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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Dam Busters (1955)
(2018 Restoration)


Starring: Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans and Basil Sydney
Distributor: StudioCanal


Certificate: PG
Release Date: 04 June 2018

StudioCanal reissue the 1955 British classic, The Dam Busters which has been given a 4K restoration as part of the 75th Anniversary of Operation Chastise. The movie is directed by the late Michael Anderson (Logan’s Run, Around the World in 80 Days), based on the legendary true story of Commander Guy Gibson and his squadron. It captures all the thrilling action and suspense of the magnificent exploits of a group of young pilots and their crews, charged with taking out the supposedly impenetrable Ruhr river dams of Germany with an ingeniously designed bouncing bomb...

By a strange coincidence, just before we received the press release announcing this restoration Blu-ray release we had visited the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby. They had a Dam Busters exhibition, which included the "Guy Gibson Yoke and Throttle Quadrant" from Avro Lancaster ED932 and lots of other items and information to soak up (It's also the home of the 'Just Jane' Lancaster NX611 which features in one of this disc's features). It was interesting and while I knew about the Dam Buster raids and had seen the movie years ago, I couldn't really remember all that much about it.

So when I heard that StudioCanal had restored The Dam Busters I was looking forward to seeing if the movie had aged well. Rewatching this film, with eyes afresh and a newly found interest in the subject, I was surprised at how engaging and suspenseful the movie still was. It has two things very much in its favour. Firstly, despite the fact that colour was an option, the director decided to shoot in black and white in order to give it a grittier, documentary feel. And secondly, they really went all out to try and make it as authentic to the real events as possible.

Bearing in mind that a lot of the information was still classified (like the actual design of the bomb) they did go that extra mile - right down to recreating as accurately as possible some of the main rooms and locations.

The original print has been given some serious attention. Both the picture and sound have been restored to their original glory and it was interesting to learn (via one of the extras on the disc) that cleaning up the picture resulted in some complications. On some scenes when cleaning up the print they had to be careful, when removing the scratches, to not remove the original fishing wire that was used to suspend the model planes.

Extras include 617 Squadron Remembers (56 min, 20 sec feature from 2010 that interviews the then remaining survivors of Operation Chastise. Sadly, now in 2018, George 'Johnny' Johnson is the only surviving member); The Making of The Dam Busters Documentary (39 min, 31 sec - new feature that looks at the making of the film. It looks at Richard Todd's impressive war record. The RAF not only gave the film their blessing, but assigned them a consultant to help them get it as accurate as possible. Four flying Lancasters were available for filming, as well as a number of grounded planes. The scene where the Lancaster flies over Todd nearly ended in disaster when the plane's tail clipped a hanger. While the real operation saw the crews flying at 60ft, that looked too high on film, so the pilots for the film had to fly at 30ft). There's a look at some of the actors who went on to better things including Patrick McGoohan and Robert Shaw. And if you thought the end sequence of Star Wars: A New Hope looked familiar... Gil Taylor was cinematographer on both The Dam Busters and Star Wars (which has been described as The Dam Busters in space. In fact some of the X-Wing pilots have the same names as some of the pilots of Operation Chastise).

We also get Restoration Featurette (4 min, 58 sec look at how much work went into restoring the film for this rerelease); The Dam Busters Royal Premier (1955) (3 min, 19 sec Pathe News footage from the Empire, Leicester Square, London); The Dam Busters Reunion (1955) (2 min, 59 sec Pathe News footage); Footage of the Bomb Tests (6 min, 36 sec); Sir Barnes Wallis (1972) (28 min, 46 sec documentary); and Behind the Scenes Stills Gallery (23 pics).

If you fancy splashing out a bit more cash, there's also a Collector’s Edition available which includes the feature in 1.37 and 1.75 aspect ratios, a 64-page booklet, a rare aerial photographic print of the Möhne Dam following the raid (signed by the surviving members of the original 617 Squadron), an RAF Chastise Lancaster Bombers poster and a set of 5 art cards.

Still a great film and Eric Coates iconic theme is guaranteed to give you goose pimples.


Darren Rea

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