Doctor Zhivago (Blu-ray)
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is one of the last true epic classics of American Cinema before the use of special effects. Coming in well over 3 hours, its one of those few films that includes it’s own intermission. I originally saw this film about ten years ago as I was watching all the films that were on the original AFI’s Top 100 Films (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is number 39). I was a bit bored and disappointed. However this time around, maybe because I’m older and believed to be wiser, it was far more impressive. All the credit is deserved to director David Lean who made pictures meant for the big screen, which we can now enjoy on Blu-ray as well.
The story spans the time throughout the Russian Revolution. The film is filled with intertwining characters and subplots but mostly follows the life of poet and doctor, Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) during those desolate times. He is married to Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) but has a passionate love affair with Lara (Julie Christie) who was raped by her caretaker and cold politician Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). Lara is also married to Strelnikoff (Tom Courtenay) a strong advocator of the Bolshevik revolution. The film is bookended with Zhivago’s half-brother Gen. Yevgraf (Alec Guinness) telling the story to the possible daughter of the forbidden lovers.
It’s interesting to have a story in which our leads union is actually very wrong but they pull it off like it’s OK. This is the strength and weakness of the film. I can’t get behind characters that have an affair, but if anyone were to ever pull it off it would be Omar Sharif. He has so much passion and compassion behind his eyes that it reaches through the screen and touches the heart. Julie Christie is absolutely beautiful as Lara! I was completely entranced by her beauty while Geraldine Chaplin is the quiet strength of the film. She knows that she loves her husband more than he and accepts her life.
The real star is not the story itself but the way the story is told by director David Lean. He also directed THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in which he used most of his same crew. These films are numbers 13 and 5 on the AFI’s 100 List. Lean lets the audience figure out things without overtly telling them. He lets the actions speak for themselves and tells the story with the camera. He fills the screen with grand scenery, great tracking shots and uses color, lighting and symbolism throughout the film. Lean’s directing style is a skill sorely missing in today’s pictures.
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO won 5 of 10 Academy Award Nominations. The film won Oscars for Best Art Direction (John Box), Best Costume (Phyllis Dalton), Best Score (Maurice Jarre), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt) and Best Cinematography (Freddie Young). With Nominations for Supporting Actor, Director, Editing, Sound and Picture. It’s important to give these credentials because all these people in their respective areas were magnificent in their work and earned the credit they received.
Video: Wow, this is an impressive transfer for such an old film. I originally saw the 1965 film on VHS and it affected my viewing. The colors were dulled and the image was grainy. This restored version on Blu-ray is magnificent and improved the film immensely so that it may be viewed as intended.
Audio: The sound is also beautifully restored, specifically with the magnificent score playing throughout the film.
Commentary by Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger and Sandra Lein: Rod Steiger did his part separate from the other two so his commentary is spliced between conversations. All three are very insightful with interesting stories from the film. Sharif and Lein are definitely more kind and passionate while Steiger is complimentary but a bit more practically honest about the picture.
Commemorative Retrospective Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration- Part 1 (23:52): Several filmmakers, mostly comprised of writers, producers, cinematographers admiring the film in detail about specific areas.
Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration- Part 2 (16:12): This is a continuation with the different filmmakers expanding further on areas such as the use of colors and how the film was received.
Documentary Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic (1:00:22): A very detailed making of documentary with interviews from the cast, cinematographer, set designer, costumer and others. David Lean is given lots of credit in all areas of the production. This is an excellent insight into the film and is emceed by Omar Sharif.
Zhivago: Behind the Camera with Dave Lean (10:10): A sort of extended narrated trailer of the film, explaining who all was behind the process.
David Lean’s Film of Doctor Zhivago (7:10): Another narrated extended trailer describing the film, how it came to be and who was behind it all.
Moscow in Madrid (4:26): Yet Another old-school narrated trailer how they made Spain look like Russia.
Pasternak (8:50): This goes more into detail about the author, Boris Pasternak, of the Nobel Prize-wining novel Doctor Zhivago then goes onto the transfer from the page to film. Similar to the style of the previous featurettes
New York Press Interviews Julie Christie (10:07): 3 interviews in a row at a press junket sitting at a table. Lots of noise in the background and Julie smoking up a chimney.
New York Press Interviews Omar Sharif (18:52): Same thing but with 5 interviews. It’s interesting (and embarrassing) how each of these interviewers spends their few minutes with the star. By the way Omar was also smoking up a chimney.
Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test (3:14): Two takes on her character reading the letter from Zhivago.
This Is Julie Christie (1:06): A promotional blurb on Julie
This Is Geraldine Chaplin (1:08): A promotional blurb on Geraldine
This Is Omar Sharif (1:38): A promotional blurb on Omar
Chaplin In New York (2:14): Highlights Geraldine and how she is the daughter of Charlie Chaplin.
Original General Release Trailer (3:42): I always find these a bit interesting. It really dates any film to see how it was advertised the year it comes out.
Cast And Awards: A list of each of the cast’s film credits and the Golden Globe and Academy Award wins and nominations from the film.
8-Track Version of the Grammy-Winning Soundtrack Album Showcasing Maurice Jarre’s Timeless Score: 8 of the tracks from the beautiful score. The entire CD is just under thirty minutes.