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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Zorba The Greek

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#1 of 4 Michael Osadciw

Michael Osadciw


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Posted August 09 2004 - 04:42 AM

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Studio: 20th Century Fox
Film Year: 1964

U.S. Rating: Not Rated
Canadian Rating: 18A

Film Length: 142 minutes
Genre: Comedy-Drama

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Picture: Black & White
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo & 2.0 mono, French 2.0 mono, Spanish 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English & Spanish
Closed Captioned: Yes
SLP: US $14.90

Release Date: August 3, 2004

Film Rating: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Starring: Anthony Quinn (Zorba), Alan Bates (Basil), Lila Kedrova (Madame Hortense), Irene Papas (Widow)

Directed by: Michael Cacoyannis
Screenplay: Michael Cacoyannis
Based on novel by: Nikos Kazantzakis

Forced Trailers: None

Life. Lust. Love. Zorba.

Sometimes real life experience provides a basis for a piece of literature. These experiences inspire the way a story is written despite the end result being complete fiction. Poets can speak about love and songwriters can sing about how terrible their experiences are in the music industry, yet the public loves it even though it doesn’t always speak so highly about the fans. Taking a direct jab at reality is not new to the entertainment business. In fact, pieces of entertainment based on reality seem to be the most popular. Counting the amount of reality TV shows further proves the point.

Films based on realities rather than absolute fiction can be both funny and disturbing. While it is understandable that all films express realities of human emotion or day-to-day living, there are other films that pick on the specifics just to be specific. Take the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding as an example; this film was a hilarious interpretation of North American Greek culture. One side of my family is Greek and I could identify with countless scenarios in this film. This film was a great success because of the funny way Greeks were portrayed in such a realistic fashion. The audience identified with it because of it being close to reality.

After we’ve drunk our Ouzo and celebrated, the flip side of the shot glass shows another side of the Greeks. Translated to film by director Michael Cacoyannis, Zorba The Greek is based on a fictional story by author Nikos Kazantzakis. He writes a story based on an actual man named George Zorba. Zorba claimed to be a mining expert, yet seemed to be a man of all trades on the fact he’s got hands, feet, and a mind, and thus is fully capable of doing anything. It was the personality behind this man this man who inspired Kazantzakis to write a fictional story of Zorba The Greek.

The story takes place in the early 1910s. On a boat to Crete, Zorba meets Basil, an English writer who is traveling to Crete because he wants to utilize the land left to him by his father. Unsure of what he’s going to do and how he’s going to do it, he wants to take advantage of an unused mine and turn it into profit. Thus we are taken to a remote village on the Isle of Crete where they make friends with French woman who owns a hotel there, get assistance from village people for Basil’s mining project, gets blessings from the monks who hide in the monasteries on the mountain, and get a taste of village life. Village life…I’m sure all of you who are reading this who’ve experienced life in the village know exactly what I’m going to say. The story doesn’t paint a very lovely picture of Greeks in a remote village. The film comes across as being quite negative about them, actually. That’s fine by me because life shouldn’t always be seen through rose-coloured glasses. There is a lot of truth shown of these people, even in modern-day 2004. I don't want to center out the Greeks, so it might be safe to say its a truth about village communities in general.

Life in the village is tough for the people, but even worse for outsiders. The moment Zorba and Basil drive into the village everyone wants to be their friend and house them. Why? - because they all want his money and his belongings. Village people are leeches when it comes to material things and they’ll do whatever they can to just look out for themselves at the expense of others. This film clearly shows this even at a person’s final moments in life. It’s sad, but so very true. This film also shows the trouble locals love to create for them just to get people stirred and provide some entertainment. Examine the relationship between the locals and the widow, and the widow to Basil. Gossip is spread quickly and everyone takes action. Situations that should be private between individuals as always interrupted on and exposed to the community. Thus a private life is hard to keep in a village because everyone feels the need to put their nose (or other things) where it doesn’t belong. After all ”Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.” - Zorba

Watching these points in the film was disturbing because of the reality of them. While some moments may seem over the top for theatrics, for the most part I say Kazantzakis and Cacoyannis portrayed villagers fairly accurately. I’ve seen a lot of this first hand because I have a house in a village in northern Greece. Despite how beautiful the country is and how free I feel there away from this busy lifestyle on this side of the world, it’s (some of) those village people that really put a thorn in the side.

It’s also no surprise that this film is also about freeing oneself from restrictions in life. Basil’s character is tight and rigid and one can tell he doesn’t get out much. Zorba on the other hand is the complete opposite. He’ll dance and drink, and courts all of the women he can. All of this is mixed with a little madness that Zorba finds necessary to survive. He introduces Basil to a life that is more exciting and dangerous than what he’s used to. Zorba constantly tries to free Basil from his restrictions. It’s difficult for him because his morals are different from Zorba’s. After enough exposure to this new way of life, Basil finds himself as a new man with new beginnings. He submits to a little madness to "cut the rope to be free."

This film was a winner of three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Supporting Actress (Kedrova), and art/set decoration. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Quinn), Director, and Writing. I must agree that the cinematography is excellent and Kedrova did a fabulous job in this film. Quinn was a little over the top as a Greek, and I’m not surprised to find out that he didn’t get along with the director very well because of that. Thus, he had to tone down his exaggerated Greek acting.

The original running time of the film was over three hours. Most of it was kept for the final negative complete with dialogue and sound effects. At the last moment, Cacoyannis cut many scenes with much regret fearing the audience would think the film was too long. In his commentary he hints that he’d like to possibly re-cut the film to his original vision since all of the pieces still exist and are in great shape. At 2 hours and 24 minutes, this is a wonderful film to sit back and watch for the evening.

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This film is widescreen enhanced with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 aspect ratio (except for the closing credits which look to be about 1.56:1). I switched my projector to the colour temperature calibrated mode of 5400K for black and white film while reviewing this title. I prefer the warmer look for black and white in this mode. Switching it back to 6500K makes it look so blue in comparison. Anyways, the image exhibits that warm black and white feeling that is so cozy to watch. The cinematography is superb and I love how many of the shots were set up. Some of the scenes are razor sharp while others are slightly out of focus. Very little compression artifacts exist, although they are apparent around smaller images. Edge enhancement is almost a non-issue too but can be seen occasionally around contrasting objects. Dynamic range is very good, although I though black levels could be a little deeper in some scenes where they appear a little washed out. But when the scene requires it, black levels are dark just like they should be. There is very little in the way of marks, scratches, dirt spots, etc. This 35mm film looks great for its age.

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This film has two English soundtracks to choose from. One is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and the other is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The mono soundtrack should be the one of choice. The stereo soundtrack isn’t really stereo at all. It sounds like two mono tracks delayed slightly in each channel and also a little out of phase. There is no focus at all whatsoever in the centre space between the two speakers as it just sounds like the sound is coming from the sides and beyond. When Pro-Logic II decoding it, all of the sounds in the film including the dialogue come from each speaker location. Voices sound synthetic and unnatural too.

The mono soundtrack has the proper focus between the two speakers. I much prefer 1.0 mono soundtracks, but the 2.0 decoding sounds just fine too. Every sound is clear for the most part and voices sound much more natural. It is limited in range and bass doesn’t play much of a presence. At least the sound is not tinny and it has some ‘body’ to it making it more than acceptable for this DVD release.

SPECIAL FEATURES Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

All of the special features are on Side B of this disc except for the commentary by director Michael Cacoyannis and Demetrios Liappas, who is a director at a center for modern Greek studies in L.A. It seems these two individuals were recorded separately and then a commentary was assembled from the best parts. It is very interesting to listen to and I learned a lot about the film, the book, and the people behind it. It’s a very good listen.

Side B gives us the original A&E Biography of Anthony Quinn “A Lust for Life” (44.14, 4:3, 2.0). The documentary covers Quinn’s entire life from birth to stardom and is a must see for Quinn fans. An Alternate Intro of the film is included. It is the original introduction Cacoyannis discusses in his commentary that he cut. It’s a fun and funny intro to set the pace for the film. Clocking in at almost 5 minutes, it was one of the many scenes cut from the film. It’s presented here in pristine condition and in anamorphic widescreen with completed audio.

Two FOX Movietone News pieces are included (over 6 minutes total). They are silent films being on location and at the premier in France where the director introduces the all of the actors in the film to the audience to the opening of his film. Very cool! Also included are 16:9 enhanced theatrical teaser and trailer, and a TV Spot. Lastly a behind the scenes still gallery is here with many rare pictures. For those of you interested, trailers for other studio classics are included: 300 Spartans, All About Eve, An Affair to Remember, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Grapes of Wrath.


A comedy, a drama, philosophy, and tragedy, Zorba The Greek represents all aspects of human life. These experiences are translated well in this film as we care for the characters, hate the village people, and want to follow Zorba’s ideology of freeing ourselves from what restricts us in our lives. Recommended.

Michael Osadciw
Warner Bros. Blu-ray Reviewer
Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment Blu-ray Reviewer

THX/ISF Professional Video Calibrator

#2 of 4 Joe Cortez

Joe Cortez

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Posted August 10 2004 - 12:21 PM

Thanks for the review, I've been looking forward to this title for awhile now.

#3 of 4 Robert Crawford

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Posted August 10 2004 - 08:01 PM

Watched this over the weekend, another good job by Fox.




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#4 of 4 Michael A. H.

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Posted February 24 2005 - 10:21 AM

I don't believe the OAR of this film is anywhere near 1.85:1. Here are some comparison shots from the dvd (resized) with frames captured from Fox's VHS edition of the film:


(Since I'm a newbie, the forum won't let me hotlink the pictures, just copy the above into your address bar - I hope this is ok!)

Unless they can convince me otherwise (anyone know how to contact Studio Classics?), I'm assuming Fox went ahead and butchered this transfer, which is a damn shame.