Doctor Zhivago is based on a book by Boris Pasternak. The book was banned by Communist Russia at the time and was rejected by Novyi Mir (a defining literary magazine of the Soviet Communist Party). Doctor Zhivago was smuggled out of Russia by an Italian journalist and was later translated and published in 1957. The critics hailed Pasternak’s book around the world as one of the great literary achievement of its time. For his literary achievement, Pasternak won the Noble Prize. This caused a big political controversy and due to pressure by Russian authorities, Pasternak declined the prize. Two years later he passed away in 1960. Director David Lean introduced the film version of Doctor Zhivago to the world in December 22, 1956. Just like the book the film was also banned in Russia (until 1994). The film stars Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger,Tom Courtenay, Geraldine Chaplin, and Julie Christie. The film takes place in Russia during the Russian Revolution between the years 1912-1921, with the beginning and end of the film in 1950.
Although set during the Russian Revolution, the main conflict of Dr. Zhivago is within the heart of the title character, doctor and poet Yuri Zhivago. His wife Tonya is his childhood sweetheart and best friend. She is warm, devoted, loving, and a truly wonderful mother to Yuri’s children. His love for her is incredibly strong yet he still finds himself passionately drawn to Lara, a nurse at the army hospital where they both work tending to wounded soldiers. To make things even more complicated, Lara is married to Pasha, a staunch Bolshevik. The film spans several years throughout which the events of the war continually separate and then reunite Yuri with both Tonya and Lara. As Russia is torn between red and white, Zhivago is torn between his two loves. He fights desperately to remain faithful to his sweet Tonya but how can he deny his feelings for Lara?
I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of love stores, or for that case some old films. I will have to say that Doctor Zhivago beats Gone with the Wind hands down (in my opinion), and has earned a place in my heart in a long line of old movies like Gojira and King Kong(1933). There isn’t much I didn’t like; the film again in my opinion is well played. The music, especially Laura’s Theme, will haunt you for days. Although for many the film may be overly long, here is my tip for you, the Blu-ray will allow you to skip both the intro and intermission. If you take out the intro and intermission you can cut down on your viewing time by about 10mins. Anyway, I had very little problems with this film; besides the fact the actresses who played Laura and the Nice looked a little too old for their own good. But having (at the time) a 24 year old actress playing a seventeen year old, for a good half of the film in Act One is well… beyond me. I think what makes the film so great is that the director knew what he was doing, every little thing was pre-thought out. His hard work shows and pays off with the many awards the film received. I’ve very much enjoyed watching this film, and will defiantly be seeing it again in the near future.
Warner is great at taking their “pride and joy” films and giving them a fantastic video presentation. So videophiles can rest easy, there’s no fault in Warner’s transfer here. Doctor Zhivago is presented in a 1080p VC-1 encode framed at 2.40:1. I’ve seen the film a good couple of times back when I was young and I remember how it looked VHS, after seeing the other films like Wizard of Oz and Gone with the wind on Blu-ray, I had high expectations for one of my and my mother’s favorite films. I have not seen the film in a long time, so I was quite happy when I found that the films colors are accurate for a 45 year old film, the transfer is bright and clean. The close up shot of Doctor Zhivago’s mother’s balalaika at the beginning was shown brilliantly as if it had never been used. The red in the dinner room scene is amazing. Red and other colors are bright and look as though they were painted the day before the scene shot. Now, there will not be the sharpness that we have come to know and love from high definition transfers. Digitally there is nothing wrong with the film transfer. The grain is kept intact and is never an eye sore. This is by far the best doctor Zhivago has and will look in a long time.
Warner loving bestows a faithful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The audio is not bumped up to the sound-effects we are used to hearing today. No this DTS track hold true to its original sonic track. The gun fire from battle scenes is most noticeable. Wind effects sound like the good old days. Basically you are looking at a trip down memory lane… if you are a film buff or film historian. Now as always my favorite part of the film is the score. The score comes to you fresh, it well take up the surround sound speakers. Bells, chimes, strings, etc. are crisp and clean. The best way to put it is, you’ll feel as though your there on the day they recorded the score. Now the dialog as old as the film is and is great. I do have to mention that some of the audio will come off soft, but it isn’t too much of a problem. I would say that audiophiles well be quite content with the loving and faithful audio track WB has given this film.
I would in courage fans and non-fans of Digibooks to pick up Doctor Zhivago. This is by far the most elegant of Digibooks. The book is bulky, but then again you have two disc trays on either side, with a nicely written, with production stills 40 page booklet, description on the film. Truly Warner wanted this release to look special. For fans who like scores or who never takes a notice of the scores in films, let your heart not be troubled, for just like FAME, WB has given you 3rd disc which features 8 tracks including Laura’s Theme, from the film’s haunting beautiful score.
Commentary: Join Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago), Rod Steiger (Victor Komarovsky), and Sandra Lean as they talk about the film, themselves, the director, and more. This commentary is for die-hard fans of the film, film makers to be, and commentary fans. This is the liveliest and humorous commentary I’ve heard in a long time. A must listen, after you watch the film all the way through.
Doctor Zhivago A Celebration: this feature really helps you better understand some of the key scenes of the film. Act One is 23mins, while ACT Two is 16mins. After watching you may want to watch the film again.
Cast and Crew: this extra is only if you what to know more on the main cast, as well as the director. Nothing much to see here.
Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic: is a 21 chapter making of documentary. I actually remember watching this on TV back in 1995. The documentary is introduced and narrated by Dr. Zhivago himself. This is a trip down memory lane, using screen test, old footage and behind the scenes, etc. This documentary gives you not only the making of, but also how the film was cast, the director, the author and similarities between the book and his live action version. Some of the films cast appear to help the extra, and they also give behind the scenes secrets. I have to say this is a nice feature. They really don’t make features quite like this now a days.
Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean: another behind the scenes feather that focused more on the director, and how the director made the film, picked the cast and more. Honestly I’m a sucker for extras that feature the director and having the director talk about how he/she (he in this case) made the film.
David Lean’s film of Doctor Zhivago: A promotional look at the then upcoming film. This tells you a little history about the book, and the story of the film.
Moscow in Madrid: Another inside look at the film. This time it’s how they made Madrid into Moscow, and again some repetitive information.
Pasternak: a look into the author’s life as well as the book and how it ties together into the movie.
New York Press Interviews: there are two, one of Julie Christie and Omar Sharif. These two extras are naturally the same as any interview you see with today’s actors. In my opinion this is a sleeper feature. Sorry, I couldn’t watch them in their entirety.
Geraldine Chaplin Screentest: Full screen tests that let you see bites and pieces of the other extras included on this disc.
This Is: Three This Is features featuring Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, and Omar Sharif. Three short features on the actors.
Chaplin in New York: an inside look at Geraldine Chaplin.
Original General Release Trailer: Now as I’ve said before I love trailers. So naturally this trailer is a fitting close to the extras.
Awards: list the awards the film has won.
Doctor Zhivago CD Sampler
I am pleased at Warner for showing us yet again another terrific job on their “pride and joy” films. In my opinion fans of the film should, if they have not done so already, pick up a copy of this wonderful film. This and their other “pride and joy” film goes to show that Warner can dish out outstanding transfers… if they want to. As for this reviewer, all I’ll say is that I will definitely be seeing the Doctor again. In the words of General Yevgraf Zhivago “Ah, then, it’s a gift”
The screen captures are only a small representation of what the Blu-ray looks like and are not representative of Blu-ray’s true quality.