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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Epic > Russian Revolution > Romance > Literature > Cold War > Dr. Zhivago (1965/Warner Blu-ray)

Dr. Zhivago (1965/Warner Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B     Film: B+



It is hard to explain the greatness of a film sometimes, especially when its context has passed, yet David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago (1965) was a huge hit at the time that was a critical success (if not initial across the board) about love against the background of a world being torn apart by war.  Rightly compared to Gone With The Wind in that respect, the war here is a Russian Revolution that finally succeeds and takes a beautiful past world down with it and much worse.


Based on Boris Pasternak’s hugely successful book, Omar Sharif is the title character who eventually became a writer.  His most popular book is based on the love of his life, Laura (Julie Christie) and our film begins with a scene in the dark bowels of a near-Stalinized Soviet as Yevgraf (Alec Guinness) watches the workers go from place to place to build the USSR soullessly into a heartless empire, but he has a quest to find out if one young lady is the daughter of Zhivago and Laura.  In this, we learn of their entire affair and the stakes of the Revolution in flashback as his pursuit is rather individualistic and hardly something “The Party” would approve of.


Laura has to battle with the egotistical, arrogant Komarovsky while being supportive of Pasha (Tom Courtney) who sees the Revolution as inevitable when no one else does and keeps getting squeezed in different ways that will slowly, eventually change her life forever.  Yuri Zhivago has a potential relationship with Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) to consider, plus the same changes he is aware could happen, plus a younger Yevgraf (also Guinness) observes in silence, a state the film uses effectively to create suspense, show the state of the people that will make the overthrow possible and also be the downfall of a great country.  Ralph Richardson, Siobhan McKenna, Klaus Kinski, Geoffrey Keen, Jack MacGowran, Adrienne Corri, Bernard Kay and an uncredited Ingrid Pitt also star.


Robert Bolt returned to write the screenplay for Lean as he had on Laurence Of Arabia, but did not repeat himself except in that he is a distinct auteur in his plotting and approach.  The film has its melodrama, but this never becomes a soap opera, especially with the great performances, the coldness of the world (figuratively and literally) the characters inhabit and points the film makes against communism, Stalinism and any autocratic system that despises the individual.  It does this all the way to the ending, which like all great epics, makes the ultimate grand statement that not only works, but endures.  As a matter of fact, despite the end of The Cold War this film became a hot item in the center of upon its release, that statement is now as relevant as ever considering recent world history.


The then-very powerful Soviet Union banned the film, highly criticized it and especially targeted the love theme from the film, also known as Lara’s Theme as too sentimental, petty, capitalistic, individualistic…  Well, you get the idea.  A dozen years later, it still irritated the USSR and was used as an alert to summons Barbara Bach’s Russian Superspy as a music box tune in the pre-title sequence of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me as another dig against the Soviets.  Worldwide, Lara’s Theme remains one of the most popular motion picture songs ever made.  Dr. Zhivago remains a classic that deserves to be rediscovered and it arrival on Blu-ray is something to be very happy about.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot in real anamorphic Panavision 35mm film by Director of Photography Freddie Young, B.S.C., who along with Lean originally wanted the Super Panavision 70mm format they used on Laurence Of Arabia, but MGM deemed that too expensive.  It would also be released in MetroColor, but besides the 70mm blow-ups that were done worldwide, it turns out that the British market actually had the luxury of three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor prints.  At its best, the transfer here looks amazing with great color and detail (if not always looking like Technicolor) and those used to the film will be stunned by the depth and detail in the many best scenes here.  Director Nicolas Roeg also shot some scenes when he was still a DP, but he did not stay on the film to share duties with Young.


Of course, there are scenes that are purposely near monochrome to show the cold world of communism and downside of the revolution, but they look good as well.  The downside of the transfer includes more than a few soft shots, some footage that is simply not as first generation as the best footage and some cases where the color is not what it could be, holding back the overall quality.  Wonder if they had one of those British 35mm prints to go with the original camera materials in the vault?  Otherwise, you can imagine this being blow-up for 70mm and see how the film has been visually influential since.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix can sound really good, especially where the Maurice Jarre music score is concerned, but there are limits here too, some of which should not be so.  This is a film that originally had 6-track magnetic stereo sound at its best in its 70mm blow-ups, which includes five speakers behind the screen for traveling dialogue, stereo dialogue and sound effects, while a later re-release had DTS 5.1 sound.  Here, the stereo dialogue is still too much in the center channel, that dialogues sounds too low as compared to the music, the dialogue sounds a little more compressed than it should and the soundfield of this new mix is awkward as a result.


Yes, the sound is richer and warmer than any of the previous DVD editions (read Dolby Digital 5.1, which never did the film justice, as is usually the case with that old codec), but when most of the James Bond films made at the time (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball) sound as good or better than this mix (none of which had 70mm blow-ups or multi-channel sound of the time) now on Blu-ray sound as good or better, you know something is not correct about the restoration.  The isolated Jarre music score on a previous DVD edition is also not repeated here in any format.


Extras include a bonus CD with 8 tracks from the original soundtrack, an illustrated booklet on the film built into the DigiPak case, several vintage featurettes, text on the cast, the terrific hour-long Dr. Zhivago: The Making Of A Russian Epic, two sets of black & white-filmed interviews (one with Christie, the other with Sharif), Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test, feature length audio commentary track by Steiger, Sharif and widow Sandra Lean, Original Theatrical Trailer and new two-part 45th Anniversary Retrospective – Dr. Zhivago: A Celebration.  Most extras are on a DVD, but that is not a problem, though some may have wished the mostly-filmed materials had been upgraded to high definition.  However, this is still very nice, deluxe treatment for Dr. Zhivago, but one should only see the extras after seeing the film.


If you do not have Blu-ray yet, Warner also offers the film as a 2-DVD set, available On Demand and For Download on iTunes at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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