In some ways, reviewing a classic is great, but in others, it can be a curse. On one hand, you get the opportunity for an early viewing and to think critically about a title that has been revered over the last century. The fact that this particular classic stars Obi-Wan doesn’t hurt either. On the other, it’s a challenge to find a way to add something to the discussion if a 45-year-old movie. I mean, what hasn’t already been said? Also, how do you put yourself into the frame of mind to view a fill that was produced well before you were even born? Was it be worth taking all that on? Read on to find out!
Before you begin your Dr. Zhivago viewing, make sure you’ve got a really comfy seat, a big bowl of popcorn and A LOT of time. Let’s just say that they don’t call this an epic for nothing. Clocking in at 200 minutes, Dr. Zhivago is truly an epic. At times it feels like it could have been shortened (sometimes significantly), but it just wouldn’t be a David Lean production if it weren’t grand, right? I mean, when you watch a film from the guy who directed The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, you know what you’re getting yourself into.
As for the film itself, it’s a love story at heart. War and the Russian Revolution may provide the backdrop for nearly every facet of the story, but for the most part, the story follows Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie). Though they’re married to other people, they encounter one another repeatedly throughout the years. Each time, it’s been strictly plutonic. However, one of their later meetings, they discover that they don’t live too far from one another. You can probably guess where this is going… This is obviously a major oversimplification, but I don’t feel like it would be right to summarize a Pulitzer Prize winner in a couple of paragraphs. Spend some time with it and see for yourself. It may sound a little cliché, but it’s well-done.
The only thing I can really knock this film for is its incredible length. I’m sure it’s a factor of the times, but these days, if I’m going to survive through a 200-minute film, I need a little more coaxing along than Dr. Zhivago delivers. More recent films such as Avatar never really give you a significant lull in the story, so you end up blazing through three hours like it’s nothing. On the other hand, while watching Dr. Zhivago, you’ll likely feel most of those minutes. In fact, after finishing Dr. Z, I feel like I actually accomplished something.
Being released in 1965, you obviously have to give a little leeway with the video quality of this Blu-ray. Overall though, Warner Bros. has done a terrific job with this transfer. Dr. Zhivago is encoded as a 1080p VC-1, which is clean enough to allow some of the more artistic touches to really shine and to make you forget you’re watching film that was released in the 60’s.
Throughout, there is a fair level of grain, but nothing too distracting. Also, you’ll notice occasional moments of softness and speckles popping up. One nicety – it’s framed at 2.40:1 – not something to be taken for granted with an older film.
The audio track is perhaps where Dr. Zhivago shines the most. The audio is presented as DTS-HD in 5.1 surround. Those are the technical details, but frankly, that’s not why you’ll want to listen here. Dr. Zhivago is well known for it’s original score and it is really allowed to exploit the format to its fullest extent.
If there’s something to be said for the orchestral score, it’s worth noting that even I recognized many of the songs and this film was released 20 years before I was even born. I can easily call the score transcendent for that reason alone. Sometimes, it can be quiet and emotional, drawing you in, while sometimes it can be huge and foreboding, eliciting a sense of grandeur. Your sound system surely isn’t going to get a workout here, but it’s certainly worth hearing.
I’ll knock the audio a tiny bit only because I’d be hesitant to give a perfect score to an audio track that lacks in the special effects department, but otherwise, it’s really a pleasure to listen to. Turn it up loud and let yourself be drawn in.
The first special feature worth noting is the Blu-ray book itself. Inside are several photos from the production of the film, as well as background on the story and information on the cast. It’s a really well-made addition and it makes it feel like you’re purchasing something of substance – not just another hollow blue case.
Disc 1 (Blu-ray):
The feature film
Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger and Sandra Lean discuss on-the-set details and production of the film.
Disc 2 (DVD):
Dr. Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic – At over an hour long, it’s an in-depth documentary about the production of the film. With Dr. Z being such a classic, this was almost as entertaining as the film itself.
Gallery of Vintage Featurettes – This is a random collection of film-related snippets. It includes things like press interviews with the crew, screen tests and other assorted bits.
Disc 3 (CD):
A sampler containing tracks from the film’s score. This was unexpectedly entertaining – try listening for yourself and see if any of the tracks are familiar.
If you’ve never seen Dr. Zhivago, or if you’re like me and you haven’t seen it in a long time, this title is certainly worth a fresh look. The film itself is definitely something that you should probably see at least once and if you’re going to do it, this transfer is the one you want to see. The supplements are also really worth noting. Trust me, that Blu-ray book will look really nice on the shelf.
In the end, I’m being a little spineless – though I don’t exactly love it, I’m giving it a fairly high score because I can respect the history behind this title. I also know that I can’t really get myself mentally to the time that the film was released. Overall though, it was enjoyable and I’m glad to make it part of my “film literacy”.
Warner Borthers’ Doctor Zhivago Anniversary Edition arrives on Blu-ray May 4th.
Pre-order Doctor Zhivago on Blu-ray today.