Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Doctor Zhivago

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Cameron Yee, May 1, 2010.

  1. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    Doctor Zhivago Blu-ray

    Doctor Zhivago

    Release Date: May 4, 2010
    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Warner Digibook
    Year: 1965
    Rating: PG-13
    Running Time: 3:20:00
    MSRP: $35.99
     

      THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
    Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 Standard definition
    Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, German 5.1, Italian 5.1, Castellano 5.1, Spanish 2.0, Portuguese 2.0 Stereo
    Subtitles English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Castellano, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish Variable

    The Feature: 4.5/5

    Despite being orphaned at a young age, Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) had a wonderful childhood. Raised by the Gromekos, wealthy friends of his mother, Zhivago received every opportunity to be both happy and successful. And he made the most of it, choosing medicine as his career, poetry as his art, and Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) - his guardians' only daughter - as his wife. The stage is set for a long and happy life, but that life is also being lived in the midst of the Russian Revolution.

    Though Zhivago's love of Tonya and his family motivates him to persist through much of the country's upheaval, it's ultimately his love for a woman named Lara (Julie Christie) that inspires him for the rest of his life. He first sees her during a medical emergency, but doesn't actually meet her until four years later when they are both providing medical support for the Russian Army. It's not until many years later that they meet again and consummate the love that developed while they worked side-by-side. Though torn between the love of his family and the love of his life, it will ultimately be the affairs of his nation that determine his course. Like a leaf caught in the wind, Zhivago's life seems largely out of his control, but as a man of deep feeling he will always act on what's in his heart. Ultimately it will produce his most enduring legacy.

    Though its box office success says otherwise, something in my mind makes "Doctor Zhivago" seem less popular compared to David Lean's other epics "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai." It's certainly no less masterful in its visual imagery. Sweeping vistas, impeccable production design and beautiful cinematography make it a deserving member of Lean's epic triad. Compared to the other films, it's a bit of a departure, with a protagonist who can seem exceedingly passive, and a central romance that sometimes feels iced over by the brutal Russian winters. It's true Zhivago is often a passive observer to the larger events surrounding him, but he is a physician and a poet after all; it's not in his nature to be a revolutionary. When he does take action it's as a healer, husband, father and lover. Though perhaps too privileged in his upbringing to be considered an "every man," for those he loves (including himself) he shows a tremendous bravery and strength. In regards to Zhivago's love of Lara, it does at times seem tepid and the actual screen time devoted to it is slight compared to the rest of the events. But ultimately it's not the romance that moves but the outcome of it, its legacy. Because the consequences are so much more powerful than the catalyst, it becomes enough that Zhivago finds Lara inspirational.

    But perhaps my impression of "Doctor Zhivago's" lesser popularity is mistaken and my comments are directed at a straw man. In any case, the film is another of Lean's films worthy of admiration. Grouped together with his preceding epics, it makes for a powerful and impressive cinematic trio.
     

    Video Quality: 4.5/5

    The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. The image is blemish-free and exhibits excellent detail in fur, fabrics, and skin texture. Overall sharpness is similarly impressive, with only a handful of moments when things appear hazy or soft (and those issues appear inherent to the source, not a result of the transfer). The striking use of reds and yellows in the film's color palette reveals excellent depth and fidelity and consistently visible grain structure and infrequent instances of noise in darker regions indicate the absence of excessive noise reduction measures. Likewise the absence of edge ringing or halos vindicate the transfer from undue digital sharpening. Black levels are also deep and stable and contrast displays the full range of values with no obvious signs of clipping or compression. Overall it's an impressive looking image for a film celebrating its 45th year. Based on Robert Harris's report on its restoration, it took a tremendous effort to get it looking this way.
     

    Audio Quality: 3.5/5

    There is limited use of the rear surround channels in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, though the front soundstage is sufficiently expansive to keep up with the scope of the film. Effects and dialogue tend to be anchored around the center channel, though there is some occasional localization of both voices and ambient sounds. Though LFE is absent, the track exhibits some impressive fullness in the bottom registers and fine details in the upper, shown off in large part by the sweeping orchestral score. Voices can sound a bit edgy at times and some line readings a bit hard to discern without the help of subtitles, but overall the track is a fine - if less impressive - complement to the image.
     

    Special Features: 5/5

    The set of extras is well-rounded and thorough, offering a variety of material that should please both devoted and casual fans alike. Disc-based extras include one new and one older documentary, an engaging commentary track and a variety of artifacts from the initial theatrical release. The 48-page commemorative booklet and eight-track CD soundtrack offer some appreciated physical weight to the release.

    Commentary by Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger and Sandra Lean: Includes plentiful, interesting anecdotes about the production and working with Lean. There are some gaps between comments, but the three commentators show obvious excitement and fondness about their experiences. Steiger's contributions were recorded separately and edited into the track, so any interaction is solely between Sharif and Lean.

    Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration Part 1 (23:52, SD): 2010 documentary includes directors and producers like Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit"), Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") and Kathleen Kennedy ("Schindler's List") talking about the adaptation of the novel to film; performances by Sharif, Christie and Steiger; characters; storytelling techniques; cinematography, and most memorable scenes.

    Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration Part 2 (16:13, SD): The second part of the documentary continues with the film's production design, music by Maurice Jarre, editing, overall message, critical and box office reception, and impact on the filmmaking industry.

    Cast and Crew: Includes filmographies for Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guiness, Tom Courtenay, and Ralph Richardson.

    Doctor Zhivago: The Making of A Russian Epic (60:23, SD): Produced in 1995 and narrated by Sharif, the documentary is thorough if at times repetitive after viewing all the additional content included in this release. However it does provide a fine and cohesive retrospective on the film, with information not found elsewhere in the special features.

    Zhivago: Behind the Camera with David Lean (10:12, SD): Vintage, promotional featurette provides a brief overview - with many glimpses behind the scenes - of the film's casting, locations, costuming and story elements.

    David Lean's Film of Doctor Zhivago (7:12, SD): Vintage, promotional featurette focuses on Pasternak's novel and its adaptation into a film.

    Moscow in Madrid (4:26, SD): Vintage, promotional featurette looks at the location shoots and recreation of Russia in Spain.

    Pasternak (8:49, SD): Vintage featurette provides a brief biography about the author, background on the novel and, of course, its adaptation into a movie.

    New York Press Interviews Julie Christie (10:07, SD): Includes three interviews with different journalists in a press junket environment. The footage is presented unedited and is fairly amusing for its frequent awkwardness, mostly because of how uncomfortable Christie appears.

    New York Press Interviews Omar Sharif (18:51, SD): The press junket continues with five interviews of Sharif, who is obviously more at ease in the situation.

    Geraldine Chaplin Screen Test (3:14 ,SD): Chaplin performs the letter-reading scene.

    This is Julie Christie (1:08, SD): Vintage, promotional piece on Christie and her role in the film.

    This is Geraldine Chaplin (1:08, SD): Vintage, promotional piece on Chaplin and her role in the film.

    This is Omar Sharif (1:08, SD): Vintage, promotional piece on Sharif and his role in the film.

    Chaplin in New York (2:12, SD): Extended version of the "This is" promotional piece presents Chaplin as the blossoming ingenue.

    Original General Release Trailer (3:40, SD)

    Awards: A list of the awards the film received.

    Collectible Book: The nicely produced book-that-is-the-packaging includes cast and crew biographies and numerous archival photographs.

    CD Soundtrack Sampler: Includes 1) Overture, 2) Lara's Theme (Main Title), 3) Komarovsky with Lara in the Hotel, 4) Military Parade, 5) Lara Says Goodbye to Yuri, 6) Tonya and Yuri Arrive at Varykino, 7) Yuri is Escaping, 8) End Title (Then It's A Gift).
     

    Recap

    The Feature: 4.5/5
    Video Quality: 4.5/5
    Audio Quality: 3.5/5
    Special Features: 5/5
    Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5


    Warner brothers turns in (after much restorative work) an impressive video transfer and suitable - if at times less impressive - audio track for David Lean's epic set during the Russian Revolution. The special features package is satisfying in its scope and detail, featuring plentiful disc-based extras and some appreciated physical items.

     
  2. Rob_Ray

    Rob_Ray Screenwriter
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    The main reason "Zhivago" may seem less popular today is because that, unlike "Lawrence" especially, and to a much lesser extent, "Kwai," its reputation was never sullied by the shabby treatment of its physical film elements and thus the film was never rediscovered in a re-release containing restored footage (as with Lawrence) or vastly improved sound (Kwai).

    Zhivago, like the film to which it lost the Oscar, "The Sound of Music," has never left the public consciousness and thus couldn't be rediscovered. Indeed, it's reputation may have suffered because there was a time when, like "Music", critics started wishing it would Go Away and Give Another Film a Chance. But it remains Lean's most popular film among general moviegoers. I suspect far more people have seen Zhivago than any other Lean film.
     
  3. JohnMor

    JohnMor Producer
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    Thanks Cameron. Can't wait to pick this up. Love this film. My favorite Lean film is A Passage to India but I love DZ.
     
  4. benbess

    benbess Cinematographer

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    JohnMor: I've only seen Passage once, in the theater when it came out in...1986? I liked it a lot, but not as much as the other big ones, I don't think. But I only saw it once so long ago. Are you willing to say what makes it a favorite? I guess I'd better just watch it again. It is on blu, isn't it?
     
  5. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    Passage is on blu and is staggering to look at and hear. The 1:66.1 aspect ratio is utterly perfect for the story, despite what critics said in '84. Out of Lean's Big 5, I much prefer Passage. The subtlety, the grandeur, the exquisitely mysterious story. Even Guinness's (miscast) Professor Godbole I enjoy; though Godbole is described in Forster's novel as an Anglo-Indian, I still think and Anglo-Indian should have been cast. Nonetheless, Guinness is mirthful as the voice of Hindu fatalism that the combination of wills from Adela, Azziz, Fielding and especially Mrs. Moore, eventually defeat. It's not about what really happened in the Marabar Caves, it's about what that terrible misunderstanding does to five people who are friends.

    Definitely Lean's most subtle and poignant epic, closer to Brief Encounter than anything else he ever did.
     
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  6. benbess

    benbess Cinematographer

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    24: Thanks very much for your comments. Was it 1984. My gosh, then it's been 26 years since I saw it. I've passed from being a very young man (19) to deep into middle age (45). I'm long past due to see it again.

    The subtle quality of it impressed me a great deal even way back then. But, as you say, Guiness is miscast. Somehow in Lawrence it worked for me, and I watched that film over and and over on cable in 1981, but by 1984 it just seemed wrong. I don't know why. But I should try again. I should probably read the source novel too. 1.66? That's interesting. A European ratio then. And for Lean, so known for widescreen, that was something of a change, wasn't it?
     
  7. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, Lean always blamed the "truncated" aspect ratio (1.66:1 is European Flat, whereas here in the US Flat is 1.85:1) on HBO because they wanted to be able to open the matte up and show it on television for a longer run, which indeed it had. But E.M. Forster should never be shot widescreen, his stories just don't provide that breadth. They provide depth but not breadth, which is why James Ivory's Howards End, shot in 2.35:1 Super 35mm, feels like Forster's fragile plot is spread over too much production design. Magnificent to look at, but distracting in that all we really need to see are the actors going at it. A Room with a View, Maurice and Where Angels Fear to Tread were all Forster adaptations to 1.66:1 (though Room is unfortunately cropped to 1.78 on blu ray, resulting in heads going out of frame).

    Now, Guinness is far more enjoyable these days but yes for a film that deals with racism in colonial India, it still was not a good move and Guinness knew that. He told Lean over and over again he didn't want the role, but took it anyway. In the novel, Godbole is described as having "light eyes, a small grey moustache and skin as fair as any Europeans". All Lean had to do was add a line, either for Fielding or someone else, saying that Godbole was anglo-indian. Audiences would have been far more forgiving. After all, John Rhys-Davies had just played an Arab in Raiders of the Lost Ark and would do it again in The Last Crusade.

    And I do think Lean should without doubt have won the Oscar for editing Passage that year. Amadeus was nicely cut, but they had two cameras and that is easy to do with two cameras. The cutting in Passage is the most refreshing I have on my video shelf. I watch it just to remind myself how a movie should be put together, especially a long movie. Certain shots - the moon shot gives one chills - are bold enough to bewilder any of the "kids" making movies these days.
     
  8. benbess

    benbess Cinematographer

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    Yes, I agree with your comments on Howards End. I saw it on blu not that long ago and, well, I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong with it, but I think you're right. It's just the wrong format for the kind of story it was trying to tell.

    Interesting but not surprising that Alec G himself felt it wasn't right. As you say, an added line of dialogue might have helped...
     
  9. Felix Martinez

    Felix Martinez Screenwriter

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    This release is absolutely wonderful. What a fantastic experience to see this on blu!
     
  10. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    Just watched my copy last night and it really is beautiful. I enjoyed it more at home on blu then when I saw it projected dcp at Warners. Don't know why, maybe because I couldn't lie down to watch it at Warners.

    Anyway, Freddie Young's cinematography, which I used to think was hideous for just this one film of his, is now apparent as subtle and painterly. The sound is nice, too. No complaints on this release. Warners really knows what blu ray is all about. Let's hope Sony catches up and releases Lawrence and Bridge soon.
     
  11. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    After several blowout price sales at several sites it seems this has gone off the boards. No stock anywhere. Has this gone oop?
     
  12. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned

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    Let's not be negative. The Blu-ray is still on sale everywhere: http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Zhivago-Anniversary-Blu-ray-Packaging/dp/B001TOCCRU/ref=sr_1_3?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1331138693&sr=1-3 [​IMG]
    Obviously, you are a horizontal movie watcher. Horizontal movie watchers are the backbone of the industry and are really driving the home video market right now. Unfortunately, not all the studios have caught on and are still designing cover art vertically, which can be jarring to horizontalists. Long live horizontal movie watchers.
    Lean controls color and saturation levels the way Douglas Sirk and Robert Burke did. Sort of. When it's pallid, it's willfully pallid. There is a statement being made and a story being told in those those vast solid whites, solid greys and blacks, decayed textures, and drab colors. The color is as impersonal as the brand of socialism in this particular revolution. What gets to me is the use of yellow. Every time Zhivago sees yellow, what does it remind him of? The cinematography is always elegantly beautiful.
     
  13. Dr Griffin

    Dr Griffin Cinematographer

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    I can't find a whole lotta love for this film on HTF. Only 4 threads came up in search and not many replies in them. I've been on a streak of asking questions lately that no one can or will answer, so here's another one: I see this was originally 3-track stereo across 5 screen channels, what were the 2 extra channels used for? Was it too early for baby booms or were they just re-enforcing the other 3 channels?
     
  14. RolandL

    RolandL Producer

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    Maybe similar to the Exodus - "create the two additional front channels by combining the side and center channels (left + center = left/center extra, and right + center = right/center extra) and then adding offset (delay) to one of them and phase inversion to the other."
     
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