of their colleagues and friends was still a painful aspect of events.
The Making of the Dambusters – a 40 minute documentary tracking the making of the film, including the involvement of some of the surviving airmen. The model making involved in the dams themselves is incredibly impressive. A fascinating watch.
Restoration Featurette – neat little featurette (5 minutes only) featuring two youngsters involved in the frame by frame restoration process.
The Dam Busters Royal Premier (1955) 3 minute news report from the official premier which hosted all survivors too.
The Dam Busters Renunion (1955) – footage culled from the Royal Premier feature
Footage of the Bomb Tests – Original silent footage of the bomb tests. It’s notable that the bombs looked very different in shape than those used in the film, which was released just 10 years after the end of the war, so such information was still ‘secret’.
Sir Barnes Wallis (1972) – a fascinating interview based documentary, originally made by some film students, featuring the great man himself.
Behind the Scenes Stills Gallery
The film was adapted from Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s book, ‘Enemy Coast Ahead’ and Paul Brickhill’s ‘ The Dam Busters’ which became the film’s title too.
The first half sees Michael Redgrave playing Barnes Wallis, the renowned inventor, and, based on the interviews with the real Wallis featured in this set, he does a great job. We see Wallis’s early experiments at his home using table-tennis balls and his kids as assistants, right through to more serious testing. We also see his battle to be heard by politicians and Civil Servants with other priorities until he made the bold move of going directly to ‘Bomber’ Harris himself.
We see failed experiments and disappointments right through to the first successful tests, though also with the realisation that pilots would need to fly at a mere 30ft in order for the bombs to be successful. It is perhaps this pre-requisite that cost many men their lives in the brave (and ultimately successful attempts) and towards the end of the film, we see that Wallis took these losses very hard, avoiding any further development of weapons in his attempt to do whatever he could to bring a successful end to the war.
Gibson is played to perfection by a young Richard Todd (again, a remarkably similar look to the real man) who is all stiff-upper lip, and a born leader, despite his young age (a mere 25 years at the time of the mission). We see his warm human side through his love of his faithful dog (unfortunately called the ‘N’ word which was common parlez at the time) who is killed on the day of the first mission, having been run over by a unit vehicle on the camp.
Todd was a great choice for the role, having been a paratrooper himself. He plays the role with great naturalism and adds to the incredible ‘beliavability’ of the film.
When the action starts, it really doesn’t let up. The lead in may well be the biggest drum-roll in film history but the action doesn’t disappoint. The editing is superb, cutting between genuine flight footage to claustrophobic studio filmed plane interiors with back projected ‘flight footage’ – intercut with models of the dam. It all works brilliantly, enhanced by an incredible action score.
The film finishes on a post-note to the exultant finale with a reflection on the loss of life. 19 planes took off and just 8 returned. The film reflects this fully by revisiting the now empty dormitories previously full of life, and now empty. Really poignant food for thought, and the film gets the tone just right.
Of course, most people’s residing memory of the film will be its iconic theme tune, Eric Coates’ ‘The Dam Busters March’. Kids today still sing it with arms outstretched like planes.
This is a fantastic edition of a classic film and highly, highly recommended.