El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO: 45th Anniversary Edition

Based on Boris Pasternak's Nobel Prize-winning novel, Doctor Zhivago tells the story of the tragic love affair between Doctor Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) and Lara Antipova (Julie Christie), set during early twentieth century Russia as it evolved into the Soviet Union. The film is a classic Hollywood epic brought to fruition by director David Lean and his team, and third in an extremely impressive run that included The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.

As the film opens, it takes the viewer back to a different time as an overture plays Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning score for four minutes with a painted image. In the Soviet Union, General Yevgraf Zhivago (Alec Guinness), Yuri's half-brother, tells the story of Yuri and Lara to a young woman named Tonya Komarovskaya (Rita Tushingham), who Yevgraf believes may be his niece.

Yuri trains to become Doctor while already exhibiting his gifts as a poet. He would eventually marry Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). Lara, though engaged to another man, becomes involved with attorney Victor Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), a friend of Yuri's father. When Lara's mother finds out about Lara's involvement with Victor she attempts suicide. Yuri is called to help and there first meets Lara.

They meet again during World War I. Yuri served as a doctor and she a nurse. Both were married. Years after the war ended, they gave into their feelings, but Yuri was conflicted with guilt. In transit to end the relationship, communists shanghaied him and years went by before he could escape back to his wife. However, he discovered she fled to Paris and went back to Lara until the government caused them to split.

While enjoyable to watch especially because of Freddie Young's stunning Oscar-winning cinematography, the film feels a bit dated. In spots the pacing is a tad too slow and the acting slightly rigid. I didn't completely buy the resolution of Yuri. Felt like the writer just wanted to wrap it up. But overall, a film well worth spending time with. There is likely an element of the experience viewers of today are missing since the Cold War was in progress when the film was released.

The 45th Anniversary DVD of Doctor Zhivago presents the film on both sides of a disc, taking advantage of the intermission. It has been remastered and digitally restored and is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. Comparisons to footage in the extras will reveal how much work was done and how much better it looks, particularly the rich and vibrant colors.

There is a very informative commentary track by Omar Sharif and Lean's widow Sandra with Rod Steiger edited in. A new, two-part documentary "Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration" (40 min) extols the film and its makers.

The second disc is filled with extras and all have been previously released on the 2004 DVD. "Cast and Crew Listing" presents filmographies of the aforementioned and a few have audio options. "Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic" (60 min) is thorough and insightful. Narrated by Sharif, it not only covers the film but provides information about author Pasternak as well. This is the one well worth devoting your time to.

"Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean" (10 min) provides great archival footage from the set and Lean discusses casting. "David Lean's Film of Doctor Zhivago" (7 min) covers the difficulties getting novel published against Soviet Union's wishes and aspects of production. "Moscow in Madrid" (4 min) reuses footage as it quickly details Spain filling in for Russia. There's yet another piece about author simply titled "Pasternak" (9 min).

A few features focus on the cast. New York Press Interviews: Julie Christie (10 min) & Omar Sharif (19 min) show the actors during a press junket. Sharif seems to be enjoying himself while Christie looks like she wishes she was elsewhere. Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test (3 min) presents two takes from different camera set-ups of Chaplin reading a letter. Three very short, black and white promo pieces present the actors: "This Is Julie Christie" (1 min), "…Geraldine Chaplin" (1 min), and "…Omar Sharif" (SD, 2 minutes). "Chaplin in New York" (2 min) finds her at a magazine shoot and makes a connection to her father Charlie.

I was unable to compare the 2004 DVD to the 45th Anniversary Edition of Doctor Zhivago, so I don't know how much better the picture is. It's not worth a double-dip for the new feature. Fans who don't own the film will enjoy this new release.

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