Doctor Zhivago - 45th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
'Doctor Zhivago' looks superb on UK Region free Blu-ray with its 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer of the picture framed in the widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Watching the movie on a 50 inch plasma revealed a noticeable amount of grain, which previous releases had not highlighted. It's acceptable though and doesn't detract from the viewer's enjoyment of the film. After all, it was shot on film - particularly it was shot in Metrocolor and the same amount of grain is visible in 'Gigi' which was also shot using the same process. It doesn't look as if DNR has been applied to the transfer and if you take a look at 'Doctor Zhivago' projected on a 7 foot screen then the grain is hardly noticeable. It looks very natural, almost like a new 35mm print.
Many scenes in the film have a minimal use of colour, so that when a strong coloured item is placed on the set, it has an amazing impact - such as Lara's red dress in the scene with Komarovsky - or Geraldine Chaplin's pink and grey outfit when she arrives on the train. The other standout scene for use of colour is in the restaurant where Komarovsky and Lara have dinner. The decor is bright red and Metrocolor brings this alive almost as well as early Technicolor.
We have satisfyingly deep blacks and contrast is absolutely spot on. Detail is excellent throughout - picking out texture in costumes, hair and complexions. The image is reassuringly sharp, which is pleasing to report considering we've had a few recent Blu-ray releases that were not as sharp as they might have been.
There are no scratches, print marks or other visible nuisances. In fact, it looks pristine.
My preference was to watch the film projected on a big screen as it there that it looked at its best - and it's also how it was originally intended to be seen. Warners have done a fine job of transferring and encoding David Lean's epic for its 45th Anniversary release.
The audio on 'Doctor Zhivago' comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 flavour remixed from the original elements. The use of the surrounds is tastefully handled and generally restricted to ambient effects like crowd noise, although some of the war scenes do benefit from an immersive effect. The low frequency extension is used carefully to accentuate drum beats and to give explosions some grunt. This is a film with some excellent dialogue, so thankfully it's crisp and clear with the occasional bit of directionality to relieve the centre speaker from handling it all. The main stereo pair swell with 'Lara's theme' and you never tire of hearing this beautifully emotive piece of music, which almost becomes another character in the film.
The Bonus material on 'Doctor Zhivago' is spread over 2 discs. Disc 1 is a Blu-ray, while disc 2 is a DVD containing the Standard definition Extras of epic proportions.
Most of the extra material on disc 2 has been released before as I can recall much of it being on the Laserdisc back in 1995, but it's good to see it all collected together for a new generation who will never have seen it.
- Audio Commentary
This is a fascinating listen with input from Omar Sharif, Sandra Lean (David Lean's widow) and Rod Steiger. Mr Steiger's comments were recorded separately from the others and edited into the final track. His is possibly the most entertaining as he has a great sense of humour and is very direct as he retells his many stories for a new audience. He puts up such a defence of Komarovsky that even I began to feel that this character may have been simply misunderstood.
Sandra Lean fills us in on the background of the director and we hear that he wasn't allowed to go to the movies until he was 14. Omar Sharif explains that he never expected to play the male lead in Zhivago and he tells us, from his own perspective, what it was like working with Lean. This is gold dust for film buffs and possibly even a general audience would find it good listening, although at 200 minutes it would be a real test of enthusiasm if not bladder strength.
- 'Doctor Zhivago': A Celebration (SD, 40 mins)
This chunky documentary is divided into two parts and we hear from some modern day film makers including Nicholas Meyer, Gary Ross, Taylor Hackford, Martin Campbell, and Kathleen Kennedy as they break down various sequences and praise Lean's work, most notably his attention to fine detail. They also remark upon the performances of Sharif & Christie, highlighting some techniques used that may not be obvious to a casual viewer.
- 'Doctor Zhivago': The Making of a Russian Epic (SD, 60 minutes)
This is probably the best of the documentaries in the set and hails from 1995. Omar Sharif narrates and recalls how painful makeup transformed him from an Arab to a Russian. Rod Steiger and Geraldine Chaplin share some interesting anecdotes, and we even get to see the real life Lara, Olga Ivinskaya. We are given some background detail on Boris Pasternak's life, hear of David Lean's perfectionism and find out why Spain was used as the main location. Composer Maurice Jarre describes the development of 'Lara's Theme' and costume designer Phyllis Dalton remembers how pink came to be chosen as the colour for Geraldine Chaplin's stunning introductory outfit. This is informative and entertaining without becoming tiresome.
- Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean (SD, 10 minutes)
This vintage promotional short takes us behind-the-scenes of the shooting and David Lean himself discusses the casting of 'Doctor Zhivago' as well as more about the Spanish locations used in the film.
- Moscow in Madrid (SD, 4 minutes)
The short seems to be a cut down of the above promo piece with a slightly different focus to the voice over and, strangely enough, it doesn't really home in on Madrid although there are a few shots of the picture's Spanish locations and there is some footage of workers building the massive Moscow sets.
- David Lean's Film of 'Doctor Zhivago' (SD, 7 minutes)
Another 'bite sized chunk', this featurette provides some background on author Boris Pasternak and tells us why the 'Doctor Zhivago' novel had to be smuggled out of Russia to be published. It also provides a brief overview of the movie's locations, cast, story, and themes.
- Pasternak (SD, 9 minutes)
Here we get a more detailed look at the life of Boris Pasternak and particularly his early life. Most interestingly, we hear that the Russian government forced him to refuse the Nobel Prize for Literature.
- New York Press Interviews: Julie Christie (SD, 10 minutes)
Here we have a very ill at ease Julie Christie tolerating a bunch of journos asking her the same questions she's been asked so many times before. Her behaviour would not endear her to the press, then or now - and it's worth seeing as a training film on how not to react to questions at a PR event.
- New York Press Interviews: Omar Sharif (SD, 19 minutes)
Omar Sharif takes part in five interviews shot at the same press bash as Ms Christie, but he comes across as charming, relaxed and humorous. This is how you would expect a professional to behave in such circumstance. It's the difference between a star and an actor.
- Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test (SD, 3 mins)
Just as it says on the tin, we get two versions of the letter-reading scene, shot from different angles, which provide us with a hint of the warmth that Lean saw and helped him cast Ms Chaplin in the role of Tonya.
- This Is Julie Christie (SD, 1 min)
A short (very) black-and-white promo piece showcasing the beauty and talent of the young actress.
- This Is Geraldine Chaplin (SD, 1 min)
Another brief promotional effort that focuses on Chaplin's parentage more than her participation in 'Doctor Zhivago'.
- This Is Omar Sharif (SD, 2 min)
The young Omar gets more screen time than his female co-stars for his promotional featurette that showcases the demands and weightiness of the film's title role.
- Chaplin in New York (SD, 2 mins)
This black and white footage from a magazine photo shoot gives us the chance to see the slightly lighter side of Ms Chaplin as she embarks upon her debut in the world of cinema.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 4 mins)
This long trailer was released after the film had won its five Academy Awards (the trailer says 6, maybe my arithmetic is shot but I can only count 5) and focuses on the scope and magnificence of Lean's production as well as the characters who inhabit it.
- Cast and Crew Listing
Here we have a listing of cast and crew members including David Lean and several of the film's key actors which can be accessed with the remote control. There are a couple of microphone icons, which, when clicked, play audio surrounding the film's premiere as well as David Lean telling why he loves making movies.
A listing of the Oscars and Golden Globe Awards won by 'Doctor Zhivago'.
David Lean's multi-Oscar winning 'Doctor Zhivago' sweeps on to UK Region free Blu-ray in a 45th Anniversary Edition with an impressive looking 1080p VC-1 transfer, with Freddie Young's cinematography framed handsomely in the widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Our eyes are treated to fine colours, good contrast throughout and deep blacks with a fine veil of grain to remind us that it was all shot on film.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 remixed soundtrack tastefully incorporates the use of surrounds as well as LFE to liven up the War and crowd scenes without damaging the front soundstage and Robert Bolt's dialogue.
We are provided will bonus material by the barrow load including two chunky documentaries, some period promo material and a fascinating comm track from Omar Sharif, Sandra Lean and Rod Steiger.
The story of love and romance set against a backdrop of the Russian Revolution needs no intorduction. Although the film includes impressive performances from Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Rod Steiger, David Lean is really the star of this picture.
A quality film that stands the test of time and demands a place in every film lover's collection.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.99
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- Audio Commentary